Hulu's 'We Were the Lucky Ones' Introduces American Viewers to Israeli Legend Lior Ashkenazi – Kveller
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Hulu’s ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’ Introduces American Viewers to Israeli Legend Lior Ashkenazi

Kveller chatted with the versatile actor about connecting to his role as the family patriarch and improvising a seder scene.


Sol (Lior Ashkenazi). (Photo by: Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)

I may be biased because we have the same first name, but I think Lior Ashkenazi is one of the finest male Israeli actors alive.

It’s in his dashing good looks, sure (I think we can call Ashkenazi a silver fox, at this point), but more than anything, it’s in the way he absolutely embodies his roles. I experienced serious whiplash as I watched his latest U.S.-released film “Karaoke,” in which he plays a seductive, egocentric playboy, in proximity to the Holocaust series “We Were the Lucky Ones,” where he plays Sol, the Kurc family patriarch, a caring father who would do anything to ensure his family’s survival.

Ashkenazi’s talent and versatility are pretty awe-inspiring. Since his breakout role in the 2001 “Late Marriage” as Georgian Israeli bachelor Zaza, the three-time Ophir prize winner has been in dozens of Israeli TV shows and plays. He’s also starred in critically acclaimed films local like “Walking on Water,” “Footnote” and the controversial “Foxtrot.” He’s charmed moviegoers in fancy historical Hollywood projects like “Golda.” And he’s appeared in countless episodes of Israeli satire shows, most recently singing a parody of “I’m Just Ken” as Israeli politician Benny Gantz in the satire show “Eretz Nehederet.”

Fans of Israeli TV may remember Ashkenazi from HBO’s “The Boys” and “The Valley of Tears,” or maybe even from Netflix’s “Hit & Run,” the short-lived project from “Fauda” creator Lior Raz.

But “We Were the Lucky Ones” is by far his biggest international TV project yet, a chance for American TV viewers to finally get the treat of sitting with the grandeur of Lior Ashkenazi as he brings both his dramatic range and his warm humor to a deeply relatable family patriarch.

I too got the treat of sitting with Lior Ashkenazi, not literally but in a Zoom interview about the new Hulu series earlier this month. I found him wonderfully menschy and funny — and I’m feeling prouder than ever to share my name with him.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What drew you to the character of Sol?

Well, first of all, the book. It started there. I read the book first to know what I’m going for… but in the show they were doing much more than the book with this character. It’s more his wife and his daughters that are running things [in the book]. But in the show, Erica [Lipez, the showrunner], Tommy [Kail, the director] and Georgia [Hunter, the author and producer] developed Sol’s character much more.

The thing is, at first I thought he was very old, but he’s 50! My age! And he already had a granddaughter. I guess people then were kind of old in those times.

Our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations, they all had babies so young.

It’s so strange! I saw a lot of pictures of him, and you can see… you can really understand this man, his inner life.

He is a family leader, in a lot of ways. He’s the leader of the seder, of Jewish ritual. Did you connect to that at all?

Well, I can connect to the patriarch thing, but you know, who really runs the family is Nechuma, his wife. She always gives him [direction] like, “Yeah, you can say the last world, but it should be that word.”

There’s a point later in the show, which I won’t spoil, when Nechuma tries to comfort Sol with his own words. After feeling helpless, she tries to bring him back to himself with something that he said to her when she was worried about having more children — about how having kids makes you more scared, but also, more strong.

It’s questions you ask yourself during those times. You ask yourself, why did you bring kids into this awful world? And to be honest, after October 7, I had the same thoughts in Israel. There’s a reflection to this time.

Because your children are old enough to really be witnessing this moment. 

I have an older daughter. She’s 24. She’s already done her [army] service. And my youngest is 11. I used to say to my older one when she was younger:,”When you grow up, there won’t be any army so everything will be OK.” But I can’t say that to my youngest now. That’s not a promise that I can make.

Did you also connect with this idea that children make us more scared, and yet stronger?

I guess every parent does. In every parent’s mind, you put your children in front of everything. Nothing is more important. Nothing goes before them.

It’s funny to me that you talked about Sol being so old because we really do see the characters of this show getting visibly older at a fast pace.

I remember a survivor in Israel telling a story about her father. After a night when the Gestapo, the Nazis, humiliated him and tortured him, he came back home in the morning with gray hair. Like overnight, his hair become became gray, white. It’s about trauma; they just get older faster.

Can you talk a little bit about the prayers in the show — they’re so beautiful and I know you had a consultant on set to make sure the Jewish ritual was right.

That’s right. I’m Sephardi, so I know the Sephardi version of the prayers. I know Ladino, it’s my first language actually, because my parents were Olim Chadashim [immigrants to Israel]. I don’t know Yiddish at all.

But I fell in love with this music [of the Ashkenazi prayers]. One day, I was rehearsing by myself and I didn’t notice that Erica Lipez was sitting behind me. I looked back and she was crying.

It transported her.

Yeah, it threw her to her father’s house, or her grandfather’s house. It was challenging, but I really fell in love with it.

What was Passover like in your house growing up? And what was it like filming the seder scene for the show?

I think in Israel, we celebrate differently. I know that because my wife is from France, and it’s a totally different thing. My parents are very traditional Jews, but I mean — you aim towards the food. So you run through the haggadah. I remember it as a kid — we would just read because everybody was hungry. We were doing things just to do it. Not in the traditional way of, let’s take our time and now, I’ll sing “Dayenu, Dayenu!” and now, we’ll do that, and now we’ll do that… No, it wasn’t like that.

We were doing the seder [scene] and the cameras were all around. And Tommy just let us improvise. So we were improvising everything. Though not all of the actors knew how to read Hebrew.

You were lucky in that regard…

It was funny because I said, “OK, Genek, now it’s your turn. The wicked son. Come on! Start!” And [Henry Lloyd-Hughes] doesn’t know how to! So he says, “I don’t want to be the wicked guy!” We improvised a lot. You know, everything you see on episode one in the seder is improvised. It’s not scripted. Just the prayers were.

And it feels like Passover! Chaos! family!

Yeah, exactly. Kids running all around!

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