Mark Feuerstein got his start on television with the soap opera Loving and he'll soon be returning to the small screen as the lead in Royal Pains, a new series set to air on USA network. But while his brand new series is exciting news and a great opportunity for the New York actor, it's his supporting role in Defiance that's keeping him busy with promotional duties and Q&As with the public.
Defiance is based on the true story of the Bielski brothers (played by Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell), three tough men forced to flee into the forests outside of Stankevich (now Belarus) during the Nazi invasion in 1941. What makes the story of the Bielskis so compelling is that they did not simply hide out and hope to survive the war. Instead, they took up arms and fought back against those who oppressed them, all while protecting Jewish men, women and children who heard of their deeds and joined in their efforts.
Feuerstein plays Isaac Malbin, an intellectual and key member of the makeshift community formed by the Bielskis, in this dramatic retelling of real life heroics.
Interview with Mark FeuersteinI am so surprised Defiance is not on more Top 10 lists.
"It’s a tough one. It’s not exactly Schindler’s List in terms of the specificity of the story and just the uniqueness of the performances. It’s a little more of a fast ball over the plate, but it’s such a great story, such a special story and the characters are so unique. There's no accounting for taste."
I was really amazed I’d never heard the story before.
"Me too. I'm a Jew from New York and the guy’s from Brooklyn - Tuvia Bielski lived in Brooklyn for 30 years after he escaped and survived, and I'd never heard about this guy myself. I mean as the story came out and as I told my parents I was making it, my dad realized that there were friends at synagogue who knew Tuvia, who were friends with the man, who had been at dinners honoring him and lunches for him. But he turned to someone before he died in 1987 and he said, 'I’ll probably be famous after I die,' and, you know, truer words were never spoken. He was well-known in the survivor community and a little bit in the Jewish community but you and I didn’t know about him. And now there's a book about him, a movie about him, a documentary is being made about him. You know, the guy is now getting his just desserts."
Was it his choice to not tell the story?
"I think he’s a very humble guy and he’d say to his son, 'I don’t want attention. I don’t want to be…I'm not a hero. I just did what I felt I should do.' But he’s a hero because what he felt he should do, his brother, his own brother was telling him not to do. His own brother was telling him, 'Stop taking in old women and men and children. We’re not going survive. We’re going to get killed because you're dragging us down with all this luggage.' And he said, 'Sorry, I have to do this. I didn’t ask for this choice. I didn't ask to be put in a position to save all these lives, but I was and I'm going to.'"
You hear tales and see movies, like Schindler's List, where a German saves Jewish citizens, but you don’t hear about Jewish people standing up for themselves during that time as much.
"Yes, you don’t. And you don’t because there's not a lot of examples. Six million didn’t successfully fight back. And even [director] Ed Zwick when he was confronted with the issue of telling the story, he said, 'Well who wants to make a movie about noble Jews? We've seen it. We get it. They survive.' Not in any way not appreciating what they want through, but just what makes this story different. And his Hebrew school friend and co-writer, Clayton Frohman, turned to him and said, 'No, this is about tough Jews.' This is about the guys like Ed had grown up with. Ed grew up in Chicago with a bunch of uncles who were like bookies, wise guys. Not intellectuals, not lawyers and doctors, like the ones I've played on television, not the kind of Jews you usually see. And so when it was presented to him that way, like, 'Oh wait a second, so these guys shot rifles and killed Nazis and killed sympathizers, killed the guys who killed their parents, these guys lived in the forest. Wait a second – okay, I have not seen that before.' That's when he decided, 'Okay, this might be a story I want to tell.'"
In reality it was much more brutal than what's portrayed in the movie.
"Yes, I think there was a lot more killing."
Why do you think they decided to go the route of not showing quite that much violence?
"You know, Ed Zwick is a man who… We all have a conscience, it’s why we’re not all murderers and thieves, but his conscience is bigger than anybody I know. So when he shoots a scene where the ultimate enemy is in handcuffs and dragged into the camp, a Nazi, and all these Jews have the opportunity to get the revenge that they have been dying for and they're spitting in his face and saying, 'My son David was dead in Warsaw. My son Reuben died in…' You know, they're all just screaming. [Zwick] doesn't just leave it at a bullet in the head. He shows my character and the teacher looking like, 'No, no, we can't do this. We can't just kill the enemy, that makes us as bad as they are.' So you see, you get this complicated moment instead of just what Quentin Tarantino’s probably making in the Inglourious Basterds where I think it’ll just be like, 'Oh, you guys are Nazis?' [Making gun noises] Burr-burr-burr-burr. Frankly I would have loved, you know, in my darkest heart I would love to just blow away hundreds of Nazis as a character in a movie. But Ed Zwick can’t do that. He’s got to ask the bigger question. Like, 'How do we then proceed? Where are we then? If an eye for an eye makes us all blind, then we’re all walking around blind.' So that's why he's a great filmmaker."