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The Tattooist of Auschwitz star Jonah Hauer-King: ‘Your head being shaved… it’s impactful’

The Little Mermaid’s Jonah Hauer-King stars in a new limited series The Tattooist of Auschwitz about a couple who find love during a dark point in history.

Thursday 2 May 2024 07:11, UK

Jonah Hauer-King as Lali Sokolov & Anna Pr..chniak as Gita Furman in Auschwitz. Pic: Sky Atlantic
Image: Jonah Hauer-King and Anna Prochniak in The Tattooist Of Auschwitz. Pic: Sky Atlantic

He got his big break starring as Prince Eric in the live-action version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid opposite Halle Bailey.

Now Jonah Hauer-King takes on his most challenging role to date – a prisoner in Auschwitz.

Jonah Hauer-King as Lali Sokolov in Auschwitz. Pic: Sky Atlantic
Image: Pic: Sky Atlantic

“Your head being shaved in the prison uniform that you’re putting on every day and going to that set is very impactful,” Hauer-King tells Sky News.

The British actor plays a young version of Lali Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who was forced to become a tattooist of his fellow prisoners at the most infamous concentration camp during the Second World War.

Hauer-King, 28, says seeing the set “felt so eerie and so frightening” and despite protections being in place during the show’s production, it was impossible to walk away unaffected.

“I don’t know if you ever really let go of it. At the end of the day, I think it does stay with you because no matter how much you tell yourself that this is a safe and controlled environment, I think you’d have to be quite numb for it not to be quite impactful”.

Jonah Hauer-King as Lali Sokolov meets Anna Pr..chniak as Gita Furman for the first time. Pic: Sky Atlantic
Image: Pic: Sky Atlantic

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The six-part series is adapted from a Heather Morris’ novel of the same name which was informed by a real-life story.

The New Zealand author developed a friendship with Lali Sokolov in 2003 and over the course of three years, he shared with her the story of his life in the concentration camp where historians estimate more than one million Jews died.

Living in Slovakia, Sokolov was conscripted during the Second World War and sent to Auschwitz for forced labour. He tattooed identification numbers onto fellow prisoners in the concentration camp. One of whom Gita Furman, he fell in love with.

There had been queries around the authenticity of the novel when it was first released.

Morris says: “This is a work of fiction based on the memory of one man. It is not the story of the Holocaust. My novel is not an academic, historical account. So many survivors have thanked me for telling Lali and Gita’s story – they see it, in many ways, as their story too.”

Harvey Keitel as Lali Sokolov in his Melbourne apartment. Pic: Sky Atlantic
Image: Pic: Sky Atlantic

Told over six episodes, Sokolov is portrayed in two timelines – as a young man he’s played by Hauer-King, while Oscar nominee Harvey Keitel portrays the moments he told his life story to Morris.

Hauer-King says he is appreciative that the story is told in this way.

“So often these stories end when it was liberated or at the end of the war, and there’s some closure. And any kind of traumatic experience, as we know, doesn’t work like that – you carry it for a lifetime.

“The physical scars are there, the emotional scars are there and it’s passed on to the next generation and even the next one.”

Anna Pr..chniak as Gita Furman in Auschwitz. Pic: Sky Atlantic
Image: Pic: Sky Atlantic

Anna Prochniak plays Gita Furman and says having her head shaved and being in the environment was a “very profound and very powerful” experience.

“We have to keep telling stories like this. We have to respect the personal stories. We have to remember and draw attention to the victims of the Holocaust and the Holocaust survivors. We have to remember what we can and be aware of that”.

She adds: “The ultimate message of the show for me is that we can choose love over hate and love is the strongest power we have access to.”

Jonas Nay as Nazi Officer Stefan Baretzki in Auschwitz. Pic: Sky Atlantic
Image: Pic: Sky Atlantic

‘The actors were starving and shivering’

German actor Jonas Nay plays Stefan Baretzki, a brutal SS Nazi officer. He says putting on the uniform each morning and sharing the screen with starving, shivering castmates was a stark reminder of the tragic events.

“Jonah Hauer-King who plays Lali was starving beforehand, so he got really, really thin and he was shivering in his prison gown beside me. And there were already hundreds of extras waiting, shivering in prison gowns and you’re the one in the boots and in this uniform.

“It was an unbelievably heavy weight on your shoulders, especially knowing that so many people in the crew had Jewish relatives, a Jewish background and it was really, really hard to carry.”

Melanie Lynskey as Heather Morris in the Melbourne apartment. Pic: Sky Atlantic
Image: Pic: Sky Atlantic

Morris is depicted by Melanie Lynskey, the Yellowjackets actress who was taken aback by the real story.

“It’s such an incredible thing to think of being in the worst place imaginable,” she says. “One of the worst times in history and finding the love of your life. It’s a very complicated thing”.

Most of the filming took place in Bratislava, in Slovakia.

Renowned film composer Hans Zimmer co-created the music with Kara Talve for the limited series.

Zimmer was born in Germany and his mother was a refugee who escaped the Nazis in 1938 and fled to England.

He says he “grew up with the fear” and it is the job of filmmakers and storytellers to “remind humanity that love is the only cure to this evil”.

The closing credits song is performed by Barbra Streisand – her first-ever recording for a TV series.

An EGOT – the winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award – Streisand says it was an important project to be part of.

“Because of the rise in antisemitism around the world today, I wanted to sing Love Will Survive in the context of this series, as a way of remembering the six million souls who were lost less than 80 years ago.

“And also, to say that even in the darkest of times, the power of love can triumph and endure.”

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