Hulu’s ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’ Introduces American Viewers to Israeli Legend Lior Ashkenazi Kveller –

Posted By on March 30, 2024

I may be biased because we have the same first name, but I think Lior Ashkenazi is one of the finest male Israeli actors alive.

Its in his dashing good looks, sure (I think we can call Ashkenazi a silver fox, at this point), but more than anything, its in the way he absolutely embodies his roles. I experienced serious whiplash as I watched his latest U.S.-released film Karaoke, in which he plays a seductive, egocentric playboy, in proximity to the Holocaust series We Were the Lucky Ones, where he plays Sol, the Kurc family patriarch, a caring father who would do anything to ensure his familys survival.

Ashkenazis talent and versatility are pretty awe-inspiring. Since his breakout role in the 2001 Late Marriage as Georgian Israeli bachelor Zaza, the three-time Ophir prize winner has been in dozens of Israeli TV shows and plays. Hes also starred in critically acclaimed films local like Walking on Water, Footnote and the controversial Foxtrot. Hes charmed moviegoers in fancy historical Hollywood projects like Golda. And hes appeared in countless episodes of Israeli satire shows, most recently singing a parody of Im Just Ken as Israeli politician Benny Gantz in the satire show Eretz Nehederet.

Fans of Israeli TV may remember Ashkenazi from HBOs The Boys and The Valley of Tears, or maybe even from Netflixs Hit & Run, the short-lived project from Fauda creator Lior Raz.

But We Were the Lucky Ones is by far his biggest international TV project yet, a chance for American TV viewers to finally get the treat of sitting with the grandeur of Lior Ashkenazi as he brings both his dramatic range and his warm humor to a deeply relatable family patriarch.

I too got the treat of sitting with Lior Ashkenazi, not literally but in a Zoom interview about the new Hulu series earlier this month. I found him wonderfully menschy and funny and Im feeling prouder than ever to share my name with him.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What drew you to the character of Sol?

Well, first of all, the book. It started there. I read the book first to know what Im going for but in the show they were doing much more than the book with this character. Its more his wife and his daughters that are running things [in the book]. But in the show, Erica [Lipez, the showrunner], Tommy [Kail, the director] and Georgia [Hunter, the author and producer] developed Sols character much more.

The thing is, at first I thought he was very old, but hes 50! My age! And he already had a granddaughter. I guess people then were kind of old in those times.

Our grandparents and great-grandparents generations, they all had babies so young.

Its so strange! I saw a lot of pictures of him, and you can see you can really understand this man, his inner life.

He is a family leader, in a lot of ways. Hes the leader of the seder, of Jewish ritual. Did you connect to that at all?

Well, I can connect to the patriarch thing, but you know, who really runs the family is Nechuma, his wife. She always gives him [direction] like, Yeah, you can say the last world, but it should be that word.

Theres a point later in the show, which I wont spoil, when Nechuma tries to comfort Sol with his own words. After feeling helpless, she tries to bring him back to himself with something that he said to her when she was worried about having more children about how having kids makes you more scared, but also, more strong.

Its questions you ask yourself during those times. You ask yourself, why did you bring kids into this awful world? And to be honest, after October 7, I had the same thoughts in Israel. Theres a reflection to this time.

Because your children are old enough to really be witnessing this moment.

I have an older daughter. Shes 24. Shes already done her [army] service. And my youngest is 11. I used to say to my older one when she was younger:,When you grow up, there wont be any army so everything will be OK. But I cant say that to my youngest now. Thats not a promise that I can make.

Did you also connect with this idea that children make us more scared, and yet stronger?

I guess every parent does. In every parents mind, you put your children in front of everything. Nothing is more important. Nothing goes before them.

Its funny to me that you talked about Sol being so old because we really do see the characters of this show getting visibly older at a fast pace.

I remember a survivor in Israel telling a story about her father. After a night when the Gestapo, the Nazis, humiliated him and tortured him, he came back home in the morning with gray hair. Like overnight, his hair become became gray, white. Its about trauma; they just get older faster.

Can you talk a little bit about the prayers in the show theyre so beautiful and I know you had a consultant on set to make sure the Jewish ritual was right.

Thats right. Im Sephardi, so I know the Sephardi version of the prayers. I know Ladino, its my first language actually, because my parents were Olim Chadashim [immigrants to Israel]. I dont know Yiddish at all.

But I fell in love with this music [of the Ashkenazi prayers]. One day, I was rehearsing by myself and I didnt notice that Erica Lipez was sitting behind me. I looked back and she was crying.

It transported her.

Yeah, it threw her to her fathers house, or her grandfathers house. It was challenging, but I really fell in love with it.

What was Passover like in your house growing up? And what was it like filming the seder scene for the show?

I think in Israel, we celebrate differently. I know that because my wife is from France, and its a totally different thing. My parents are very traditional Jews, but I mean you aim towards the food. So you run through the haggadah. I remember it as a kid we would just read because everybody was hungry. We were doing things just to do it. Not in the traditional way of, lets take our time and now, Ill sing Dayenu, Dayenu! and now, well do that, and now well do that No, it wasnt like that.

We were doing the seder [scene] and the cameras were all around. And Tommy just let us improvise. So we were improvising everything. Though not all of the actors knew how to read Hebrew.

You were lucky in that regard

It was funny because I said, OK, Genek, now its your turn. The wicked son. Come on! Start! And [Henry Lloyd-Hughes] doesnt know how to! So he says, I dont want to be the wicked guy! We improvised a lot. You know, everything you see on episode one in the seder is improvised. Its not scripted. Just the prayers were.

And it feels like Passover! Chaos! family!

Yeah, exactly. Kids running all around!

Lior Zaltzman is the deputy managing editor of Kveller.

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Hulu's 'We Were the Lucky Ones' Introduces American Viewers to Israeli Legend Lior Ashkenazi Kveller -

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