For Ben Foster, “The Survivor” — the story of boxer Harry Haft — is a once in a lifetime experience.
To play Haft, the 41-year-old Foster achieved a remarkable transformation, losing 62 pounds to weigh in at 122 to portray the Polish boxer’s live-or-die weekly matches in the Nazi’s notorious Auschwitz death camp.
With his sturdy physique, Haft was selected to amuse the guards boxing on Sundays against fellow inmates. Losers died immediately.
After the war, Haft had a brief boxing career in the U.S. in 1948-49, where his last bout was with future boxing legend Rocky Marciano.
For Haft’s postwar life, filming paused as Foster gained back 50 pounds in five weeks.
“We had the luxury of time, five months to prep it and we were able to shoot it in order” he said in a Zoom interview.
“It was very important to me early on when we discussed how do we show three decades of a man’s life, particularly at the recorded weight that Harry was.
“I know I needed to drop the weight myself. I needed to know where my edge was and still be able to fight. I intuited that if I did reduce my weight that that experience would inform the later decades. So it was just something that I knew that I needed to do.”
Foster smiled. “They offered to digitally shrink me. That just felt bad,” he said, shaking his head. “We’re trying to serve a story here. And I have my complaining about being hungry? It just felt ridiculous and insulting to the story we’re telling.
“Pushing myself physically at times feels like a great door into a role. It’s kind of the fastest way in. If you have a lived experience, you can transmit something that does feel perhaps more true.”
Also informing this HBO Max movie, which airs April 27 — World Holocaust Remembrance Day — was reality.
“A small group of us before we started filming went to Auschwitz — and it was life-altering to see it, to feel it. It changes your worldview. And I won’t say for the worse.”
Haft’s story, as sad as it is, can be understood better today because we recognize PTSD. Haft, who died in 2007 at 82, suffered all his life with nightmares, reliving what he’d survived.
Foster knows “The Survivor” ranks as “entertainment that asks difficult questions about the human experience, moral ambiguity, the costs of surviving.
“I wasn’t coming on to prove a point. I want to understand more about it and talk about something that isn’t discussed, that’s horrifying.”
“The Survivor” airs Wednesday on HBO Max.
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