From co-showrunners David Weil (who also created the series) and Nikki Toscano, the Amazon Prime Video original series Hunters follows a diverse band of Nazi hunters in 1977 New York City, led by Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), who have discovered that hundreds of high-ranking Nazi officials are living among the population and working to create a Fourth Reich. Leaving a trail of blood behind as they bring the Nazis to justice and attempt to stop their genocidal plans, Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman) finds himself in the middle of this secret world of vengeance and he must decide just how far he’s willing to go.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, writer/executive producer David Weil talked about how wild and surreal it is to have Hunters be his first big project, honoring his family by telling such a personal story, his five-year journey to getting this to the screen, how Jordan Peele got involved as an executive producer, the incredible opening credits sequence, the appeal of wish fulfillment, what it’s like to collaborate with Al Pacino, assembling the show’s eclectic ensemble of actors, and just how far ahead he’s thought about the story he’s telling.
Collider: How exciting is it to have this be the first big project that you do?
DAVID WEIL: It’s so wild. It’s very surreal. And it also feels very fitting because it is so personal.
One of the really cool things about Hunters is that you can make a great show, but you can also do something to honor your family that’s really personal.
WEIL: Absolutely! There’s a great deal of responsibility that comes with it, but I’m really proud to be able to do it, and to talk about my grandmother and her story. It’s wonderful.
You’ve previously said that you created this five years ago, so what was that journey? How did it take all of that time to get to where it is now? Did it evolve that whole time? What was the bigger journey of that first idea, five years ago, to now finally getting to see it?
WEIL: It’s a great question. It was a really epic journey. As you’re watching, you’ll see that this show is scary to buyers. It’s very bold, it’s very violent, it’s very comedic, and it’s very different. There are so many different tones, that I hope it’s unlike anything else out there, but oftentimes buyers really want to play it safe. I brought Hunters to Jordan Peele, as soon as it was done, and he saw something in it that he really responded to and really loved, so he came on as an executive producer. He’s been the most unbelievable partner and champion, and we went on this journey. We sold it, at first, to a different network, before Amazon, and the head of that network left and a new head came in, and they didn’t really understand the show and didn’t really see the show for the vision that I had and that Jordan had for it. We got incredibly fortunate, in our timing, in that Jen Salke had just come in to run Amazon Studios, so my agent sent it to Jen, and it was the first thing that she bought. She’s just been the greatest champion. This is not an easy show. It’s not a safe show. It’s bold and loud and dangerous, and because of those things, it’s meaningful. Jen recognized that and has just been such a champion, from day one, for us and for the show. But it was a very long process, it really was.
You said that you brought the show to Jordan Peele when the script was done, but how exactly did that happen?
WEIL: I was just such a fan of Key and Peele, and I was desperate to meet him. So, we met and just bonded over genre films and horror movies, and the kind of work that he does. He sent me the script for Get Out, and I was like, “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever read.” And so, when I was done with Hunters, I sent it to him, and he came on board. He’s a guy who really wants to champion under-represented stories, and Hunters is one of those. It just became this great partnership.
I love the chess pieces in the opening credits. Is that a real chess board that was created?
WEIL: No, it was all visual effects. It was this wonderful visual effects company, called Elastic. It’s one of my favorite things, in the entire show. I sometimes just watch the credits to be reinspired. It’s so beautifully done.
Since there really were Nazi war criminals hiding in America and there were people that hunted them, even though they were only tracking them down and not killing them, did you ever try to tell this story from a more historical place, at all, or was it always that wish fulfillment aspect of hunting down Nazis and killing them that was the biggest appeal for you?
WEIL: I think that was the biggest appeal, for wish fulfillment and also just the catharsis. The history is frustrating in that so many war criminals that were brought to trial, were never jailed or executed. It was a system stacked against Jewish seeking of justice. So, this is a show that, because of those modes of government, many of whom were complicit in bringing the Nazis into America, itself, seeks a different path and a different end result.
