A version of this story about Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and “Hunters” first appeared as part of a special Latinx section in the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
The Amazon Prime series “Hunters” is about a group of Nazis who have been living in the United States for decades, plotting the rise of the Fourth Reich, and about a shadowy gang of Jewish avengers who make it a point to track down and kill the Nazis. It’s set in 1970s Manhattan but it also flashes back to World War II Germany, and to the concentration camps where Jews were killed by the millions.
But for Mexican-American director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, this story also seemed like a personal one. “I really identified with Jonah’s journey as an outsider,” he said of the Jewish teen played by Logan Lerman. “And I identified with the bigger theme of people who are marginalized searching for justice or a voice in the world, fighting for their existence. It’s a topic I think about all the time, and for anyone who feels that way, the story taps into emotions that are universal.
“And the show is set in two different eras, the ’40s and ’70s — but politically and culturally, it deals with the pervasive and long-lasting impact of prejudice. I think we’re at a political crossroads right now, and we can’t forget that.”
For Gomez-Rejon, whose career has included the 2015 indie hit “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and the TV series “American Horror Story” and “Glee,” the trickiest part about the 90-minute pilot to “Hunters” was the range it had to encompass.
“It was dangling between two worlds,” he said. “The world of 1970s New York, which could be out of a Sidney Lumet movie, and the world of the hunters, which could have come from a graphic novel. We were trying to do something incredibly challenging tonally, which was create a world where the emotions feel real, but also allow for pulpy violence, and then also flash back to the Holocaust.”
The most challenging sequence, he said, may have been the opening one, in which a seemingly idyllic all-American afternoon barbecue suddenly changes into a bloodbath. “It’s has to kick off the film and create this alternate reality of Dylan Baker’s existence,” he said of the actor who plays a Nazi spy embedded deep in the American government. “We wanted something that screamed America in almost technicolor dreamscape. It should pop as something that has the illusion of safety and then slowly start to evolve. And little by little we start changing lenses, and the world goes from wide and safe and clear to more dangerous and more suffocating, and ends on extreme closeups. That was something we planned and rehearsed as a cast, and I think we pulled it off.”
Raised in the border town of Laredo, Texas, by Mexican parents, Gomez-Rejon said that families on the border had “a multitude of different experiences. You could be raised Mexican or Chicano or Texan, and you could spend half your time on one side of the border and half on the other. Technically I was Mexican American, but I didn’t know that until I had to check a box on the PSAT test. I thought I was Mexican.”
When he left Laredo for New York to become a filmmaker, he said, he was venturing into unknown territory. “I was part of a culture where I didn’t think I was a minority, and my parents encouraged us,” he said. “But it was very foreign, unheard-of to want to be a filmmaker.
“And once I got to New York, I realized I had to work extra-hard to have my voice heard. I think the goal is variety — to not perpetuate stereotypes, but to try and see my own background represented on film and television. You want to create worlds where you are represented, and also worlds where people think and act like you even if they don’t look like you.
“Inclusivity isn’t just about diversifying the people who work in Hollywood, but the stories that come out of it,” he added. “That’s my focus. And as I begin to produce and create more television, to be the first at the party instead of the last one in, I aim to nurture Latinx voices in front of and behind the camera and make attainable the access that I had to fight for.”
Gomez-Rejon’s goal is now to create television “from the ground up,” and he says the ideas are plentiful. “I’m busting with ideas that I want to make,” he said. “It’s like the line from ‘The Elephant Man’ — my head’s so big because it’s full of dreams.”
Read more of the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue here.