Director Laszlo Nemes’ harrowing Holocaust drama Son of Saul is an immersive journey into the horrors of Auschwitz, as experienced by a Hungarian Jew forced to participate in the day-to-day work of extermination as a Sonderkommando.
Actor Geza Rohrig shoulders a heavy load as Saul Auslander, the film’s narrative and visual focal point, which makes it all the more impressive that he’s a newcomer as a performer. Off screen, Rohrig writes poetry and teaches Jewish studies at a Brooklyn private school.
Rohrig spoke to EW about his approach to Son of Saul, as well as the toll it took, during a video interview at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year.
“When I first read the script, I right away realized that this is not going to be one of those movies that try to avoid the darker realities of the Holocaust,” Rohrig said. “In one way I was happy about that, because I thought that lots of movies have it too easy. If you make a film about the Holocaust, you better recognize the Holocaust for what it is, and not try to surround the subject matter with cheap sentimentalism and give some sort of a survivor’s tale, which is really the exception. Most people did not survive.”
Making the film was “a singular challenge,” Rohrig added. “There was nothing in my life, I had no such experience that I felt would qualify me to play this role — obviously, and thank God. … I had nightmares and I was at one point considering having counseling, but as soon as shooting started, all this anxiety found an outlet. The work itself and the focus helped me through.”
Son of Saul opens today. Watch Rohrig in the video above.