I actually really like the fact that the title of the series was changed from The Hunt to Hunters because it changes it from a thing to the individuals, which makes the story more personal. Do you also feel like the title is now better suited, for that reason?
WEIL: I totally do. You’re absolutely right. One is an event, which is just impersonal, and Hunters is personal. Also, it means so many different things for all of our different characters. They’re all on a hunt and they’re all hunting something, but what that is varies and can be quite different. So, I completely agree with you.
Obviously, everybody knows who Al Pacino is and knows he’s one of the greats. How did you get him for this, and what’s it like actually working with him?
WEIL: It’s an absolute dream and an absolute privilege. His agent had read the script and called and said, “I think there’s something in here that the Al might really respond to, in this character Meyer Offerman.” So, they sent him the script, and then we met. We had four different meetings, and really got to talk through who the character is, where this character goes, and the entire series. From day one, it was this unbelievable collaboration. Above all else, Al really wanted to see, “Hey, is this a person who’s collaborative, and who enjoys feedback and absorbs it and tries to run with it?” And so, it just became this unbelievable partnership that I’m so privileged to be a part of. And Al really deepened his character in the show, in ways that are just so otherworldly.
He’s the name for the series, but Logan Lerman really is the heart of the story. What did you see in him that made you want him to play Jonah, and what has he brought to the role that you feel has really elevated it?
WEIL: Logan is a genius. He is the heart of the show. He was someone who I had always eyed for this role. I’ve just been a huge fan of his, for a very, very long time, and I always saw him as Jonah. One of the things that I love most about his craft and his art is that he has such a sense of maturity. He’s this old soul, in a young actor’s body, but the depth of his art and the depth of his emotional capacity is so unique and so special. From a character like Jonah, who goes on such an odyssey, starting in this very ordinary world, dealing pot and selling comic books, and then becomes this Nazi hunter, that is an arc that could take place over seasons, but it takes place over an episode, and then more episodes to come. So, we needed an actor who just had such range and such capability, and Logan just gave a heart and a soul to this character. He really became the moral compass and the protagonist of the piece. He’s amazing.
You’ve assembled such an eclectic cast of really great actors. How did you assemble the team of hunters? Were you wide open, or did you have very specific ideas for what you wanted, when it came to each member of the team?
WEIL: Oh, my goodness, that’s such a great question. Some were, “I know I wanna go to that person,” but many people were discoveries, and such beautiful discoveries. It became this alchemy of conjuring up this cast. There’s so much chemistry that’s needed, and their chemistry really popped. They really did become this ragtag family, on screen and off. Working with our amazing casting director, John Papsidera, and the head of casting at Amazon, Donna Rosenstein, it was really just finding who was right for the role. Some actors surprised us. Some actors, we always had in mind, in some capacity. And some actors we didn’t know, and it was unbelievable to find them. Greg Austin, who plays Travis was one. He just blows it out of the water, in so many ways. And then, there were the more known actors, like Josh Radnor and Carol Kane. It was so exciting. There’s no exact science. It became a lot of luck and a lot of chemistry.
When and how did you realize that this was a show where you could include a dance number to “Staying Alive”?
WEIL: It’s so funny that you ask that. My ambition was always to include these break the fourth moments. I was really inspired by Atlanta and how they do that. I never wanted the show to feel so didactic, and like we were always teaching a lesson. And so, these break the fourth moments allow, in a subversive way, to satirize certain things, or to inform the audience, or indict certain people, in a way that feels unexpected and doesn’t feel heavy-handed.
When you created this show, did you think about multiple seasons? Do you know what Season 2 would be?
WEIL: I have five seasons in my brain, so if Amazon is kind enough to let me keep going, I have at least five seasons worth of material.
How detailed is that five seasons? Do you know what the end scene of the series?
WEIL: I do know what the end scene of the series is and what that final season would be. And I have a lot of thoughts about Season 2 and a lot of detail there. There’s a lot of detail, and a lot of different ideas. And yes, I definitely know what the actual final moment would be.
Hunters is available to stream at Amazon Prime.