Chris Weitz has revealed that he asked Sir Ben Kingsley to keep a huge secret from him while they shot Operation Finale as the director wanted the actor’s portrayal of Nazi Adolf Eichmann to remain elusive and dangerous throughout.
I recently had the chance to talk to Weitz about “Operation Finale,” which depicts Mossad agents’ attempts to hunt down and kidnap Eichmann, who escaped to Argentina after the war.
When I brought up Kingsley, Weitz recalled, “It is interesting with Sir Ben.”
“Because I found his character so difficult to put my finger on, which was one of the things about Eichmann, and why people have stayed interested in him, because he was so hard to figure out.”
“I wanted him to be a black box to me. I even asked Sir Ben to hide something from me. I still don’t know what it is. I just want his character to have some kind of secret that I had to find out.”
“I didn’t want it to be fleshed out. I wanted to be surprised by his character. So a lot of that unfolded on stage in front of us.”
When I pressed Weitz for more detail on this approach, he explained, “With this movie I was willing to do things by feel and intuition.”
“It struck me that the whole experience of the Mossad team when they had him in their power for about 10 days was that they didn’t know what to do with him or how to reconcile themselves to the simple fact of him.”
“A lot of them were very upset just being so close to him. But also by knowing that the size of the crime and then the seemingly unprepossessing quality of the person that they had in front of them.”
“They wanted him to fall to his knees and start weeping and apologize. Or just be a bigger villain and a stock and trade Nazi.”
“But I thought it would be OK if we brought that unknowing into the shooting of the movie itself.”
“For me personally, because I always knew that Sir Ben would be fantastic without that. I thought it would be cool to see that unfold in front of the camera.”
It wasn’t just during filming that Weitz took such a canny approach to “Operation Finale.”
Even before shooting had begun, Weitz decided to offer Oscar Isaac a producer credit because he knew the Star Wars actor would help to attract an esteemed ensemble, which, eventually, as well as Isaac and Kingsley, went on to include Nick Kroll and Melanie Laurent.
“Matt Orton and I went to see Oscar in New York, he was working in ‘Hamlet’ at the Public Theater at the time.”
“We sat down with him and talked to him, we already knew he had an interest in it. I think, at the time, his character was much more of a brooding, heroic type.”
“After reading Malkin’s memoir, Oscar was keen to make him, on the surface, someone who is more happy go lucky and to sort of see what a character like that would feel like. That was a crucial change to the movie.”
“In terms of the movie, a lot of actors want to work with him because he is so good. So he is kind of catnip in terms of getting people to do it.”
“For me, what I have to remember with someone like Oscar is just how many movies he has done. At most, I can do 1 a year. He can do much more.”
“So he has a tremendous working knowledge of filmmaking, which was super helpful.”
Weitz worked closely with all of his actors. But when it came to Nick Kroll’s approach, Weitz admitted that the comedic actor actually had one thing in his favor.
“With Nick’s character, Rafi Eitan is the one guy from the mission who is still living.”
“So he was able to benefit from that and from our Mossad advisor’s research and knowledge of Rafi.”
“Nick was justifiably keen not to be any kind of comedic relief. He was happy to be playing Oscar’s superior and the guy who is holding the bag most of the time.”
You can see Kingsley, Isaac and Kroll’s work in “Operation Finale” now, as it is finally in cinemas.