Arts & Culture

Interview: “Crash”ing into Moran Atias

Moran Atias is unstoppable. The Israeli actress/model/TV host is fluent in three languages and was on the shortlist to be a Bond girl. Now, she’s starring on the Starz network’s first original scripted series, a serialized version of the Oscar-winning … Read More

By / January 28, 2009

Moran Atias is unstoppable. The Israeli actress/model/TV host is fluent in three languages and was on the shortlist to be a Bond girl. Now, she’s starring on the Starz network’s first original scripted series, a serialized version of the Oscar-winning film Crash. Somewhere in her Superwoman-like, globetrotting existence, she found some time to chat with Jewcy.

You can watch Crash on Starz and Starz On Demand. Check www.starz.com/crash for showtimes.

Had you seen the movie Crash before getting cast in the show? Were you a fan?

I saw the movie on a plane. I travel a lot so I see a lot of movies when I travel, most of my flights are long, like 15 hours, you can watch a lot of movies. I saw Crash on the plane and was so moved by it… it made me feel that I had to not only think something, but to do something about it, not just believe in a religion or philosophy but to actually enjoy what you believe in. When you see a movie like that, as an actress or film creator or technician, we all want to be part of a greater message, and Crash was a great example of that. I thought to myself, “this is the genre I want to be part of.”

Does that notion – of not just believing in a religion but enjoying what you believe in – apply to Judaism?

There are so many religions that have a set of values and behavior codes that represent humanity’s rights, and that gives us a way to make our civilization. There’s a difference between practice and theory. I can read a lot of books about acting but until I get on a stage and do the work then I am not really doing it. You see a difference in people who read books about acting and people who have been trained to act.

Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up in Haifa? When did you decide to become an actress?

Growing up in Haifa was wonderful. You don’t have to call your classmate to schedule a play date, it’s very casual and very welcoming. I had fantastic time during high school, and the first time I realized I wanted to do this job was just after taking part in a class. That was when I realized [acting] was something I wanted to do – not only was the result of the work something I wanted, it was the process that made me happy. You spend a lot of the time in the process. In any profession you should enjoy the process.

There is a lot of overlap between Israeli and American TV. For example, the US series “In Treatment” began as an Israeli program. And you host the Israeli version of “Deal or No Deal.” Why do you think these two countries share so much TV with each other?

It’s the way to take the best of each market. “In Treatment” is a fantastic show. I don’t think there’s a better job for an actor to do, because you can really sit there and act. No special effects, no modern techniques, it’s very simple. It takes the essence of true acting and combines it with a smart and economical approach and shoots it all in one place. It costs you so little money and the storylines are the essence of the success of the show. That’s what makes any movie or piece of art a good movie or a good piece of art. It could have not been successful without a good storyline, it’s about the combination.

You’re an Israeli playing a Gypsy character on “Crash.” On the popular US show “NCIS,” a Chilean actress plays an Israeli former Mossad agent. Do you think Israeli characters should be played by Israeli actors? Do you feel that all “ethnic” performers are lumped together?

Gypsies are a whole interesting culture unto themselves. They don’t have a strong identity, they don’t carry passports, they just travel. I did a lot of research into Gypsy characters. They were familiar to me as a Jew – they travel and they try to create their own destiny, a presence, a life for themselves. That is something I could really relate to. That background of not belonging or not being wanted in a place… Gypsies are not welcome anywhere, they just got expelled from Italy. They really don’t believe in working, they try to create, they are artists and liars. Inez [Atias’ character] is a great actress, even though that’s not profession. She acts to get what she needs, like a gypsy. Fortunetelling is just something they do to make money, they just really know how to lie. I’m an actress who is playing someone who is an actress in her daily routine, just in need of surviving. That’s something I was raised with, the need to survive, that is the fire inside me.

As for whether only Israeli actors should play Israeli characters, I personally think it’s all about the work you do: in that case, Sean Penn couldn’t play a gay man in Milk, or I couldn’t play a German officer in a World War II movie. As actors, we want to stretch our limits and bring the depth the character needs, the sky is the limit. We train ourselves to get out of our boxes. I hope the actress [on "NCIS"] did her research and learned about Israel. Just because I was born and raised in Israel, that doesn’t control who I am. It’s your choice to portray your own past. I truly believe in that. You are your own commander. I want to grow, I want to all the roles I can. I can play a serial killer even though I haven’t killed anyone. Brilliant actors take chances.

Do you have a favorite place? Is there a particular city where you feel the most at home?

My home will always be Israel. My heart beats differently when I’m there. Every time I visit Jerusalem I get emotional. I have so many memories and so many people I love live there, but the place itself is so magical it affects me when I am there and when I’m not there. Every place has its own memories. In Italy I started loving to read, so I discovered new things about myself in that place. I learned that I don’t know how to cook. In Italy, any guy who walks down the street will know how to cook for you. What I like about traveling is that you are triggered and it kind of tickles your curiousity and you get exposed to new, different things and then you discover things about yourself and new needs and wants. It’s an eternal process of growing and I enjoy it all the time. In LA I found a job that makes me happy, so I discovered the value of it. It’s hard to just have one home. I’m trying to make LA as my home, but I’m still in the process.

Is there anything you miss when you’re away from Israel?

My family. The sense of belonging to what’s going on all the time, good news or bad news, you’re not part of it if you’re not experiencing it there. Sometimes I feel guilty or like I’m not part of the daily history of my country. Also, my mom’s food.

Did you feel a disconnection from Israel during the recent conflict in Gaza?

I followed the news every day, night and day. The last time I spent more than a few weeks in Israel was during the Lebanon War. It was the most terrifying two weeks of my life. I really lived the war, I understood what the citizens of Israel and of Palestine were going through. The most frightening thing is not your life in that second… it’s going to sound weird but you don’t think ‘I’m going to die.’ You think ‘Oh my God, this will never end.’ That is more traumatic, when you feel like hope is taken away from you. When you have nothing to live for, it takes your passion away. That was the shock I experienced. I try to get as informed as possible through websites and magazines. I try to come into the life of people who are there by researching and finding out what’s going on there. The media tries to tell their story, and I want to hear from people who are really there. I am always left surprised by all the information that is not being heard but should be. We truly believe in, need, and want peace, we only believe in that by respecting peoples’ rights on both sides. I pray for the victims on both sides, I hope everybody is aware that not only kids in Gaza are being killed but they’re being used by Hamas as human shields. Those kids need to be saved. I see no future for those kids without someone interfering and putting a stop to it. They need help from a third party. We need a higher power in a way. No one will ever be truly objective, but we need a third party to get in between us and make sense. I do not wish for any Palestinian’s death, I wish for his growth.