Ben Foster Interview: How a Jewish actor inhabited the role of a Jewish legend

Back in late June, I had the honor of interviewing one of cinema’s finest talents in Ben Foster. The chameleon is the kind of actor who can inhabit many different personalities on screen, most of them coming off as intense and dangerous. Think of his loyal brother in “Hell or High Water,” his henchman in “3:10 to Yuma,” or his soulful work as a father living off the grid with his daughter in “Leave No Trace.” No matter the character, Foster goes all in, something he did for one of his recent performances.

Imagine being a Jewish actor and being offered up the part of Harry Haft, the World War II hero who escaped the awful conditions of Auschwitz by fighting his fellow Jewish prisoners. He became a prizefighter after the war, but never regained a normal consciousness after acquiring freedom in the dirtiest manner possible. For that role, you needed a real gritty performer and someone who was willing to transform their body. Foster went through a similar body transformation as Christian Bale did with “The Machinist,” losing a ton of weight while learning how to box.

In a 15 minute conversation, which is three times the amount of time I usually get with movie stars or filmmakers, I spoke with Foster about climbing into the head of Haft and finding the beauty in a sea of massive guilt.

Barry Levinson directed “The Survivor,” forming a powerful one-two Jewish Hollywood punch with the picture, which was released on HBO. When the Emmy Award nominations were announced in July, Foster was egregiously left out of the Best Actor race. Looking at this picture, how in the world could they possibly do that?

HBO Films/Variety

The problem was, most likely, that a lot of voters didn’t see it or even give it a second look due to its subject matter. Some of the movies’ hardest knocks can come with Holocaust-related stories, even ones with a halfway happy ending like Haft’s tale entails. He made it out, as signified by the film and story’s title, but he never really made it out of those camps. As Marcus Luttrell once said to Matt Lauer about surviving Operation Red Wing (Foster co-starred in the film version of that story, “Lone Survivor”), a part of him never really left that spot where several of his Navy Seal brothers died. The same could be said for Haft if he were alive today.

Foster brought all that back to the forefront with his work. It’s award worthy, even if the award worthy people didn’t think so. In addition to the star, Levinson’s film also starred Vicky Krieps, Danny DeVito, John Leguizamo, and Billy Magnussen. Give it a look and enjoy the conversation I had with one of the best working souls in the movie game. Wait for a spot near the end where I get an honest chuckle out of Foster, as we talk about respective family lives and how just “existing” is good enough at times.

Thanks for the time and follow The Film Buffa on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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