Photography: Rainer Hosch
Creative Director: Deborah Ferguson
interview by Jaimie Kourt
Your familial heritage and background is unique. Your father is French, mother Austrian and you were raised in Israel. Do you think you have been shaped in some particular way(s) from the experience of such strong and different cultures coursing through your upbringing?
Absolutely! I like to think that somehow I got the best of all worlds! I consider myself a tough person with great family values, I love to cook and I have a healthy respect for punctuality. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which quality is from where.
Your family chose to move to Israel when you were just three. Do you remember much about that time? Even just a sense memory of the feelings you went through?
I don’t remember much from age three. Maybe only that suddenly the world became a lot sunnier. I do remember that we had a rooftop at the time that was absolutely magical and I remember running around inventing wild stories and mainly spending time with my cats.
You worked a lot in your homeland before entering the Hollywood arena. How large is the Film and Television Industry in Israel and what is the industry’s impact on the citizens of the country? Can you speak of the ways in which the two countries differ, say in terms of their approach to work, the subject matters…
The film industry back home is understandably smaller than Hollywood, but of extremely high quality. I think that a lot of the films people see coming out of Israel tell political or conflict-related stories, but there is much more to Israeli cinema. “Zero Motivation,” for example, is a wonderful comedy that won first prize at the Tribeca Film Festival and “Big Bad Wolves” is a very interesting thriller and I myself participated in two Israeli horror movies that were a lot of fun.
Do American movies translate to Israelis? Are they popular? Is there the same heightened interest into the lives of actors and fame in general?
Most Israelis speak English and we all grow up watching American movies and television shows. Many of the popular American titles are equally as popular in Israel. I would say that there isn’t the same level of fascination with fame but there is a level of relaxed familiarity with actors that is probably unique to the Israeli culture. I think there is a great sense of pride when one of our own actors “succeeds” abroad. I definitely feel a lot of love from Israeli fans.
Starting out as a dancer, how did you transition into acting? Was it easier to tell a story once you had words at your disposal? Do you think having that emotional expression rooted in your body assists your creativity and gives you certain freedom in your work today? Does it hinder it in any way?
Dance was a wonderful way to start. I think I eventually realized it simply wasn’t the art form for me. It definitely gave me my love for the stage, as well as my passion for physical comedy. I would love to play a dancer in a film one day.
Do you still dance? When you are working professionally in that art form, can you still enjoy doing it for pleasure?
I haven’t danced professionally in a while. Nowadays, you’ll most likely catch me dancing in my living room if a great song comes on and I just can’t help myself.
How did you get to Los Angeles? Did you have a job, agent, house, friends, already in place?
I didn’t know anyone when I first arrived in LA – and I had no expectations that anything would come of it. I did meet my wonderful manager and started sending dozens of self tapes upon my return to Israel. I flew back to LA for pilot season and I spent a crazy month mainly trying to figure out the logistics of how to drive in a new country while changing clothes in the car as I ran from audition to audition. By the end of the month, I ended up booking the lead in a CW pilot called “The Selection.” That pilot was not picked up to series, but I was motivated and after doing a recurring role on CW’s “Reign,” I eventually moved to LA a year later to start filming “Jane The Virgin.”
What do you think about California? Have you had a chance to explore?
I’ve actually been doing more exploring than some of my local friends! I’m usually the one calling up my friends saying “Let’s go here! Let’s try this! Let’s taste that!” One of my favorite places is the completely bizarre Museum of Jurassic Technology.
Where are your favorite Los Angeles places (to eat, drink, shop, exercise, play, run away from it all…)?
Most of my favorite places anywhere in the world are places where I can get great food. There are perhaps too many of those for me to list, but Sugarfish Sushi is definitely up there. I also adore the farmers markets in LA, the gorgeous hikes, and the gardens.
Are there any other actors or people in creative art fields in your family? What laid the seed in you so early on, knowing that this life/career was a passion? Or do you think it is just something unconscious and molecular, so to speak?
Both my parents are artists. My mother is an Illustrator and my father started as a Film Director and is now a Graphic Artist. I was lucky to have had tremendous support from them when I started my own career as an artist.
It is so cool for the CW to make a series like REIGN, and what fun it must have been to be part of. The story of Queen Mary Stuart is epic, and whilst historical it really lends itself to a youth- oriented love story, drama. What was your familiarity with this part of history before appearing on the show?
I was familiar with the general gist of that period in history, but I was far from being an expert. Not that I’m an expert now, but I’ve learned a great deal while working on it. “Reign” was a great experience, with wonderful people behind its creation.
