While there are numerous other Israeli beauties representing the country overseas, none of them even approaches Ayelet Zurer's league. After 15 years of playing the beautiful girl and breaking our hearts in various local productions, the actress decided it was finally time to tackle Hollywood and moved to Los Angeles with her family.
She arrived at the City of Angels at an age when most typical Hollywood actresses stop getting the beautiful woman roles and instead move on to the "mother" roles. But she made it nonetheless.
"I didn't sleep with any director, never picked up the phone to ask for work, nothing happened that doesn't happen to any other random actress," she says.
"Each person does what's right for them. When I was young I came across situations like this. I remember a party I went to in LA with a girl and the way she introduced me, virtually sold me, that I was so disgusted with myself and her and everything, that I ran away. There are people who know how to do it and not feel bad."
With 'Angels and Demons' co-star Ewan McGregor (Photo: AFP)
Eighteen months after her most prominent role alongside Tom Hanks in "Angels and Demons," what's next for the successful Israeli beauty?
"There are various stages in one's career. It's not that I'm waiting for a big studio movie. The movie I did since then and the one I'm working on now are of a totally different scale, but they are leading parts. Right now there are discussions on something of a pretty major scale, but there's nothing to say until things actually happen."
When Zurer walks into the Tel Aviv restaurant we're meeting in, the two young hostesses don't recognize her. Five years ago this wouldn't have happened.
Recently turning 41, Zurer remains undaunted by her supposedly problematic age in an industry obsessed with youth.
It is possible you reached Hollywood too late?
"There's no such thing as too late. There are different roles for different ages, assuming an actress has something to offer. There aren't many Helen Mirrens and Meryl Streep,s and it takes a lot of talent to get to that level. I hope I have it. That's the model I aspire to if I'm lucky enough. It’s all about luck."
The first time Zurer realized her age limitations in Hollywood was an "in your face" kind of situation. It happened when she auditioned for the part of a 20-year-old girl.
"The male lead was 23 so it was obvious it would be difficult putting me opposite him in a scene requiring sexual tension. I got very far in the auditions but they indeed ended up taking a 20-year-old girl for the part. And between us, rightly so. In my head, I already know what's right and what’s wrong, but I can't not go when they offer me to."
Surely Hollywood has presented you with ways to look 20-years-old
"The day I get there and decide it's serving me and good for me, I'll get plastic surgery done. Plastic surgery is not a bad thing. Today it's like not taking an epidural or arguing about photoshop. But I don’t think I look that bad. I'm an actress. In this sense, my profession is less complex than that of a model. True, they're into beauty in Hollywood and it is age-related, but you can't put a girl with hot lips and no wrinkles and say: That's the mother of a 14-year-old."
So, you'd change your look for Hollywood
"You want me to say that Hollywood sucks, that it's all about plastic surgery and bad people, but there's no such thing as 'Hollywood.' There's a film industry and a certain city called Los Angeles. Apart from Los Angeles, the industry is spread all over the world. I made a big movie, two small movies, it's not that I'm Sharon Stone."
Zurer indeed is no Sharon Stone yet, who for her 50th birthday graced the cover of Paris Match magazine virtually completely naked. Until six years ago she would mainly hang out in Tel Aviv, but then she got her big break with Steven Spielberg's "Munich" and her luck changed.
"'Nina's Tragedies' reached a little shop in England where a casting director watched it and sent it to the people casting 'Munich.' It's all fate. I'm a person with faith and I can't address this any other way. There's a fate that takes you where you need to go, but you need to work hard for it."
Have you ever had a supernatural experience?
"Countless, but it's like talking to me about sex. From a very young age I would fall off the bed and wake up on the floor because of dreams. I have a memory from the age of four in which I felt God. In a movie I worked on in Michigan there was a scene where I visit a guy who lost his family. I imagined I was walking on a pier with a purple scarf and asked one from the wardrobe person. At the end of the shoot the screen writer told me: 'I wrote that script five years before my son was killed and on the last day I saw him he was wearing a purple scarf.' To me it's everything, it’s the cosmic order that if you're open to reaches you at the end."
With Tom Hanks. 'He's gorgeous' (Photo: Reuters)
Speaking about near-death experiences and doing crazy things in her 20s I ask Zurer what stupid things she did at a younger age.
"The age of 20 was all about stupid things. I did crazy things, but never lost it. I was, you know, a little crazy. I once broke up with my boyfriend in London and went to an Indian guy's apartment who I didn't know and who told me he saw my aura and gave me a massage."
An Indian massage does not involve clothes
"No, it was with clothes but they slowly take them off, until I realized I was out of my mind. Apparently he did see my aura because he told me I would become very famous. He started touching but I ran away from there."
Did you ever try drugs?
"Yes, when I was in New York."
