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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Vicky Jessop

The Tattooist of Auschwitz: who plays who in Sky’s devastating new drama?

Almost 90 years on, the events of Lali Sokolov’s extraordinary life are set to be brought to the small screen for the first time.

Sky’s new miniseries, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, is set to land on May 2. Based on the book of the same name by Australian author Heather Morris (who drew on interviews with the real Sokolov), the show tells the story of how Sokolov was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and – against all the odds – fell in love with fellow prisoner Gita.

We break down who’s playing whom

Harvey Keitel plays Lali Sokolov

(Martin Mlaka / Sky UK)

Lali Sokolov is the protagonist of the story: a young Slovakian Jewish man, who is deported to Auschwitz in 1942, during the Second World War. Spared the gas chambers, he was assigned to become a tattooist, responsible for tattooing the concentration camp’s infamous identification numbers onto the prisoners’ arms.

Harvey Keitel, who plays the older Lali, is an American actor. Born in 1939 (he is now 84), he was a child of Jewish immigrants – his father was from Poland and his mother from Romania. He enlisted in the Marines at 17, then worked as a court stenographer for 12 years before veering into acting.

He starred in Martin Scorsese’s very first feature film, 1967’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door – before following it up with Mean Streets and Taxi Driver.

Now something of a legend, in recent years, he’s also racked up appearances in several Wes Anderson films, including The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs.

Jonah Hauer-King plays the younger Lali Sokolov

(Martin Mlaka / Sky UK)

Hauer-King, who portrays Lali during his time in Auschwitz, comes from the UK. Born in 1995, he’s the son of Debra Hauer, an American psychotherapist, and Jeremy King, the London-based restaurateur.

He has Jewish ancestry on his mother’s side – his grandfather hailed from Poland – and after attending Eton, he went onto study theology and religious studies at Cambridge.

His acting career started in 2017 with an appearance in the BBC’s Little Women; he’s since appeared in the BBC 2019 war drama World on Fire and in the live action Disney adaptation of The Little Mermaid as Prince Eric, opposite Halle Bailey as Ariel.

Melanie Lynskey plays Heather Morris

(Martin Mlaka / Sky UK)

Morris is the author of the book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which inspired the TV show. She spent several years interviewing the real Lali Sokolov at his home in Australia before writing up those interviews into a quasi-fictional memoir and the character of the author appears in the show. Lynskey describes Morris as “the world’s best therapist”, able to draw traumatic stories from Sokolov that he rarely talked about, even to his family.

Lynskey herself is one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed character actors. Born in the small North Island town of New Plymouth in 1977, she spent most of her childhood moving around the country as her orthopaedic doctor father changed jobs.

She moved into acting as a way to cope with the constant change, and her first role was at age 15 in the Peter Jackson film Heavenly Creatures, where she played Pauline, the best friend of Kate Winslet’s protagonist.

Over the years, she’s appeared in hit sitcom Two and A Half Men (from 2003 to 2015), Sam Mendes comedy-drama Away We Go and most recently in the Showtime series Yellowjackets, as the older version of Shauna Shipman.

Jonas Nay plays Stefan Baretzki

(Martin Mlaka / Sky UK)

Baretski was a guard at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Stationed there from 1942, he was an active participant in the mass murder that happened there, often beating, starving and selecting prisoners for the gas chambers on his own initiative.

“He’s volatile. It’s hard to anticipate what he does next,” Nay has said of his character. “He is always somewhere between brutal, drunk, high on amphetamines, close to a tantrum.”

German actor Jonas Nay was born in Lübeck, a city in northern Germany, in 1990, before the country was reunified. He started acting at 14 with a role in the children’s series Vier Gegen Z and is best known to English audiences for his role as East German spy Martin Rauch in Cold War thriller Deutschland 83 – as well as its sequels, Deutschland 86 and 89.

Anna Próchniak plays Gita

(Martin Mlaka / Sky UK)

Born Gisela Fuhrmannova, Gita found herself at Auschwitz at the same time as Lali – they met as he was tattooing her identification number onto her – and the pair soon fell deeply in love.

Próchniak is a Polish actor who has been working for years. Born in 1988, she trained as a dancer before making the switch into acting. She has mostly starred in Polish language films, but has appeared in BBC One show Baptiste and the Northern Irish crime thriller Bad Day for the Cut.

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