The Zookeeper’s Wife: Cast, Is It a True Story, and Does it Have a Book?

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The Zookeeper’s Wife is a 2017 war drama film adapted from Diane Ackerman’s book of the same title. It tells of a true life story of the heroics of a Polish couple, Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who rescued and hid over 300 Jews in their Warsaw Zoo, away from the Germans who wanted to execute them during World War II. The Zookeeper and his wife were portrayed by Johan Heldenbergh and Jessica Chastain in the movie that was directed by Niki Caro and written by Angela Workman. The film was produced by 5 different producers which include Jamie Patricof. Four production companies were in charge of the film’s production and it was distributed by Focus Features.

The film which runs for 126 minutes was produced with a budget of $20 million. It was shot in the United States and the United Kingdom respectively. The film premiered in Warsaw, Poland, on March 8, 2017, it was further released in the United States on March 31, 2017, and in the United Kingdom on April 21, 2017, by Universal Pictures International. Upon its release, it made $26.1 million at box office worldwide.

The Zookeeper’s Wife Cast

Jessica Chastain (Antonina Zabinski)

California-born actress played the female lead role in the film as the wife of the Zookeeper. Chastain’s character, Antonina Zabinski, is a Polish writer whose husband was the director of a zoo in the capital city of Poland. When the Germans invaded Warsaw during the World War II and started searching for Jews and murdering them, Antonina and her husband helped hide some Jews in their Warsaw Zoo, among several other hidden locations away from the Germans who were searching for them.

Jessica Chastain is an American actress and producer. She was born on March 24, 1977, in Sacramento, California, to rock musician Michael Monasterio and Jerri Renee Hastey. Her parents had her when they were still teenagers. Chastain won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, for her role in the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty. Her role in Zero Dark Thirty also earned her one of her two Academy Award nominations. The actress is married to Gian Luca Passi de Prepasulo and she has one kid.

Johan Heldenbergh (Jan Zabinski)

The Zookeeper Jan Zabinski was portrayed by Johan Heldenbergh. Jan Zabinski was a Polish Zoologist who serves as the director of the Warsaw Zoo, where he and his wife hid the majority of the Jews evading to be executed by the German Army.

Johan Heldenbergh is an actor, film director, theatre director, playwright and screenwriter. He is best known to have starred in The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012), The Misfortunes (2009) and Moscow, Belgium (2008). The Belgian actor was born in Wilrijk, Flemish Region, Belgium, on February 9, 1967. He has also starred in other films like The Confessions (2016), Through the Air (2015), Ben X (2007) and Antonia (1995). The actor used to date Belgian actress Joke Devynck. They lived together for 19 years and were never married. They separated in 2013 and have three kids together.

Daniel Brühl (Lutz Heck)

Daniel Brühlwas was cast as Lutz Heck, the film’s antagonist. Lutz Heck is a German Zoologist, Adolf Hitler’s chief Zoologist, as well as head of the Berlin Zoo. In the film, he formed a rivalry against Jan Zabinski and developed a romantic interest in Jan’s wife, Antonina.

David Brühl is a Spanish-German actor born in Barcelona, Spain, on June 16, 1978. The actor has been acting professionally since 1995. He was born to a TV director father, Hanno Brühl, a German born in São Paulo, Brazil. His mother is a Spanish woman named Marisa Gonzalez Domingo, she was a Catalan teacher. He also has two siblings named Miriam and Oliver. Daniel has starred in many productions like Killing for Love (2016), Captain American: Civil War (2016), Alone in Berlin (2016), A Most Wanted Man (2013), The Face of an Angel (2014), Inglourious Basterds (2009), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), The Fifth Estate (2013) and Rush (2013). Daniel Brühl is a recipient of many awards which includes Bavarian Film Awards for Best Young Actor in 2002, Bambi Awards for Best Film National, Shooting Stars Awards for Tip Young Actor, four European Film Awards for Best Actor and Jameson People’s Choice Award for Best Actor in 2003 and 2004 respectively. He also received award nominations from top award bodies like Golden Globe, British Academy Film Awards and Saturn Award. Daniel is married to psychologist and former model Felicitas Rombold. The couple got married in 2018. In 2016, prior to their marriage, they had their first and only child yet, a son.

