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, lead by Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), living in 1977 New York City, who have discovered that hundreds of high-ranking Nazi officials are living among the population as they work 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, actor Greg Austin (who plays Travis Leich, a neo-Nazi who’s quite the over-achiever when it comes to meeting his goals) talked about why he wanted to play a psychopath, the show’s unique blend of genres, finding the physicality of his character, Travis’ own personal motivations, working with co-star Lena Olin, why playing this role was sometimes very cathartic, what most helped him get into character, his desire for audiences to love to hate Travis, and the type of characters he’s looking to play in the future.
Collider: I just have to say that I’m terrified of you, so good job with that.
GREG AUSTIN: Thank you very much. I’m taking that as a compliment.
When a project comes your way and they’re basically telling you that they want you to be this horrible, evil character. Do you want to read it first, or do you jump at the chance?
AUSTIN: I’d been looking for a role like this, so I jumped at it. I’ve always been playing these nice, boy next door roles because I’m just an awkward English bumbling dude. That’s just me. I fall into those roles easily, so I’d be looking for something to really push me, as an actor, and that’ something completely outside of myself. You can’t really get much further away from yourself than a neo-Nazi, psychopath, cleaner, hitman dude, so I jumped at the role. I got the script through and visually saw it as my dreams coming true. It was a role that I was desperate to play, and was luckily enough to get cast as it.
When you watch this show, it’s really an embarrassment of riches because all of these characters are just so fascinating, they all have layers, and it feels like we don’t really know anything about any of them, when it starts, which gives you so much to play with. Did it read that way?
AUSTIN: The way it read to me was that, yes, there’s a lot of different elements to the show, and they were really trying to balance out very somber, hard-hitting moments, like the Holocaust scenes, with this pulpy high-action, revenge stuff, and trip sequences going on. There were lots of elements that really had to be fine-tuned and balanced. I saw that on the page and was like, “How the hell are they gonna pull this off?” But I think they did, brilliantly. It drip feeds you information about the characters, so there was a lot of room for exploration with them. They’re each so individual and different and unique that there’s a lot of room to play around with them.
With your character, in the beginning, there isn’t even a lot of dialogue. Was it fun to get to explore a character, in that sense, where you could really dig into him and figure out the physicality, or other things that didn’t necessarily have to do with the dialogue?
AUSTIN: Yeah, absolutely. I very much approached him physically because I started off as a dancer. That’s what I wanted to be, when I was a kid. And then, I found musical theater and eventually just fell into acting. So, David Weil, the creator, ave me a lot of room to play around with [the character]. You really don’t find out that much, especially in the first half of the season, about Travis. You start getting a little bit more, as to his background, later on, but even then, he’s very much an enigma. I see him as a ghost. He comes in, he fucks shit up, and then he leaves again, and that’s just Travis. So, I got to approach him from a physical perspective and really tried to ground him in his movements. The first thing that I found with him was how we walked, with a very slight swagger. I had a lot of room to play with him, and I was very grateful for that.
Is he a guy who has motivations for his actions, and is that something that you were made aware of, to play him, or is that something you had to figure out, for yourself?
AUSTIN: I was given some basic ideas and some paths to look down, but David gave me a lot of free reign, as to what I wanted to do with him. That’s essentially it, really. I could look into him, how I wanted to, and play around with whatever I wanted to, within the confines of the script. He’s definitely an outsider, and that’s why, with Lena Olin’s character, The Colonel, he’s her pet, at the moment, and the golden boy. He is different and mysterious. As to his motivations, yes, he definitely has his own motivations. I don’t think he was born to be a neo-Nazi, but he was born to be a psychopath. With this group of people, he can fully invest his own want for chaos and control and power, within this frame of the neo-Nazis. I think that’s why he’s so invested in them. It allows him to be himself, as fully as he can be.
Clearly, nothing says bad-ass villain like Lena Olin.
AUSTIN: Really, yeah.
What’s it like to get to do scenes with her, as an actor?