What is it like to play twins? (Yael also portrays Petra’s sister Anezka). How do you go about “multi-tasking” the two roles?
There was definitely a learning curve. I had no prior warning – I learned of Petra’s twin while reading the script a few days before we started filming the episode! Filming two characters is more complicated than I realized, since I have to come much more prepared for a scene. As I don’t have another actor to interact with in real time, I have to carefully plan the actions – and reactions – of each twin in advance. I think we now have a great rhythm to it, which is in part due to the excellent work of my lovely body double Barbie.
Did you have a beloved film or television show growing up? What are you watching, seeing, reading, listening, writing, dancing to currently?
As a child I was a big fan of the show “Beverly Hills, 90210.” When I arrived in Beverly Hills for the first time, I drove around, recognizing street signs and houses, in complete awe that this place exists outside of my television.
I’m a big reader. Recently, I finished Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Hesse’s Siddhartha, and the Ken Follett Century Trilogy. I’m watching Masters of Sex, Outlander, Game of Thrones, The Americans, I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, and the documentary The Sixties. I’m also trying to catch up on classic films and recently watched “Sunset Boulevard.”
Let’s talk about JANE THE VIRGIN. I adore your character Petra. She’s a whirlwind of a lady. Have you ever played a character like this before? She’s very funny (you’re very funny), do you naturally have the comedy chops or is it something you must work on?
I’ve never played a character like Petra before. She’s the first “villain” I’ve ever played. In a conversation with Jennie Urman before we started filming, I remember her saying that she wanted to keep the audience on their toes so that they’d never be able to decide if they love or hate Petra. I think she’s managed to achieve that in her writing in a spectacular way. It has been an absolute joy playing Petra because she is strong, complicated, unapologetic, and looks out only for herself – which is completely different from every other character I’ve ever played. It’s been an actor’s dream come true. One of my favorite things about JTV is that it manages to combine comedy and drama in such a beautiful, organic way. As an actor on JTV you can find yourself switching between comedy and drama within the span of a few minutes. I discovered that I love comedy while at acting school in Israel and I’ve been grateful for every opportunity to perform a comedic role ever since.
Your character(s) is Czech. Is there a specific reason why Petra doesn’t have an accent? Have you ever been to the Czech Republic? Can you speak any of the language?
Unfortunately I have not been to the Czech Republic and the only Czech I know is what I’ve had to learn for the show. I’d like to think that by season 12, I’ll be fluent in both Czech and Spanish! I think Petra doesn’t have much of an accent because she’s A) a very fast learner and B) worked very hard to blend in in Miami.
How would you describe your way of dressing? Do you prefer a cleaner, sleeker look or are you more free-spirited in your choices? Perhaps a chameleon bit of both?
Masculine meets feminine with jeans and jackets. Occasionally, I get to snazz up for an event. I consider fashion a way of expressing myself and I admire people who are good at this type of self-expression.
If I ran into you at a restaurant, same question.
This depends on my mood – sometimes I feel like getting dressed up, sometimes I’ll be super casual. In either case, you’ll probably find me chewing happily and talking about the food.
In both these CW roles, you’ve had a great wardrobe. Do you think Olivia, Petra and Anezka’s fashion trickles into your personal style?
If anyone’s fashion resembles my personal style, it would probably be Anezka’s! I have been very fortunate to work with fantastic designers throughout my career especially Rachel Cunin (our designer on JTV) who is remarkable in that she truly involves me in creating Petra’s wardrobe.
If I ran into you at the market, what would you look like, top to toe?
A hat, a shirt where I can get some sun, shorts, and many many shopping bags filled with tomatoes. And perhaps a baguette.
If I ran into you at a premiere party, what would be your fantasy look, top to toe?
In either a lovely jumpsuit or a very flattering pencil skirt. I’ll wear something that I’m actually comfortable in and also feel like I don’t have to worry about it too much so that I can relax and have a good time.
I don’t mean to be reductive, but it is sort of true. Israeli women are incredibly beautiful. And naturally so. What is in the water? Do you have any advice, products, lifestyle choices for their/your, graceful beauty (at all ages.)?
First of all, thanks! Secondly, Israel is a beautiful mix of cultures and it has a wide variety of very good looking people. I think the wonderful fresh produce, warm sunshine, beach air and general zest for life plays a big role in that.
Is there a particular topic we didn’t cover that you would like to? Here’s your chance, go crazy!!!
I also love cats, but that’s a whole other conversation!