Daniel Craig stars as Tuvia Bielski in Defiance, the true story of three brothers who kept a group of Jewish men, women, and children safe as they fought back against the Nazis in 1941. Forced to flee into the woods surrounding their home in Stankevich (now Belarus), the Bielski brothers not only survived being executed by the Nazis during their invasion of the Soviet territory in June, 1941, but took a stand and took up arms against their oppressors. As word quietly spread about their activities in the woods, Jewish refugees began joining them and helping with their efforts. Ultimately, the Bielski Otriad became the largest Jewish partisan band in the history of World War II.
Directed by Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamonds) and based on the non-fiction book by Nechama Tec, Defiance shines the spotlight on an extraordinary true story that not many people are aware of. Daniel Craig did not know the story of the Bielski brothers until he picked up the Defiance script but he found much to admire about Tuvia Bielski, a man he sees as an accidental hero. Craig, who is not Jewish, explained what grabbed him about the story while taking part in the film's Los Angeles press day. "Religion was not a factor in taking this job. It was just literally one of those situations that I sort of looked at, read it and thought that it was an amazing story."
"The character is in just a dreadful, dreadful, dreadful situation. There's no going away from it. God forbid any of us should be put into that situation, but something is asked of him and he's very reluctant to do it. I love the fact that they're sort of saying, 'No, you must do this.' He's going, 'No. F--k off. I mean, I want to protect my brothers and I want to look after what's left of my family and I want to run away.' And they were saying, 'But you don't have a choice here.' I think that process, and obviously we condense it in the film and this is over a three or four year period, we condense the whole thing in the film but it's incredible."
Tuvia was definitely a hero, but he was a flawed hero. As problems arose within the group, Tuvia would handle them with a firm and sometimes brutal hand. Asked about how he approached that part of the character, Craig replied, "It was clear if you read about it that there were power struggles, and there were very serious power struggles. You can judge it if you like. One could judge it and ask if it's just because he wanted to remain in power or if he was just trying to keep it together. It's probably a little bit of both. It was just a completely extreme situation, and again, the question that you ask yourself is what would I do? Would I, for the greater good of the group, take this person out and quell this dissension aggressively and violently or do I leave it alone and allow the whole thing to just sort of disintegrate?"
Before filming Craig and the cast did get the chance to meet members of the Bielski family. "We sat and we drank and we talked and we had a conversation and we didn't talk much about Tuvia, but we sort of talked about I just wanted to get a feel for them, really," said Craig. "They were just sort of incredibly forward people, really energetic and really full of life and a proper family. They're like families are, sitting there and shouting at each other. Why whisper when you can scream? They're kind of like all families are and they're full of life. I mean, both Liev and I said, 'These guys are kind of scary guys.' They were like, 'Hey! Come on!' I can imagine that that's how their parents were, their father was."
Although Craig wasn't intimately familiar with the Bielski story, he was aware of the fact that there were Jewish people who fought back against the Nazis. "I knew about it a little bit. I knew that there was a Jewish resistance, but the only thing that I've read about it is that it was wiped out mercilessly," explained Craig. "It makes complete sense. Of course they did. The fact that nobody did would've been totally strange, but there were major pockets of resistance everywhere. People did fight. The fact is that there was really nowhere to run. The situation here is that the resistance happened within places like this where there was a forest, where people could get away from them. The local population was in cahoots. Unless you could get on a boat and get out of Europe, you were absolutely stuck. This was an incredibly well organized exercise by the Germans. I mean, they did it really efficiently - as we all know. I think that our knowledge of the 2nd World War is based on, and so it should be, what the result of The Holocaust was. Those are the images and the knowledge that we have of that period as we should, and we should be reminded of it as often as we possibly can."
Another aspect of playing Tuvia that Craig had to conquer was to speak Russian in a convincing manner. This was a tough task for Craig who admits he's not good at picking up languages. "It was a nightmare for me. I'm just the worst student in the world. I left school at 16. I literally cannot conjugate a verb in English. You can't conjugate a verb in English, can you? So, God knows what I know. So that's it. I really did screw up there because I actually don't really know what a verb is. Liev [Schreiber] has years of education ahead of me and took to this very well and learned the language a little. I had to do it phonetically, learn it and understand it. I understood what I was saying, but Russian is a tricky language to get far with. It's quite easy to sort of communicate in Russian, but to actually sort of speak the language is hard."
Continued on Page 2: Daniel Craig on Filming in the Lithuania Forest and Bond, James Bond