Newcomer Annie Hägg is making quite the impression on viewers in Amazon’s original series Hunters. She went to great lengths for the role of young Ruth, including shaving her head on camera, losing a significant amount of weight, and even learning to speak Polish and Yiddish for the role.
I got the chance to talk to this up-and-coming star about how she originally got into acting, her audition process for Hunters, the research she did to prepare for the role and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!
Tell us how you got into acting originally.
I have always loved pretending to be other people. I was a very good mimic as a kid so I could imitate the way people spoke and take on their physicality and facial expressions with relative ease. The first person I was impersonating was my mother. I had this routine where I would dress up like her—stuffed bra, floral dress, lipstick—and go out to the grocery store cradling our cat Snuffy as if he were a baby. I’d walk down the aisles —cat in one arm, shopping basket in the other— in full mom regalia. I realized that because I took the character seriously, other people did too and played along. So when I would ask the prices of things and order half a pound of smoked turkey, I was responded to and treated as the ‘mother with child’ that I was playing. Pretending to be someone else brought me so much joy that I just never wanted to stop doing it.
Was there a specific person or experience that you would credit with helping you decide that acting is what you wanted to do for a living?
I really have no memory of not wanting to be an actress. As soon as I became aware that acting could be a profession, which was probably around the age of 5, it was all I wanted to do. I was lucky enough to have two very supportive parents who encouraged me to pursue it.
Is there a specific role or type of character you haven’t gotten the chance to play yet in your career but are hoping to cross off your bucket list?
I’d love to play Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. She is the ultimate Queen.
Switching gears, let’s talk about your current project Hunters. What did you first think about the project when you read the script? What was your audition process like?
I thought the story was incredible and was very drawn to the challenge of playing a Holocaust survivor. Also, in the initial breakdown for the character, it said in all caps “ACTRESS MUST SPEAK POLISH & GERMAN–WILL NEED TO SHAVE HEAD,” and I just thought, ‘That’s me.’ The audition sides were meant to be done in English with a Polish accent, but because of what I saw in the breakdown, I asked a friend to translate the lines for me into Polish just in case. So I walked into the room and said, “Do you want it in Polish or with a Polish accent?” They seemed very shocked and said, “If you can do it in Polish, let’s see it in Polish.” So I did! I definitely think that helped me get the part.
Once you officially got the part, what kind of research did you do to help prepare you for this role?
I was looking into anything that would help me understand Ruth’s world. She’s from Łódź, the daughter of a Rabbi, she is not married, she speaks Polish, Yiddish and German and is around 28 when she is captured and taken to Auschwitz. That’s a lot of specific information to start with, so I looked for anything relevant to flesh out these circumstances. I started with history, and because I studied the Holocaust in college, I had a lot of books on the shelf by really great historians like Christopher Browning, Götz Aly, Saul Friedländer and Adam Tooz that I got a lot from. I also read The Old Testament, Elie Wiesel’s Night, Theodor Reik’s Jewish Wit, and Rabbi Telushkin’s Jewish Wisdom. I listened to Klezmer music, visited the Jewish Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage—anything I could think of, really. I also was lucky enough to grow up in New York with many Jewish friends and attended a primarily Jewish middle/high school so there was a lot I knew about Judaism and Jewish culture from my own experiences. All this research was so useful because when you’ve done the work to create a rich enough world for your character at home, you have more freedom to discover things in the moment when you’re on set.
I know a lot of actors bring a bit of themselves to the characters they play, but in what ways do you think you’re similar to Ruth and in what ways do you think you’re different from Ruth?
Ruth is brave almost to the point of recklessness, which I can definitely relate to! She is a woman of extremes: her courage, her defiance, her willingness to take risks, her love for Meyer. I can also be extreme myself. I’m very passionate and sometimes take things too far, just like Ruth. We are different in that growing up the daughter of a Rabbi, Ruth always had religion at the center of her upbringing and her life in a way that I don’t.
This show features such a well-cast ensemble. What was it like working with everyone?
It was an absolute dream. I worked primarily with Zack Schor (the young Al Pacino character) who plays my love interest, and with Christian Oliver, who plays the Nazi doctor tormenting us in the camps. Both Zack and Christian are incredibly talented and generous actors. We all really found a nice rhythm of working together, especially when we were shooting in Budapest.
I’m sure recreating moments of the Holocaust is not an easy task, especially for an actor. What were some of the things you would do to lighten the mood between takes?
Before I went on set, I recited poetry in my trailer to center myself, mostly W.B. Yeats’ “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” and “No Second Troy.”
Creator David Weil has said that Hunters “is not documentary” and “it was never purported to be”, but there’s still a lot to learn from it. What do you hope people take away from watching the show?
I think what’s really wonderful about the show is that it’s not just Jewish people who are hunting down Nazis, but all different kinds of people. I like the message that one group’s marginalization is everybody’s problem, not just that particular group’s problem.
Last question — we’re called “Talk Nerdy With Us” because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you are currently “nerding out” about?
Max von Sydow, who was one of my favorite actors, just passed away, so I’m currently nerding out on all of the films he made with Ingmar Bergman.
Make sure you follow Annie on Instagram. Hunters is now available to stream on Amazon.
Photo Credit: David Goddard