Al Pacino has spent a lifetime making movies, so we’ll forgive him for committing the cardinal sin of filmmakers who pivot to television: calling “Hunters,” his new TV series, a “10-hour film.” The Oscar-winning actor, who recently earned his ninth Academy Award nomination for Netflix’s “The Irishman,” is proving quite the draw on streaming, starring in one of Amazon Prime Video’s most hotly anticipated shows. Set in 1977, “Hunters” follows a diverse group of New York-based Nazi hunters who’ve discovered hundreds of high-ranking former officers hiding in America — who are conspiring to create a Fourth Reich.
“There’s an originality in this show. It’s somewhat eccentric,” Pacino said during Amazon’s Tuesday afternoon TCA panel. “You’ll see it from certain angles where it’s not a dry thing. They’ll catch you off guard, and you really can’t believe it. […] You never know when a joke is going to come. That’s really what appealed to me when I read it: that things are not what they seem.”
Produced by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, “Hunters” blends history and fantasy for a unique TV thriller. Creator David Weil said he came up with the concept five years ago and was largely inspired by stories his grandmother told him as a boy.
“My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor who would tell me stories about the war,” Weil said. “As I got older, I struggled with that feeling of birthright. How would I continue her story? […] For me, this was a love letter to my grandmother; a quest to don that vigilante cape with the [current] rise of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.”
Though Weil said the story is part wish fulfillment, there were real people who hunted Nazis within the United States — they just did it “in the courts, through legal action,” Weil said.
Executive producer and co-showrunner Nikki Toscano said the writers were very conscious not to sympathize with Nazis, as some media outlets and publications have been accused of doing during the rise of modern white supremacist movements.
“We’re not making an attempt to humanize Nazis,” Toscano said. “Some Nazis are over to one extreme while other Nazis have various explanations for their behaviors. […] These arguments do not land with our hunters. […] We’re not trying to humanize them, but we do recognize a spectrum.”
“It is important to recognize they are human beings and not portray them as characters, so we know […] how not to let that happen again [today],” Weil said. “The purpose of the show is an allegorical tale to draw the parallels between the ’30s and ’40s in Europe, the 70s in New York, and what we’re seeing today. […] This show is really a question: What do you do? For this group of vigilantes, the question it poses [is], ‘If if you hunt monsters, do you become monsters yourself?'”
When asked to compare this production with “The Irishman” — another long story made for a streaming platform — Pacino said he had “a wonderful experience” on “Hunters.” “My memory may not be very good, but my memories of this are all good.”
Though he pointed out certain challenges related to television, including changing directors “every two to three weeks” and missing the “luxury of rehearsals,” Pacino said the cast and crew came together to make sure everyone was comfortable and ready to perform.
“We would [rehearse] whenever we could. We would find time on the weekend to get together, especially if it was a difficult scene,” Pacino said. “It had that sort of malleable feeling to it, the set. If someone had a problem with something or just wanted to go over it, we would all do it together.”
“I remember one scene when we were all together in the Bat Cave [what they internally called the characters’ headquarters], and we were all sitting there figuring out how we would get through the scene. David [Weil] and [Nikki] Toscano were always there. The writers and creators would just be there, to help us and inform us.”
That’s not always the case with movies (or even most television), and the speed of production was made more manageable by Pacino sharing the show with a strong ensemble, including Logan Lerman and Jerrika Hinton, who were there for the panel.
“It was, in a lot of ways, easier for me [than movies] because it wasn’t all my story,” Pacino said. “It’s mainly Logan’s story, but also the character of Millie’s story, it’s amazing what she does.”
“That’s the thing about doing a 10-hour film, a series, that I’m not used to.”
OK, Mr. Pacino. We’ll let that one slide.
“Hunters” Season 1 premieres February 21 on Amazon Prime Video. Watch the trailer below.