I don’t remember anything of my life before [cancer]. From the age of three to six I was very sick. Being ill forced me to mature early. I started to write poems and stories. Of course, I wish it hadn’t happened, but a part of me is thankful for what I went through. I understand pain and suffering. It shaped who I am.
The first part I got came over Facebook. A well-known Israeli casting director messaged out of the blue. I’d enrolled at an arts school on a whim, where I fell in love with acting. I turned up to the audition with no expectations. Opening the door felt like stepping into Narnia – and I’ve not looked back.
When I heard about Unorthodox, I wasn’t sure if I’d relate to Esther. I read the script, and forgot where she’s from. It’s a coming-of-age of story; a journey we can all relate to. But we also have so much in common, too. Growing up, I was stubborn and asked too many questions. As a child I would also sing in secret. Art and music helped us both find a voice.
My first movie, Princess, was accepted to Sundance. That was overwhelming for a control freak in her teens. I was desperate to plan and for my agent to give me answers. She hushed me and wrote a note to me on paper: “Let go, trust the journey and things will happen.” Reading it soothed me then, and still does now.
Being shy by nature, I find that performing offers me some protection. Acting is exposing, but telling a story gives me a protective shield to hide behind. Nobody ever knows quite how many of your personal experiences are on show when the cameras roll.
I go to sleep far too late every night. Whatever you do in the evening, I’m doing at 3am. It’s not insomnia – I read, work, write, rehearse. I don’t touch my phone and just indulge in these magical hours of silence. Waking up for a 5am call time takes some adjustment.
I’ve played two ultra-orthodox Jewish women, in Unorthodox and Shtisel. I had preconceptions and knew little of these communities. I still have my criticisms, although I now see complexities, too. These women taught me to be less judgmental and more empathic. They have dreams and desires, pain and flaws, just like you.
I always believed in Unorthodox, but with a release during lockdown it was hard, at first, to judge the response. Then one evening I went to my balcony and looked out across Tel Aviv, my city: my face was blaring out on so many people’s TV screens. All I could do to celebrate was tell the cast and crew on WhatsApp. Yes, it would have been great to go to the Emmys, but getting messages from Barry Jenkins, Jodie Comer and Sarah Paulson? That’s still pretty cool.
Learning Yiddish from scratch was a challenge that became an obsession. From morning until night I’d listen, speak and write. Bringing it to life in front of such a huge audience is an honour: It offered me a connection to my history, it’s the language my grandparents spoke in Europe before they left.
I have nothing against cats as such, but I’m allergic and so have been scared of them forever. It’s funny: I’m fine with heights, with darkness, and even spiders, but I cannot be alone in a room with your feline friend.
Unorthodox is on Netflix now