"All sorts. Yeah, in clubs. It was interesting. Just that kind of time. It was part of my self-search. On the other hand it also provided me with a biography, an ability to take on characters, to see people in dodgy situations. I was around people who were doing that. I don’t touch drugs ever since. I have friends who do but I don't. Anything I did in life was out of curiosity. Ultimately, I take care of myself or am being taken care of. There's a sane part in my brain that tells me 'stop'."
So you’re ultimately a good girl?
"I'm a little more complex than that."
What was the worst job you had during that "wild" period?
"Walking dogs in the middle of the winter in New York. Picking up the poop when it smeared and soaked into the white snow at 7 am. Or walking Madonna's photographer's dog. I just remember he tried to bite me in the elevator a couple of times. It’s as close I ever got to Madonna."
Have you ever fallen in love with anyone on set?
"I always fall in love. Not really, but something of the sort happens. You become attached to people and when it's over it takes a month to get over and then it's over. I don’t mind flirting. When I'm with people who are pleasant and it’s normal and natural then I vacillate between that and a type of autism. I played alongside Jeff Goldblum in 'Adam Resurrected.' You don’t get flirtier than him."
You had a scene where you played a dog in heat. How did you prepare?
"In the scene I'm barking and there a cameraman and a lighting guy around me. All men. I tried not to make it too sexy, more barking from a lost person who's willing to be a dog to get love. It's translated into sex, but there's something very dark underneath."
The big break
Zurer's big break came when she got a chance to play the part of the wife of a conflicted Mossad agent in Spielberg's "Munich." Immediately after the film she moved to Los Angeles with her husband and son and tried to make a name for herself in the American movie business.
Starting out with "Fugitive Pieces" and "Vantage Point" alongside Sigourney Weaver and Dennis Quaid she went on to do "Adam Ressurected" based on a Yoram Kaniuk novel and also did the low-profile film "Lightbulb."
Zurer with her husband and son (Photo: Anat Mosberg)
Over the years she rejected a part in the hit show "Lost" and nearly got cast in the third season of the US version of "In Therapy" but was left out due to accent issues.
And then she struck gold with "Angels and Demons" - a $150 million Hollywood blockbuster production alongside one of the most revered and successful actors in the world, one Tom Hanks.
"He's gorgeous. Uncommonly intelligent. If you need good advice, he's the person," she says.
What's the best advice he's given you?
"I told him there was something I was very interested in and that I'd like to contact a certain director. He told me not to call him under any circumstance because if it was for me, it will find me."
And did it?
"Not yet, so far, but it's still a good tip."
'Not my job to do Israel's PR'
If there's anything Zurer shies away from it's the expectation she become Israel's PR representative in Hollywood. "I am very careful with that. I'm not Israel's ambassador. I voice my opinions and say what I think behind the scenes but I won’t give an interview about it. Listen, I think there should be a Palestinian state and I'm left-wing, that's the truth."
If the foreign minister called you up and said: 'There are problems with the Turkish flotilla, I need you for PR'
"You're kidding me. That's exactly the problem of Israeli PR. You need people who actually explain but they don't exist. They're not out there appearing in the world. There's no one. Israel doesn’t have a Hasbara ministry and the fact that I'm famous doesn’t mean I have to do that work."
Currently on a brief visit in Israel she uses the opportunity to shoot a fashion campaign for the Goldbary brand, earning her NIS 500,000 a year. For "Angels and Demons," however she got a little over $500,000.
Are you making good money in the States?
"Enough to live comfortably. In Israel you can't earn solid money. If you're a theatre actor who gets booked than maybe you can maintain a nice quality of life, and if you get into a film or a commercial or TV here and there then you're settled. What happened there (In "Angeles and Demons") was that I got offered a role, they wanted me, we negotiated, we didn’t get what we wanted, we thought we could put our foot down and we failed."
Most Israelis in Hollywood don't even get to the negotiation stage
"If the door didn’t open for me I don't think I would have had the balls to do it. Aki Avni was very brave. He went for it. I landed a couple of meetings with agents who were interested in me, chose one and we gave it a three-month try."
Aki Avni said that having tasted success in Hollywood you wouldn’t be able to go back to acting in Israel
"After you act with someone like Tom Hanks it's hard to imagine going back to Habima. Not that Habima doesn't have fantastic actors, it's just not the same place. But it's important for me to stress that every coin has two sides. I go to America - I lose something. I go back to Israel - I lose something else."
Did you ever think that all of this may not be right for you?
"All the time. Moments of desperation revolve around the thought whether I'm really willing to pay the price I pay. Is it really worth being away from my friends, my child's education in another place. I can maybe continue succeeding, but if the roles stop becoming interesting for me I'll come back. Right now I'm having too much fun and really loving my profession. I have a lot more to give and as far as I'm concerned I haven't touched the tip of the iceberg."
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