The hit Netflix miniseries Unorthodox took us into the ultra-conservative world of Satmar's Hasidic Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Rising Israeli actress Shira Haas plays a young woman named Esther Shapiro who, disappointed in her faith, chooses to flee, just as her mother had done before her, to Berlin, Germany. The first scenes where Esther escapes from Brooklyn are more of a spy thriller than a coming-of-age novel about a girl escaping to a new town. And, at first glance, it's not a story most of us could relate to, but during periods of immeasurable risk, abrupt transformation, unexpected self-discovery, or even at the moment of buying a first pair of jeans, you'd be hard pressed not to project a part of yourself into Shira Haas' amazing embodiment of Esther.
The 25-year-old actress, with her petite build and saucer-shaped eyes, gives us a performance that layers over a kind of nuanced emotion that can't be taught, and, with tens of millions of viewers entranced by the show, the world has taken note of her immense talent.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped everyone's life, Shira has had a very special experience, where she transitioned from a locally revered actress - for her role in the Israeli TV series Shtisel - to one of the most prominent stars in the world, almost overnight, where she also just recieved her first Emmy nomination for her role in "Unorthodox" earlier in July.
“I remember going to my balcony with my coffee during lockdown, looking around other homes, and seeing myself on TV screens in Unorthodox. I swear! And it didn't happen just once, when I was going to hang my laundry to dry or whatever ... I almost felt like Esther was my neighbor ”, she recalls with a laugh, stunned during a video chat from her apartment in Tel Aviv.
Unlike other talents her age, her fame, so far, is totally devoid of the usual attributes: no red carpet premieres, a mind-blowing travel schedule or prying eyes from the paparazzi. personal. For now, Shira stays home, and watches her star rise as the world stops. “It's weird, because when I go out now I'm wearing a mask, people only see my eyes and they start to look closer, but they don't have time to make the connection,” she adds.
Eventually, once the film and television industry makes a triumphant return, there's no doubt that Shira will have plenty of options for future lead roles. When asked who she would like to collaborate with, on the big and small screen, she is visibly excited by the weight of the possibilities. “It's a never-ending list, ” she exclaims. Such an impossible question for an actress! ” She does, however, list names of women like Sofia Coppola, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep, the kind of strong women who know that acting and film isn't just script reading. Like them, Shira Haas becomes the character, while remaining deeply aware of the work to be done beyond the role.
When the creators of Unorthodox asked her to shave her head to show the pivotal moment of transformation in the life of a married Orthodox Jewish woman when she begins to wear a Sheitel wig to cover her head, Shira is fully involved in the scene, mixing her bride's smile with heartbreaking choked back tears the instant the razor passes. At the time of our conversation, her hair is still growing back.
Before filming, Shira spends time connecting with her character. She amasses playlists, poems, images, psychological analyzes and other elements of inspiration that end up being stuck to the walls of her living room. “I'm a nerd, I love to research and learn,” she says. Currently, we see a screenshot of Claire Fisher in the long HBO series Six Feet Under exclaiming “News flash, other people exist!” ... And a blurry image of Marilyn Monroe kicking a soccer ball ... or a little newspaper clipping where it just reads “Darling, you're different.” In this setting, we also find more frivolous things, including a rack of clothes and dresses selected for the premieres of Unorthodox, as well as Asia, an independent film directed by Ruthy Pribar which won Shira the award for the best actress at the Tribeca Film Festival, digital this year.
“During the day, I mainly wear simple, comfortable outfits, which is why I really like exceptional events, the evenings where we get dressed” , she says, and although she continues to support the designers premises and stores within her Tel Aviv community, just like her career, her fashion outlook has become more global. “When it comes to international fashion, I love Louis Vuitton, McQueen and Chanel of course, which are the brands I've had the opportunity to try recently,” she says.
And with her next projects kept firmly under wraps for the time being, it seems as if the next time the public will catch a glimpse of Haas – the one so many of us have become enamored with during the peak of this global isolation – is at the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, where she plans to turn heads and most likely leave with a Best Actress trophy.
Photography Dudi Hasson
Styling Noa Rennert
This interview originally appeared on L'Officiel USA Summer 2020 Issue