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NBC Insider The Tattooist of Auschwitz

A Cast Member on The Tattooist of Auschwitz Almost Quit “Deeply Disturbing” Role

With a somber set as their backdrop, music played a role in bringing two actors closer together in between takes on The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

By Stephanie Gomulka

Jonas Nay leaned on his fellow cast members and crew to get through embodying his incredibly dark character in Peacock's new original limited series The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

The German actor portrays the twisted real-life Auschwitz guard Stefan Baretzi in The Tattooist of Auschwitz starring Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), Jonah Hauer-King (The Little Mermaid), and Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets, The Last of Us).

The limited drama series is based on the novel of the same name by Heather Morris. The show shares the love story of Holocaust survivors Lali and Gita Sokolov.

Nay opened up to NBC Insider about playing the Nazi soldier and how he almost walked away from the role.

“I felt that there’s no person on earth that could be more far away from myself,” Nay said.

Actor Jonas Nay Grappled with How to Play “Monster” Nazi Soldier in The Tattooist of Auschwitz

To prepare for the role, Nay was able to listen to Baretzki defend himself at trial for war crimes in recorded testimony.

“I couldn’t even bear listening to him,” Nay said. “You can listen to audio recordings of him defending the horrible things he did, sadistic actions, the crimes he committed in Auschwitz and he’s just not feeling any guilt.”

The Tattooist Of Auschwitz Lali Sokolov Stefan Baretzki

Nay found the audio recordings to “paint a picture of somebody just following orders,” which he found deeply upsetting.

“There was a point in the preparation where I was like, 'OK, should I—I can’t…I just can’t embody him, I don’t know how,” Nay said. “At one point, I sat down totally desperate in front of Heather Morris, who wrote the novel…”

He apologized to her and admitted he didn’t know how he should play “that monster.” Instead of letting him quit, discussed the “deeply insecure” character.

Nay felt a lot of apprehension before meeting the producers and fellow cast mates for fear of having to admit he wasn’t up to the role but found a supportive atmosphere that allowed him to move forward, he explained.

“I stood before Jonah Hauer-King, who is like a lot taller than me,” Nay said with a laugh. He was the first person Nay was able to meet from the production. “He was just smiling at me and he was saying ‘I’m so glad we’re doing this together. I’m so glad that it’s you.’ I was like, ‘Why?’”

Then, Nay was able to meet Director Tali Shalom-Ezer.

“Tali was just saying, ‘You know what Jonas, don’t be afraid. We’re going to carry each other along the way. We’re going to carry each other through that,” Nay recalled. “It’s our duty, it’s…our will to you know tell this story of Lali and he wanted to—this story to be told.”

Christmas Music Helped The Tattooist of Auschwitz Actors Get Through Tough Moments on Set

Nay and Hauer-King share incredibly harrowing and graphic scenes together throughout the show’s six episodes. In between some takes, they found ways to connect with each other, according to Nay.

“Jonah just did his first recordings for an album,” Nay said, noting the memory still brings a smile to his face. “He’s a singer and a guitarist and I had the privilege to listen to it, like on airpods between the takes.”

Nay marveled at the contrast between being on the dark set while sharing music.

Lali Sokolov and Gita Furman in The Tattooist Of Auschwitz

“Him in his prisoner garb, me in a SS soldier uniform, standing in this surreal surrounding of a built-up Auschwitz listening to his music,” Nay said, who is also a musician. At the time of filming, he was working on a film score for a Christmas movie.

“In the morning when we come into the makeup truck, he was like…. Can you put up some Christmas music?” Nay said laughing. “We’re getting dressed and put into our roles visually and then we put on the Bluetooth speaker and listen to Christmas music and that was like…taking off so much weight in this moment and that was really kind of getting us through work. For me, personally, that was the biggest relief.”

All six episodes of The Tattooist of Auschwitz are available to watch on Peacock.