Joey King and Logan Lerman tap into the heart of a dark time in ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’
LA Times The Envelope

a young woman stands at the shoulder of a seated young man

By Diedre Johnson

May 28, 2024 5:30 AM PT

At the heart of the World War II story “We Were the Lucky Ones” is a single Jewish family fighting the odds for survival. Based on the novel by Georgia Hunter, the Hulu limited series tells the story of the author’s grandfather’s family, the Kurcs, living in Poland at the outbreak of the war. As the title suggests, the Kurcs do manage to survive, although not without sacrifice. The family was split up for years, with some members choosing to flee from country to country to escape the Nazis while others stayed in Poland or nearby.

Logan Lerman and Joey King play two key family members, Addy, a young man on the cusp of a successful composing career, and his headstrong sister Halina, respectively.

The story of the rising tide of antisemitism couldn’t be more timely, a tousle-haired Lerman notes. “The journey for the creative team goes back 15 years — something like that — trying to get this show made and then it just happens to line up with a time that is really troubling and a constant, horrible news cycle.”

It’s not the politics of war and nationalism that Lerman believes audiences will be drawn to, though. “What matters to me more than anything in this story is the truth of this family, their history and what they experienced,” he says. “It doesn’t lean on any opinions about what is happening right now. It’s just about the innocent people in the middle of a conflict. It shines a light on the human stories and the human suffering.”

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Adds King, who has joined Lerman on this Zoom call, “It’s a reminder of what can happen when severe hate can go unchecked. There’s a massive rise right now of all kinds of prejudices: Islamophobia, racism, antisemitism. It’s devastating. Our show is not meant to be any kind of stance, rather, [we] just invite everyone of all walks of life to gather around something and see this compelling true story.”

When it’s pointed out to King that it can be frustrating to watch Halina’s tendency to push away romance and other opportunities as she waits for her life path to become clear, she doesn’t disagree. “It’s so funny to me that she is such a strong woman and she meets someone who likes that about her and isn’t trying to change that about her, isn’t trying to tame her, and she’s like, ‘I’m not ready yet.’

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Filming of the eight-part series took place in Romania and Spain (standing in for Brazil).

A young man and woman in period clothing smile at someone in a scene from "We Were the Lucky Ones."

“The Romanian leg of the production was an incredible experience for us all,” Lerman says. “We were so locked in and focused on our work, and the Romanian crew were exceptional. Spain acted like a character for me in its stark contrast in environment. It added so much to Addy’s feeling of loneliness and disconnection to his home.”

He prepared with a 300-page research packet filled with letters, pictures, transcribed interviews and music that the real Addy had written. “I was fairly consumed with connecting with him and Georgia’s family and learning how to play his pieces. My grandfather was a big influence for me as well. I tried to bring some of his mannerisms to the part.”

When asked about that something extra that each brought to their roles, the actors answer by describing what they liked about each other’s performance.

For King, Lerman was able to capture the emotional dilemma and burden of Addy being so geographically exiled from the rest of his family. “What he was tasked with was no small feat,” she notes. “He had this particular corner of the show that contrasted to the rest of our storylines, and that’s a very hard weight to walk with. There is only so much character description. … Someone’s charisma and someone’s real personality has to be able to support this other half of the show. So Logan’s performance added so much. You’re so compelled by him. You just absolutely love Addy. There’s such a likability about him. You also just feel so tied to him, and that’s a really special gift.”

A Polish Jewish family gathers around the table for Passover in 1938.

Lerman returns the compliment. “I read what was on the page, and I saw what you brought to it,” he says to his co-star. “I mean, there’s only so much you could write in a scene or character description in a book. Joey [brought] dimension and depth to this person. Whether it be your natural humor — which was important to inject into that character — or just your nuances, the subtleties in between the words and the conflicts. You just were so great at that.”

Both King, 24, and Lerman, 32, have been acting since they were kids and now seem to be well-adjusted adults. So what makes some child actors have smooth career transitions while others do not?

“It’s different for everyone,” King says. “There’s a lot of people who have very different child-actor-transitioning-into-adult-actor stories, and some of them are happy; some of them are sad. I think a lot of it is family, having people that ground you, and a lot of it is shared experiences, like Logan and I have become so close because we share a lot of similar experiences.

“I do have to say that like any journey that’s worth taking, there’s no easy way to take it,” she adds. “With all the ups and downs that have come with this particular journey, I wouldn’t take any of it back. A lot of crazy stuff happened for good and bad, and it was wonderful and complicated. I’m very grateful that now I’m able to sit here and make a show with one of my best friends. [It’s] something I’m really proud of. Obviously, all paths that I took led me here.”