From co-showrunners David Weil 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, executive producer Nikki Toscano talked about how she ended up teaming up with show creator David Weil to run Hunters, what appealed to her about this story, working with this incredible cast, wanting to really push the envelope with big swings in the storytelling, the importance of the Holocaust flashbacks, and the importance of knowing where you’re going, in future seasons.
Collider: How did you get involved with this? Had you been looking to team up with someone to run a show?
NIKKI TOSCANO: No, I was just exploring a number of different opportunities. This script came my way, and they said that Amazon was trying to find somebody to help run the show with (creator) David [Weil]. So, I read the script and was sold. And then, I met David, and we just clicked. We had the same idea for the vision of the show, and therefore, it was much easier to execute it.
Was there ever any point in time, even before you started shooting, that you worried it wouldn’t work out?
TOSCANO: At a certain point, you’ve just gotta take a leap. For sure, it could have gone a different way, but I just got such a good vibe from David, from the beginning. We went to great lengths to consider each other, at every point in the process, and we just did everything together. We took every phone call together, we wrote scripts together, we went into the writers’ room together, we cast together, and that unity really helped us to both have a positive experience, doing the show, as a unit.
The story, for him, came from a very personal place. For you, as somebody who came from outside of that, what did you most connect with, as far as the story and what you thought were the most interesting parts of it to tell?
TOSCANO: When David and I first got together and we started having different meetings, we started talking about this group of hunters, and this ragtag group of others that were a number of different under-represented voices. It was appealing to me, and I thought it was really unique, that it wasn’t just a group of Holocaust survivors that were these Nazi hunters, but that there was also a blacktavist and a Japanese American man. I liked the idea of all of these different groups coming together, on a personal level, from groups that have been persecuted, for their own reasons and their own ways. When I was 25, I fostered and adopted a 12-year-old African American boy, and I’m a white woman. One of the biggest struggles that my ex husband and I had with raising him was our inability to ever truly put ourselves in his shoes. When I saw this group of hunters, I thought, maybe we’re going to allow our audience the opportunity to do that. So, for me, that was what really pulled me in.
I actually really liked the fact that the title of the series was changed from The Hunt to Hunters because it feels like that changes it from a thing to the individuals, which makes it a more personal story. Do you also feel like the title is now better suited, for that reason?
TOSCANO: Yeah, I absolutely do. What’s great about the title Hunters is the fact that there almost everyone in the series is a hunter. Some are representing good, and some are representing evil. The change, while at the time we were resisting, actually represents the sho, in a better, cleaner way.
With any show you want have great writing at its core, but to bring that great writing to life, you want to have great talented actors. Everybody knows who Al Pacino is and that he’s one of the greats, so what’s it like to know that you’re handing over material to somebody like that and that you’re going to get an awesome result?
TOSCANO: I don’t think that’s lost on anybody. It’s probably the most creatively fulfilling and rewarding experience of my career. Al loves everything about his craft, and so, there’s a true workshop that begins, the moment that he comes on board a project. That workshopping includes finding out about the minutia of the character, and having ad nauseam conversations about the intention of the scene or of a line. When somebody is so dedicated to doing that, it just elevates the performance of everyone around them. And by performance, that’s not specific just to the actors, but to the writers and the production designers. When you find somebody that is truly so passionate about what it is they’re doing, you want to imitate it and be like him.
Al Pacino is the name draw, but Logan Lerman is really the heart of the show. What makes him the perfect Jonah, and what do you think he brought to that character?
TOSCANO: One of the most beautiful things about Logan and his performance is the fact that he has the ability to bring a light and a darkness to the character, and those two things can coexist, at the same time. I think a lesser actor wouldn’t have been able to play both of those things, which was very, very important for his character, and where he starts and where he goes.
The ensemble of the hunters is just such an eclectic, incredibly talented group of people. Did watching all of them together change or shape things, over the course of the season?
TOSCANO: Absolutely. They all have such extraordinary chemistry together. With any series, you see what’s working and what’s not, and that was one of the things that was truly working. You write into it and lean into it. From the Nazi hunters to the actual Nazis, it was an embarrassment of riches, as far as wanting to write more for all of the characters versus just one or two.
I feel like nothing says bad-ass villain better than Lena Olin.
TOSCANO: Oh, my god, she is extraordinary, and such a nice human, to boot. Those two things don’t necessarily go hand in hand, in this business. She fully jumped into this role and made some really, really smart choices. We were lucky to get her. I do not want to run into Lena Olin in a dark alley, that’s for sure.
Did you have a point where you realized that this was a show where you could have Nazis and you could have extreme violence, but then you could also have a dance number to “Staying Alive”?
TOSCANO: That was always the ambition of the show. David and I, from the early days in the writer’s room, were always encouraging our writers to really, really push the envelope, and take really, really big swings in their storytelling and their dialogue, and breaking the fourth wall, when it served a purpose. It was a challenge, at every point along the way, to maintain that balance, but we would have rather taking that challenge then played it safe. I don’t think anybody that’s a part of Hunters is interested in playing it safe, and that was a really inspiring part of the process.
This is a period piece out of necessity because of the age of the Holocaust survivors, but what do you feel the time period added to the story you were telling?
TOSCANO: It was a kickback to the grittier 1970s movies, like Marathon Man and The French Connection. In all of those movies, you felt this underlying paranoia that was always seeping through, and that’s what we were hoping to do with our piece, and use that as a metaphor for the Nazis among us, living in America.
The opening credits are amazing, with that chess board. Was that something that there were a lot of discussions about?
TOSCANO: There were a lot of discussions about it. A number of people gave us different takes, and they were all extraordinary, but we just best felt that the chess pieces and the chess game best encapsulated what we were trying to say about our show. Elastic is the company that did it, and they did an extraordinary job.
Was it important to have the Holocaust flashbacks, so that you could show the real horror of what went on and have it ground the violence of the present story that you’re telling?
TOSCANO: Absolutely. You have to see what happened in the past to justify the violence in the future. My middle son is 15 years old and he knows about the Holocaust, but he doesn’t know about the specificity of the atrocities that were committed at Auschwitz. We need to remind people that happened once, so that we can stop it from ever happening again.
It seems like there is much more story to tell with this series. Have you had conversations already about a second season and what further story you’d like to tell?
TOSCANO: We’ve definitely had conversations about further plans, down the road, and Amazon has been really, really supportive of this show. God willing, they’ll give us a second season.
When you’re working with a show creator like David Weil, who says he has five seasons of the story in his head and that he knows what the last scene of the series is, does that feel very reassuring?
TOSCANO: Absolutely. It’s important, for any creator or showrunner that comes on board a show, to be able to have a vision. That vision may change in certain ways, along the way, but at the very least, if you know where you’re going, you know the top of the mountain top. Some of the roads to get there may change, along the way, but you know where you’re going.
Hunters is available to stream at Amazon Prime.