He knew that the role would spark a difficult controversy and that many would criticize his decision to play the role of the Nazi leader, but he said yes immediately.
"For me playing Hitler is a gift, a once-in-a-lifetime role," he says. "I would leave much more esteemed roles for this one, because I really enjoy portraying him. It's fun. A great relief. It saves me tens of thousands of shekel on psychological treatment."
I'm surely not the first person to ask how you can even play such a role.
"I have been asked and I will be asked how can I connect to a person like Hitler, because it's not a character that I or any normal person can identify with from a place of understanding. All you can do is loath him. But we are similar in one thing – in wanting all or nothing. I want to be an actor just like Hitler wanted to be a painter, and when he crushed – he crushed.
"I can imagine that had I not been accepted into the Nissan Nativ School of Acting or IDF Theater, I would have hurt myself in a way, because at that age I couldn't imagine my life without that dream. I'm not saying that I would have committed suicide, Heaven forbid, but my life would have looked completely different, much duller."
What do your parents think about it?
"It wasn't easy for my mother to open the paper and see a picture of me as Hitler. It's alarming. And my mother is very Polish in her nature despite being born in Morocco. They weren't thrilled that I accepted the role, but they've gotten used to it a bit. I don't even know if they'll come see the show at the festival, but I hope they will."
Raising the monster
"Mein Kampf" is a provocative play, especially for the Israeli viewer – and not just because of its name, or the fact that Hitler is played by an Israeli actor, something which has happened only once before.
The play brings together young Hitler, who dreams of becoming a great painter, and a Jewish bookseller named Herzl (played by Shlomi Bertonov), who meet in a soup kitchen.
Herzl, who becomes the untalented painter's guardian, protects and supports him. When Hitler fails his academic exams and returns to the soup kitchen completely crushed, he develops hatred and loathing toward Herzl and the whole world, and turns to politics.
The play raises quite a few difficult and uncomfortable questions for the Israeli audience – not just about the essence of evil, but also about the insinuation that Jews had something to do with the monster's growth.
In some ways, the play evokes the feeling the monster was created by that Herzl. "I know you can say that," says Assaf. "After all, he cuts his mustache and gives him the famous haircut he was known for, but it's not true. It's a narrow view of the play.
"I think reality is many things. You can't disconnect this monster's growth from the entire German culture of that period, politics, the social, economic and religious situation. There was a foundation that allowed Hitler to grow."
Aren't you afraid of meeting the Israeli audience?
"More curious than afraid. Fortunately, it's a humorous play. I don't know how one could take in such a horrible character if it weren’t some type of black comedy. It's written almost like an excellent skit. Very sharp writing with sarcasm and a wink. I'm not sure that the result is softness.
"Doctors are very familiar with it. It's the blurring before the invasive penetration. The anesthesia before the pain. Because the show does end very badly. You can't take everything in without dazing the audience first. It's a difficult play and I am sure that many in the audience will have a problem with it. Some may even get up and leave.
"We're prepared for anything, any response. We know some people will get up and leave and we understand. I have no problem with it. I just hope they do it without disrupting other people's experience."
Such noise could also help the show's public relations.
"I believe there will be mixed responses. As a theater production it contains something different, very daring.
"I think that Smadar Yaaron and Mony Yosef, the artistic director of the Acco Festival should be lauded for agreeing to use such material and weren't afraid of it. It's not obvious, as they could pay a heavy price for it. And they're not doing it for the provocation, but because they believe it's important.
"In my opinion, such a play should be presented in Habima Theater, with all their German-Israeli connection. I think it should be there because it creates an important dialogue, especially with the young generation which has to understand this important issue.
"It's not a play that criticizes, but rather shows you a complex, very sad, very funny and very real piece of reality, and I think looking at it is what's interesting."
Assaf, 32, was born in Rishon Lezion to parents who immigrated to Israel from Morocco. Despite being relatively anonymous, he has appeared in several films and television series and won the Promising Actor in Theater Award for his role in the Cameri Theater's one-man show "The Child".
Dreaming about ghetto
He has been trying to make friends with Hitler for more than half a year. In order to succeed in this task, he read segments from "Mein Kampf" ("there is a lot of nonsense there"), traced the Nazi leader's character in archives and books, and watched Charlie Chaplin's "Great Dictator" for the thousandth time.
"A month ago I even dreamed that I was in a ghetto, in the Holocaust, running between alleys with other people."
Still, it's surprising to see an actor of Moroccan descent play Hitler.
"I guess so, but Gil Alon asked if I was interested. I immediately said yes, before I even read the play. And for a few reasons. One of them has to do with the question you asked, about my descent, and the other has to do with my perception of what it means to be an actor and what acting means.
"This whole concept of a typecast, of casting, is not an issue in our play. My physical appearance, my ethnic descent, doesn't exist. It wasn't even raised once. I'll never limit myself as an actor. An actor must aspire to do everything.
"A director who things Hamlet should only be blonde because the play says he comes from Denmark doesn't understand the real meaning of theater. Those who expect to see Hitler as he was should go to Yad Vashem or watch him on video. Acting is art and what you do with the role is the important thing, not who you are."
This isn't Assaf's first controversial role. He also played the leading role in Shlomi Elkabetz's film "Testimony", which presents the pain of IDF soldiers and the Palestinians and was slammed by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat during its screening at the Cinema South Film Festival.
The film, according to Livnat, distorts reality and criticizes IDF soldiers.
"It's not an easy film, and I support it wholeheartedly," says Assaf. "I didn't do it for political reasons, because in my opinion it's not just a political film but a human one too.
"Limor Livnat's response was unfair. She didn't even watch the film and decided to boycott it without staying to watch it. She only saw a few parts of it. It's not just unfair, it's uncivil. The film was chosen to open the festival and she should have respected that. She shot herself in the foot.
"The film's power is not in politics, but in the pain of the soldiers and Palestinians. It's not a film that judges, it's a film that expresses pain. Things have happened here throughout the years of the occupation, and this is what the film looks at."
Are you intrigued by politics?
"I'm not such a political person, although that's a pretty stupid thing to say as we are living in a country in which every decision, in every field, is affected by politics. But yes, I live here and I see that the conflict has an impact and that the world has had enough of what is happening here.
"And I'm also sure that there will be solution and that a Palestinian state will be established, because there is no other way. I wasn't a fighter in the army, but I connected to it out of the human pain that exists in every person."
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