“It hit me that, for him, it was an opportunity to go out every day and do a two-minute show for strangers, and create something original on a regular basis,” recalled the Israeli-born Podell in an interview with Ynetnews. “He took joy in that as opposed to seeing it as a burden.”
For now, Podell doesn’t have to constantly audition. In September, he joined the cast of the long-running American daytime soap opera ‘The Young and The Restless,’ having signed a three-year contract to appear as Adrian Korbel, an art history professor who falls for one of his students.
Shortly after obtaining long-term employment, a rarity for working actors, Podell and his wife welcomed their first child, a daughter they named Oren, in October. “I wanted a Hebrew name to give her an immediate link to Israel and her heritage, and at the same time, I didn’t want to handicap her with something that would be difficult to pronounce in America,” he said. Podell named his daughter after his paternal grandfather, Odif, who passed away in 2003.
From iced coffee to Al PacinoPodell, 31, was born in Tel Aviv and lived on Moshav Gan Haim until age two, when his father’s job with a Scandinavian shipping company took the family to the United States for a year and then to Hong Kong. When he was eight, his family returned to the U.S. and settled in New York’s Westchester County. Podell attended high school in Armonk, N.Y. with Sean Maher, who also became an actor (on the TV series ‘Firefly’) and introduced Podell to his wife.
In 1997, the same year he graduated from Dartmouth College and moved to Los Angeles, Podell scored one of his first acting jobs during a visit to Israel – an Israeli TV commercial for Elite Gold iced coffee.
His subsequent credits include the MTV series ‘Undressed,’ the part of Al Pacino’s son in ‘The Insider,’ and recurring roles on ‘Everwood’ and ‘Charmed.’ In September, Podell appeared in an episode of ‘Navy NCIS’ as a rogue Mossad agent working with Iran to sabotage his former commander, played by Eli Danker (Ran Danker’s father).
Podell has also written a screenplay that focuses on relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Tentatively titled ‘Homeland,’ the script follows an agent in a Shin Bet counterterrorism unit who finds out his Palestinian childhood friend is the prime suspect in an investigation into a plot by Hamas-linked terrorists to assassinate Yasser Arafat. ‘Homeland’ is set against the backdrop of the November 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
Podell had an opportunity to observe Palestinian society in the 1990s, when his father owned MLS Transport, a company which coordinated the shipping of power plant turbines, building supplies, and other materials donated by the international community to the Palestinian Authority. MLS Transport had offices in Israel and the P.A., and when Podell visited its operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he was disappointed with what he absorbed along the way.
“I saw the corruption of the Palestinian government,” he said. “You could see with the naked eye that the poor were being kept as such so they could be used as a weapon. You could hear it in the voices of my father’s employees who would show you around and say, ‘Here are the refugee camps, and this is Arafat’s equestrian center.’
"You could see the hypocrisy of the government – claiming to be all about peace, but really just lining their pockets and not doing anything to help their own people. It makes you realize how fanatics like Hamas can come to power by providing social services.”
When the second intifada began in 2000, said Podell, MLS Transport’s offices in the P.A. were ransacked and “Jew” was spray-painted on the walls.
Podell has had difficulty moving ‘Homeland’ into production but remains optimistic. “It’s a tough sell to make a movie about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when it’s in the news as often as it is and doesn’t have much commercial appeal,” he said. “Although with the recent release of movies like ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and ‘Blood Diamond,’ that deal with global and political issues or have a social conscience, I’m holding out hope.”
Podell also co-wrote a screenplay, ‘The Space Within,’ based on the experiences of his paternal grandparents and great-uncle, who worked with architect Frank Lloyd Wright to build a utopian settlement, Usonia, in Westchester County after World War II. Podell said the Israeli agent in ‘Homeland’ and the lead in ‘The Space Within’ are the type of roles he most enjoys playing.
“The parts I’m drawn to are people who have a great sense of responsibility and are torn between dealing with their inner demons and dealing with a greater good which they feel an onus to represent,” said Podell.
“That goes back to my family. My maternal grandfather was a smuggler for the Haganah and my father’s parents were always involved in social causes. So characters who feel a sense of responsibility for a community, country, or family appeal to me. I find these people to be very heroic because they can make sacrifices and place the things they love over their own well-being.”
Podell plans to use his time off from ‘The Young and The Restless’ later this year to visit Israel for the first time since 2003.