'Operation Finale' is like "Mission Impossible but without Tom Cruise," says star Pêpê Rapazote
Pêpê will be featuring in 'Operation Finale' as a German-Argentinian SS officer and revealed what audiences can expect from the historical drama.
Chris Weitz saw his stock rise significantly after the releases of 'American Pie' and 'About a Boy,' the latter of which earned him and his brother, Paul Weitz, an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. The 48-year-old has also helmed the film adaptations of 'The Golden Compass' and 'New Moon,' and most recently co-wrote the script for 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,' but it's the upcoming historical drama 'Operation Finale' that has been turning heads in Hollywood.
Based on a screenplay by Matthew Orton, the film follows the efforts of Israeli intelligence officers to capture SS Officer and holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann in 1960 and is set to release in theaters on August 29. 'Operation Finale' boasts of a stellar cast — the likes of Sir Ben Kingsley, Oscar Isaac, Lior Raz, Mélanie Laurent, Nick Kroll, Joe Alwyn and Pêpê Rapazote. While it's likely that Pêpê's role goes unnoticed, his character may prove pivotal to how the story unfolds.
I caught up with the 47-year-old actor to talk about the drama and his portrayal of Carlos Fuldner, and he provided quite a few insights into what 'Operation Finale' has in store for the audience. Asked about Fuldner, Pêpê, well-versed in the history of the war, answers, "After the end of World War II, the Germans know they're going to lose, and there's this operation to get as many German officers out of the country as possible."
From here, the actor goes on another tangent about Argentina's fascist history, revealing how it was the idea of the former three-time president, Juan Domingo Perón, to smuggle the European nation's best scientists, technicians, and engineers into the country.
"So, this guy (Fuldner) is a captain with the SS, and he was half-German and half-Argentinian," he continues, delving into the background of his character. "He was the guy in charge of getting them into Argentina. It was a big deal because let's not forget that this guy was a smart ass because he got kicked out of the SS during the war for robbing their money. They took his skull ring, the pride of the SS, and melted it down, which is the most disgracing thing that can happen to an officer. But then, they brought him back when they needed him."
Pêpê then detailed the slick operation Fuldner ran to transport the Germans into Argentina. "There was a meeting in Madrid — which was also a fascist country, then — and this operation started, and he was making money out of every German officer coming to Argentina. He had this company and he gave people jobs, and it was kind of an agency for temporary jobs. He was like, 'I keep a commission. Either you pay me a fee, or you don't get a job.'"
He's considerate enough to ask whether I've watched the movie, but assures me that there are no spoilers ahead before proceeding with how Fuldner assists Eichmann in his escape. "Adolf Eichmann goes to Argentina and Carlos Fuldner wants him to become the number 1 face of the Fourth Reich," he says. "Historically, they wanted Argentina to be the Fourth Reich with all the German officers, so, they had had atomic energy two and a half years after the war ended."
Asked how he would describe the drama, he says, "It's sort of like 'Mission Impossible,' but without Tom Cruise. Probably the first Mission Impossible ever!" When I pose why he thinks so, he explains, "A team of eight Jews from Mossad go to Argentina, a very fascist country in order to retrieve a Nazi. They retrieve him and bring him back to Israel and take him to court, where he's sentenced to death."
However, World War II is a subject that has been covered to the point of saturation in Hollywood, as well as other film industries around the world. I asked Pêpê how 'Operation Finale' is different from the slew of other films in the genre, and the actor responds: "The importance of the story isn't about the movie, but the history itself. It's the final chapter of the Holocaust. The architect of the final solution, the author of six million Jew killings/murders was finally in Israel to be charged. It was not Nuremberg. He didn't take his life, he was tried in Tel Aviv. How much of a divine justice is this?"
"It's 'Finally, we got him! We have him,'" he continues. "It was also the first international Mossad operation. The first one that gave Mossad much respect throughout the world."
The actor also divulged how the movie was originally quite a bit longer. "It was a lot longer, and we had to cut out a lot of scenes. It's already 127 minutes — 2 hours and 7 minutes — and I think it was supposed to go on for two and a half hours," he says. "They didn't want it to be that long because, sometimes, people don't go to such movies. They'll see two and a half hours and go, 'I'm not going to see this, let's go see something else.'"
But how exactly did he land such a unique role, I ventured. "Well, I had to audition for this one, and I had to do a Nazi speech," he answers. "It was unfortunately cut in half in the movie, but this anti-semite Nazi speech was quite hideous. It goes like every other Nazi speech, 'What's wrong with this world? Jews!' and 'So, now tell me what she shall make do with these Jews? Soap! and it was something like that."
"So, it's very, very, very full of hate. The part was quite startling. It was an amazing speech cause you get to take people with you to your cause just by saying the right words at the right time with the right tone. And that's the danger of populism. That's how extremists are born, right?" he asks, before laughing and adding how it was an amazing experience to play the character and that he enjoyed getting to speak Spanish again with the little twist of an added Buenos Aires accent.
The first impressions of 'Operation Finale' has been excellent. The talk amongst netizens is that the drama could be up for multiple Academy Awards come the Oscar season, but Pêpê is eager to play down such rumors. "We will have to wait for the reviews," he concedes. "I think the movie is really good, but we have to wait for the critics. There could be a lot of Oscar nominations — in acting for Sir Ben and Isaac, in cinematography, wardrobe, directing — and there are some very good possibilities, but that's just me. We have to wait until the critics speak their minds because it's not what you think."
The actor is also very modest in his outlook towards such honors. "Most of all, be humble," he says. "Because you're talking about your own work, and when you're talking about the things you do, there's this tendency to say, 'Hey, this is actually good!' and you're not seeing the whole picture, and then, people come in and say, 'Eh, it wasn't that good.' So, better hold and see what is to come."