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When actor Zack Schor read the script for Hunters, an Amazon-produced show about Nazis living in 1970s New York, he didn’t think about how the role could further his career—he thought about his grandparents, and how he wanted to tell the story as honestly as he could, even if it meant wrecking his muscular body to do it.
His grandparents were children in Europe during the rise of Nazism, and their lives were forever changed because of it. His French grandmother’s family hid in the attic of a barn for years so they wouldn’t get sent to a camp, while his Polish grandfather was sent to a concentration camp outside Budapest and recalls living in terror, every day, of being shot for not working hard enough.
Schor’s character, played in later years by Al Pacino, is a Polish Jew sent to Auschwitz, and the actor’s family connection to the Holocaust gave him strong motivation to look the part as much as possible. He set a goal of losing 35 pounds—a formidable number for someone with much more muscle than body fat.
“It was incredibly personal and resonant, this story, and I knew that what I brought to it physically would be very important,” he says. “I wanted people to see what this character went through, I wanted them to be uncomfortable when they saw me on screen.”
Getting Lean. Way Too Lean.
Just losing weight for the Hunters role wasn’t enough—Schor had to lose muscle mass as well to achieve that disturbingly too-skinny look.
While checking in with a doctor on a regular basis, he cut way back on his calories and began running every day, sometimes a few times a day. Because the trail running he usually did offered too much resistance, which would build muscle, he did treadmill-only runs and slogged through the miles.
He lost 20 pounds in 20 days. The last 15 were tougher, but he kept at it, still keeping his consumption low and his treadmill sessions frequent, for a few more months. Because of the loss of both fat and muscle, his joints often ached, and he began losing stability and energy. He focused on doing long foam roller sessions to help with recovery.
The weight loss wasn’t just physically demanding, as it also took a heavy toll on his mind and spirit, too.
“As challenging as it is physically to get to that level, it was more difficult mentally and emotionally,” he says. “Then, to be in that condition and go onto sets that look like Auschwitz is an incredibly immersive experience. It’s heavy. I was impacted by the darkness I felt, and I think that will stay with me for a long time.”
Building Back Up
Once filming wrapped at the end of September, Schor had a whole new challenge in getting back to being healthy, and he knew it would be a slow process. He increased his calories very gradually, knowing that a full ramp up would make him sick.
In a similar way, he waited to get back to lifting, taking six weeks first to build up his core strength and stabilizer muscles.
“Mostly, in those first few months, I focused on feeling like a human again,” he says. “I spent months being meticulous about every calorie and every mile, so I let myself take a break from analytics and numbers, and just come back slow and steady.”
He was happy to go back to activities he’d loved before, like trail running and building upper body muscle mass by lifting, and knows he’ll eventually get the physique he had at his starting point. What he’ll never have is regret for getting so aggressive in changing his body composition.
“With this role, it was vital for me to go as far as I could with it,” he says. “Physically, mentally, emotionally, it’s all there on the screen.”