Iddo Goldberg (Maurycy Fraenkel)

The Israeli-born British actor Iddo Goldberg played the role of Maurycy Fraenkel, a Jewish friend of the Zabinskis.

Iddo Goldberg was born in Haifa, Israel, on August 5, 1975. He and his family moved to the UK when he was 10 years old. He made his first film appearance when she starred as Junkie in the 1998 film Fast Food. In the following year, he starred in the television film Jesus as Seth. He has since gone on to star in Uprising (2001), The Defender (2004), A Little Trip to Heaven (2005), The Relief of Belsen (2007) and Last Passenger (2013). He has also featured in TV series such as Attachment, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Salem, Peaky Blenders, Mob City and The Last Tycoon. The actor is married to actress Ashley Madekwe.

Michael McElhatton (Jerzyk)

Michael McElhatton was cast in The Zookeeper’s Wife as Jerzyk. Michael’s character is as a loyal Zookeeper who works with Jan and Antonina.

Michael is an Irish actor and writer. He was born on September 12, 1963, in Dublin, Ireland. He is best known for his role as Roose Bolton in Game of Thrones. He joined the HBO series in its second season and became a regular cast member in the series’ fifth season. His role in Game of Thrones ended in season 6. The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts graduate has also starred in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), The Foreigner (2017) and Justice League (2017). He has also starred in TV series such as Genius and Strike Back: Legacy.

Shira Haas (Urszula)

In the film, Shira Haas played the minor role as Urszula, one of the Jews trying to escape capture and execution by the German Army.

Haas is an Israeli actress born on May 11, 1995, in Hod Sharon, Israel. The young actress started her professional acting career in 2013 and has starred in 8 films and 5 TV series so far. She made her screen debut in 2013 when she starred in the TV series Shtisel. Her role as Ruchami Weiss in the series continued until 2015. In 2015 also, she starred in the films Princess and A Tale of Love and Darkness, as Adar and Kira respectively. Of the six award nominations she has received since she started acting, she has won three. Her first win was at the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival, where she won Best Actress for her role in Princess. At the 2015 P&L Film Festival, Sweden, she won Best Actress for her contribution in Princess once again. Then, at the Israeli Film Academy in 2018, Haas won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Noble Savages.


Is the Film Based on a True Story and Does it Have a Book?

The answer to both questions is yes, it is a true story and it does have a book. The film was adapted from the non-fiction book written by Diane Ackerman, a poet and naturalist. Her writing was largely influenced and aided by the unpublished diary of Antonina Zabinski, which narrates the true story of how she and her husband, Jan Zabinski, helped save hundreds of Jewish people by hiding them from the German Army looking to execute them. The historic event started when the German Army invaded Warsaw on September 1, 1939, during the Second World War.

Owing to the fact that it was through Antonina’s diary that Ackerman got most of the details on her book about the long past event, she made the Zookeeper’s wife the main character in her book.

The book The Zookeeper’s Wife was written as history, biography and non-fiction. It was published on September 4, 2007, by W. W. Norton in the United States. The Zookeeper’s Wife contains 288 pages in total and its ISBN is 0-393-06172-8.

The book was ranked number 13 on The New York Times non-fiction best-selling list released on February 10, 2008. In the same year, the book won the annual Orion Book Award. The piece also drew so much attention and subsequently prompted filmmakers to work on it. In 2010, it was first brought to public notice that Angela Workman was adopting Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book, The Zookeeper’s Wife. On April 30, 2013, Jessica Chastain signed up to play the role of the lead character, Antonina Zabinski. Around the same time, Niki Caro was brought in to direct the film. In 2015, Johan Heldenbergh was selected to play the Zookeeper’s role. As planned, the film was produced and released first in the location of the story which is Warsaw, Poland, on March 8, 2017. It was released in the United States and the United Kingdom on March 31, 2017, and April 21, 2017, respectively.

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