Each day when he walked on to the set of Operation Finale, Ben Kingsley carried a photo of a man in his pocket.
That man? Holocaust survivor and activist Elie Wiesel.
In an interview with CBS this morning last week, Kingsley – who plays Adolf Eichmann in the film about the Israeli capture of the Holocaust mastermind – said he drew strength from Wiesel, whom he met on several occasions.
“When I was last with Elie [who died in 2016], I did have the opportunity to tell him to his face that the next time I walk onto a film set that’s relevant to your story, I will dedicate my performance to you,” Kingsley said.
Asked about his preparation to play the genocidal monster, the Oscar award-winning actor said he drew on his past experience with Holocaust films and his meeting many survivors. In 1989, he played Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in the TV movie Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story; in 1993, he played Jewish worker Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List; and in 2001 he played Otto Frank in the TV miniseries Anne Frank: The Whole Story.
“So really, I did not immerse myself in Nazism or German nationalism,” Kingsley said, “I immersed myself in the memory of Elie Wiesel. So every day I said to him, and to a photograph I had of him in my pocket: ‘I’m doing this for you.’”
Kingsley said the central struggle in the film was humanizing and portraying Eichmann as a regular guy.
“I think if we fictionalize the man as a ‘monster baddy,’ then we relegate that horrendous portion of history to fiction, and it’s easy to either digest, forget or dismiss,” the British actor said. “But when we insist on the audience to accept these men and women as men and women, then it makes that period of history much harder to deal with – but we must, must confront it and deal with it.”
Operation Finale is set to be released at the end of the month, featuring many familiar faces. Oscar Isaac plays Mossad operative Peter Malkin, Fauda’s Lior Raz plays then-Mossad director Isser Harel and comedian Nick Kroll plays Mossad operative Rafi Eitan. Kroll appeared alongside the film’s director, Chris Weitz, in a discussion on the live web series “BUILD” last week.
“Growing up as a Jewish kid in America, this is one of those stories that was one of these tales of heroism and retribution and justice coming out of Holocaust,” Kroll said. “It’s one of those stories that felt like a victory in a lot of ways.”
But, the actor added, when he approached the storyline in the film, he realized how much more nuanced the tale really is.
“You realize it was a victory, but it was one rife with questions of morality, and questions of right and wrong, and how one goes about seeking retribution for crimes,” Kroll said.
Weitz, whose father – designer and writer John Weitz – was a Jewish refugee from Germany, said he was also familiar with the story growing up. But he said he was still surprised at some of the details of the plot that were stranger than fiction.
“Some of the craziest things that happened are actually true as opposed to made-up,” Weitz said in the “BUILD” interview. “Like the fact Eichmann changed his name, but didn’t change his son’s name, and his son started dating a girl who didn’t know she was Jewish. And when her father met her new boyfriend, he realized that this was the son of a mass murderer – that is true.”