AUSTIN: Well, Lena is maybe my most favorite person that I’ve ever worked with. She’s so glowingly warm on set. Plus, when I met her at the read-through, she came up and asked my opinion on how we were going to portray these people and what research I’d been doing, really trying to flesh out these characters. She’s so warm and so glowing, and on set, she commands such respect. It was a joy and an honor working with Lena. It really was.
I would imagined that it’s the same, just to be on a show with Al Pacino. What’s it like to be on a set with actors of that caliber?
AUSTIN: It’s a star-studded cast, with all of these actors that have done so much in their careers and who are icons, in their own right. That’s intimidating, to say the least. Compared to these guys, I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. I’m just trying to bullshit my way through seeming intelligent or knowing what I’m doing with them. It’s a real inspiration and a grounding moment, working with these people. It just shows you what can be achieved. The amount that I can learn from these people and already have learned is priceless.
What’s it like to be on a set where there can be a flag with a swastika flying or you’re having to say things like, “Sieg Heil!” to people?
AUSTIN: I get the question, how do I sleep at night?, but I find it very cathartic because I’m so far away from this person. I feel like I’m an incredibly empathetic person, and Travis is the opposite of that, as a complete narcissist. It’s like putting on a mask and getting to play around in that space, and then take it off, at the end of the day, and go home and sleep great. It doesn’t phase me, in the way that people expect it to. People think it’s draining to my psyche, but it’s a game. You get to play around with it, and then leave it, when you go home.
It’s one of the horrors of history that also has these visual representations, so it must be surreal to be surrounded by some of that stuff.
AUSTIN: My approach to the part is that, if I didn’t get my side of it right, paying reverence to the true evil of my part, it doesn’t give the good guys something to fight against. It diminishes their role and minimizes their voice in the show. So, I feel it’s very important that, yes, I do pay reverence and respect to just how truly dark this character is. That just means becoming immersed in that world. Looking at these symbols and utilizing them just helps me, as an actor, to find the part.
This series also gets extremely violent, and there are unpleasant things that your character has to do. Were there any scenes, in that regard, that were particularly challenging to do?
AUSTIN: Sure, some of them get pretty physical. Later on in the season, there were some very physical, screamy stuff. It becomes very emotional, and it can be draining. I definitely felt very tied, after those intense days. It depends on the day and it depends on the exact scene that I’m shooting. Sometimes it’s cathartic and I go home feeling refreshed, after these things, but sometimes, it definitely does drain me a little bit, and I have to go home and have a drink.
Did you also have days that were just really fun because this show is a bit wild and bonkers?
AUSTIN: Yes, absolutely. So, me running through a forest, trying to shoot the good guys whilst singing was one of those days, which I honestly never expected the first time for me to do be doing professional musical theater would be in this context. Singing on the screen, as a neo-Nazi psychopath, is interesting, to say the least. It was definitely one of those days where it was just like, “What am I doing? This is bonkers, but also insanely fun.”
Is there a prop or a costume that you feel either represents the character, ,or that helps you get into character when you’re playing him?
AUSTIN: So, he wears a lot of these vests that really support my frame and really helped get me into the character. As soon as I put that on, it was like putting on this uniform and tying himself in. It helped me stand up straighter, put my chest out a bit more, and really get into the frame of mind of the character. So, those vests really helped me.
Do you think that, by the end of the season, we’ll feel differently about your character, at all?
AUSTIN: I think so. I think he’s going to manipulate the audience, a little bit, which is what I was hoping for and going for. I want the audience to love to hate him. You will definitely get to see more sides to him, later out, which gives a bit more context to what he is truly like, which I think is very interesting and I’m excited for people to see that.
You said you were looking for a role like this, but now that you’ve found this role, are there other things on your list, that you’d like to do?
AUSTIN: Sure. I’m very interested in all facets of the human mind. It’s quite a broad answer, but I love anything psychological. Psychopathy was what drew me to this role, specifically, and how to play, when I’m not a psychopath. At least, I don’t think I am. Anything along those lines. I love the idea of playing addiction. I find that very interesting. Heavy psychological stuff, very much interests me. So, I’d like to go along that route and continue along the darker side of human nature. I think that’s very interesting.
Hunters is available to stream at Amazon Prime.