'I was a sobbing mess.' The author behind Stan Original Series The Tattooist of Auschwitz on how the show was made.

When New Zealand author Heather Morris met a man "who might just have a story worth telling" in 2003, she could never have imagined where that meeting would lead.

The gentleman in question was Lale Sokolov, who had been a prisoner in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during the Holocaust, and whose memories would go on to form the basis for her bestselling debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Released in 2018, the book follows the lives of Lale and Gita, whom he met in the concentration camp, and explores how their love blossomed amid the horrors surrounding them.

"The day I met Lale Sokolov changed my life, as our friendship grew and he embarked on a journey of self scrutiny, entrusting the innermost details of his life during the Holocaust," Heather has said of their time together. 

She originally wrote Lale's story as a screenplay, before reshaping it into her debut novel — but now, six years after its release, the story has been adapted for TV by streaming service Stan.

With six episodes in total, the Stan Original Series The Tattooist of Auschwitz is both harrowing and heartfelt, and an absolute must-watch — not only for fans of Morris' novel, but anyone who appreciates beautiful storytelling.

Watch the trailer for Stan Original Series The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Post continues below.

I was lucky enough to sit down with author Heather Morris to chat about the experience of turning her much-loved novel into an incredible TV adaptation.


Can you talk to me about the process of taking your book to the screen?

When the book first came out, it very quickly became quite a big seller. It had an incredible reach across many countries, and makers of film and TV started coming to us. 

My publishers in London gave it to an agent in Hollywood, and offers came in to have it made into a feature film, which is what Lale and I had always thought it would be. But then we got this one offer from Synchronicity Films who said, "this is more than a two-hour story — can we turn it into a mini-series?" And at that point, well, it was a no-brainer.

The Stan series is a little different to the novel, in that it weaves in your own story with Lale. How did that decision come about?

It wasn't the intention initially, of course, but the filmmakers sent Jacqueline Persky, the screenwriter, to Melbourne to spend a week with me. And I can only say that I must have overshared! After Jacqui left, I got a call from Claire, the producer, to say they wanted to consider writing the story in a different way. Initially, I said no — it's not my story, I didn't want that. It did take a bit of persuading! But they showed me that they could feature Lale as an old man, as the man that I knew — and wouldn't that be a fabulous way to tell the story, from his memory?

So they took my afterword from the book, in which I talked about my time with him, and incorporated that into the story. And ultimately, what that decision does is show the fallibility of memory. We all have one way we want to remember things; and then there's the way things really happened. And I was so grateful that by including the story of old Lale, the filmmakers were able to show this. 


Harvey Keitel and Melanie Lynskey in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Image: Stan.In the series, we see Lale caught up in his memories, and he seems to almost 'leave' the room, in a sense. Did that happen in your conversations with him?

That really happened. I would see it, I would see that transition because his eyes would just glaze over. He was looking at me, then he was looking past me as if I wasn't there. His voice would change, he would become very emotional and he would slip in and out of speaking English and Slovakian. So I knew he was back there when he was suddenly speaking in what I learned was Slovakian and occasionally German.


And what did you do in those moments?

I knew just to sit back and let him go for a period of time. When I saw it becoming too much and I was concerned for him, I would just reach over and gently touch him on his knee or on his arm and softly bring him back. And I would see him coming back and shaking his head, and often he would start crying and he's say, "What did I say?" Because his memory of what he'd been talking about wasn't there.

The phenomenal Harvey Keitel plays old Lale (who passed away in 2006) in the series. Talk to me about his performance. Do you feel like he embodied the man you knew?

I knew from the get-go that Harvey was an actor heavily invested in the role that he was playing, and he went above and beyond. Seeing how Harvey portrayed Lale was incredibly emotional for me. He's a method actor, and when I met him for the first time in Slovakia prior to shooting, he had already gotten very, very involved in the character of Lale. I'd provided him with a lot of private video that I have, so he was able to see him, hear his speech. He would say to me, "Tell me exactly how he would sit. How did he stand?" He even had glasses made with his own prescription that are an exact replica of the glasses Lale wore. 

Harvey also worked with a speech coach, because he didn't want to just mimic Lale, he wanted to get his Slovakian accent just right. He was quite cheeky and charming when I was with him, there was a lot of joking going on. But once he got that in front of that camera, he became Lale. Absolutely brilliant.

Harvey Keitel as Lale Sokolov in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Image: Stan

Jonah Hauer-King plays a young Lale. Did you spend time with him ahead of filming as well?

I met Jonah probably two years before filming. He was the first person that was cast and I was in London, and he asked to meet me. And so I met him and spent time with him in London, and immediately went, "he's the one". He ticked in every box, and he was very, very dedicated. 

He looked at every testimony he could get his hands on, and was incredibly invested in the whole process from the very get-go. He was going in and out of Auschwitz, walking through with a good friend of his who knew more about the story of the Holocaust.


Tell me about some of the other actors' approaches to filming?

Jonas Nay [who plays Nazi officer Stefan Baretzki] was probably the most difficult in terms of the role he had to play. He's a brilliant actor, but this role has taken a toll on him. I caught up with him in Bratislava before shooting and he was perplexed about how to play the character — somebody who is so evil, and for whom there was not even one redeeming feature that he could find.

Now, I know a bit about Baretzki's background from Lale. Baretzki had told Lale about growing up in a rural area of Romania with a very violent father, who beat him and his mother and siblings every day. And there was one thing that Baretzki once said to Lale that made him feel that, okay, this guy may have one tiny ounce of empathy. When he was 13, Baretzki's father took to him with a stick, and he told Lale that he took the stick off his father and beat him back, then ran away, never to return. But Baretzki carried the guilt of having left behind his mother and two sisters to endure his father's abuse. Lale said he really felt the pain of what Baretzki had done to his mother and sisters.

Jonas Noy and Jonah Hauer-King in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Image: Stan.When you finally saw the series for the first time, what was your first impression?


The first time I saw it was actually what they call rushes. So, it was not put together yet — there was no music, there was a lot of green screen behind it, but I still felt very much like, "This can't be real. These people have created this incredible gift for me and family."

But when I saw it packaged up together, well, I was a bit of a sobbing mess. Because it was like a weight almost lifted — because this was what Lale and I had dreamed about.

Stan Original Series The Tattooist of Auschwitz is streaming now, only on Stan.

Feature image: Stan; Supplied.

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