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When actor Zack Schor read the screenplay for Hunters, an Amazon-produced show about Nazis who lived in New York in the 1970s, he didn't think about how the role could advance his career – he thought about his grandparents and how he did that wanted to tell story as honestly as he could, even if it meant destroying his muscular body to do it.
His grandparents were children in Europe during the rise of National Socialism, and their lives were changed forever. His French grandmother's family hid in the attic of a barn for years to prevent them from being sent to a camp, while his Polish grandfather was sent to a concentration camp outside Budapest and remembers living in terror every day because of him had not been shot working hard enough.
Schor's character, played by Al Pacino in later years, is a Polish Jew who was sent to Auschwitz, and the actor's family connection to the Holocaust gave him strong motivation to consider the role as well as possible. His goal is to lose 35 pounds – an impressive number for someone with much more muscle than body fat.
"It was incredibly personal and resonant, this story, and I knew that what made me do it physically would be very important," he says. "I wanted people to see what that character went through. I wanted them to feel uncomfortable when they saw me on the screen."
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Down 35 pounds and carry hazel contacts. I don't look very pretty, but I'm so grateful for the opportunity to live up to this character. (Even if my expression doesn't show it ?) @amazonprimevideo #hunterstv
Lose weight. Too slim.
Losing weight for the role of the hunter was not enough – Schor also had to lose muscle to achieve this annoyingly thin look.
While regularly checking in with a doctor, he reduced his calories and started running every day, sometimes a few times a day. Because trail running usually offered too much resistance, which would build muscle, it only ran on the treadmill and slipped through the miles.
He lost 20 pounds in 20 days. The last 15 were tougher, but he stuck to it, kept consumption low, and kept treadmill sessions frequent for several months. Because of the loss of fat and muscle, his joints often hurt and he lost stability and energy. He focused on long foam roll sessions to aid recovery.
Weight loss was not only physically demanding, but also took a high toll on the mind and soul.
"As difficult as it is to reach this level, it was mentally and emotionally more difficult," he says. "Then being in that condition and going on sets that look like Auschwitz is an incredibly haunting experience. It is difficult. I was struck by the darkness I felt and I think I will remember it for a long time stay."
After filming was completed in late September, Schor faced a whole new challenge to get well, and he knew it would be a slow process. He was gradually increasing his calories and knew that a full increase would make him sick.
Similarly, he waited to lift again and took six weeks to build up his core strength and stabilizer muscles.
"For the first few months, I mainly focused on feeling human again," he says. "I spent months worrying about every calorie and mile, so I took a break from analysis and numbers and just came back slowly and steadily."
He was happy to return to activities he had previously loved, such as trail running and building lean muscle by lifting, and knows that eventually he will get the body that he started from. What he will never have is regret that he has changed his body composition so aggressively.
"With this role, it was important for me to go as far as possible," he says. "Physically, mentally, emotionally, everything can be seen on the screen."
Catch hunters now on Amazon Prime Video.