When Vicky Krieps arrived on set for Barry Levinson’s drama “The Survivor,” the film’s star Ben Foster had already spent time shooting all of the film’s scenes set inside a concentration camp. So when the actress finally met her costar, she described him having put up a “wall” that contained all the character’s own horrors of the camps.
“It was not just a wall of preparation of him as an actor, he had been trying to incorporate the horror of the camps. His body had lost weight, and he had come close to feeling how those people had felt,” Krieps told TheWrap ahead of the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. “He was like a sponge, he had soaked up this horror and this energy, and when I met him, he was this, and I didn’t know how to talk to this thing. It was very scary.”
Foster underwent an enormous physical transformation for the role of Harry Haft in “The Survivor,” the true story of a Jewish prize fighter who survived the Holocaust by being forced to fight other Jewish prisoners within the camps.
Foster lost nearly 60 pounds to film the scenes inside the concentration camps, then bulked up for the scenes in which he would fight as a boxer, including eventually landing a fight against the champ Rocky Marciano. And when Krieps met him, she describes that he was practically unrecognizable in more ways than one.
“When I met Ben, he was not Ben anymore,” she said. “We weren’t doing any small talk at all, and I’m standing there with my coffee, ‘Okay…’Meeting him as this survivor was really really something. I in my way had to dance with him.”
Both Levinson and Krieps were drawn to the story because of its contradictions of this man’s controversial legacy, but also because of their own family history with relatives inside the camps. And Levinson encouraged his actors to trust their instincts and see where their interactions would take them, including in one powerful scene that became much improved because of Krieps’ note on the script.
“She has to learn as the real woman would have step by step by step. Because we shot in continuity, I think helped for the piece,” Levinson said. “That’s what happens sometimes when you get two really talented actors who connect to the material.”
“I really just looked at his eyes, I was trying to go all into his eyes so I could go past this wall. It worked really well,” Krieps added. “Ben and I are similar in that we both work really instinctively. Not talk about it for hours but just go and see what happens.”
Check out the full interview with Vicky Krieps and Barry Levinson discussing “The Survivor” above.