Efrat Dor is as captivating as she is gifted. The blue-eyed wonder, one of the most sought after actresses in Israel, is bringing those talents stateside with her role as sculptor, Magdalena Gross, in The Zookeeper’s Wife, opposite Jessica Chastain and Daniel Bruhl. We caught up with Dor to find out more.
HYDROGEN MAGAZINE: Let’s go back to the start. Where did you grow up and what were those early years like for you?
EFRAT DOR: I grew up in a small place called Omer, South of Israel. It was the 90’s, so needless to say, those years were awesome! We had no knowledge of fashion or TV, and we were really very naive. Doors were unlocked, and kids played outside.
HM: Why acting? What drew you to the arts?
ED: I’ve always wanted to be an actress. Ever since I can remember, I stood in the middle of the living room and forced my family to watch me. I took drama classes at an early age and was a drama major in high school. I lived in the suburbs, so that was as close as you can really get to acting in those days. I guess as a child, I was really into creating imaginary worlds and telling stories. I could spend hours talking to myself, acting out imaginary scenes or animating my dolls.
Today as an adult, the burning sensation inside of me to tell a story, to live a certain pain, or joy, of a character is very strong. I think acting can influence a viewer and give him or her courage to change their lives! Even on the small scale of things, it can make someone feel not so alone, that someone understands them and is going through something similar. Stories are a really powerful tool – I feel like it’s my way of doing good in this world.
HM: Who are some of the performers that have influenced you the most?
ED: I grew up watching a lot of American television and films – Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Sally Field, Diane Keaton, Julianne Moore, Hilary Swank and Vivian Leigh are some of my favorite American actresses.
HM: You are best known for your roles in Downtown Precinct and Asfur. Tell me about those projects and how they impacted your career…
ED: Well, my career really exploded after “Asfur” aired. It was a national hit show on the largest scale that Israel Television had seen in years! No one missed it – and even the few that didn’t watch it, knew of it; the cast was instantly mega famous. It was a huge shock. For two years or so, I hardly went out. I didn’t respond well to the fame. Today, six years later, I’ve grown to appreciate the love I receive from people.
“Downtown Precinct” was loads of fun! It’s an action-packed police drama. I love action! So, I had a ball. In both projects, I was fortunate to have a great cast and directors, so I feel really lucky.
HM: You are one of the best-known actresses in Israel. How would you compare the industry there to Hollywood?
ED: Obviously, there is a big difference in size. The industry in Israel is much smaller, fewer movies come out every year, and there are way less TV/Cable channels. So there is less money, and there is less…. of everything really – except talent. I find that maybe because it is so small here and much harder to make a living being an artist, that it makes people really do it because they feel a higher calling, or the pure need and desire to create.
HM: What was the transition like for you moving into American film?
ED: It has always been my dream to work on an American film – I had an amazing experience. Everything was so organized and proper. As an actress, I could really be focused on my craft. Even small things like having my own place to change clothes was a shocker… not to mention having my own trailer! Production felt so big, and so many people were involved. It was weird not to know everybody on set by name.
HM: Let’s talk about The Zookeeper’s Wife. The film takes place against the backdrop of World War II, following Antonina Zabinski and her husband Dr. Jan Zabinski, who run the Warsaw Zoo. They begin working with the Resistance after the Nazis invade. What were your first thoughts when you read the script?
ED: I cried the first time I read the script and every time thereafter. I cried. It is just so delicately beautiful.
HM: You play sculptor Magdalena Gross. Tell us about her.
ED: Magdalena, like Antonina and Jan, is also a person who lived in Poland during WWII. She was a great sculptor and received a gold medal at the International Art Exhibition in Paris in 1937 for her Bison and Gadfly. She often used the animals at the Warsaw Zoo as her models. She was a close friend to the Zabinskis, and as a Jew, she had to run and hide from the Germans when the war broke.
HM: What was your approach to playing her?
ED: I started out by doing as much research as I could. She was a real woman who lived in those days – I felt obligated to honor her by representing her in the best possible way.
HM: Did you identify with your character in any way and do you think that is important when taking on a role? What is your process?
ED: My grandmother (who is 94 years old, god bless her!) is Polish, and she was 14 when the war broke. Her whole family was murdered by the Germans (mother, father and older brother), and she survived. My connection to a Jewish and Polish character from WWII was instantly very deep. I think it is always a huge plus when you have a personal connection to the story and character. I feel it brings a lot of depth that makes the character more authentic.
My process for working on a new role is that I read and research tons! After that, I really am quite the geek and have my script printed out. I work on the text a lot, writing my sub-texts and actions, deciding my objective in every line, scene and act. I also give my intuition a lot of room to influence my choices. With Magda, I also worked on a Polish accent, which was challenging and interesting.
HM: What was the experience like working with Jessica Chastain and Daniel Bruhl?
ED: Both Jessica and Daniel were super nice. Jessica was really amazing; she is such a professional and fellow geek. I learned a lot working with her. She takes her craft very seriously. I remember being amazed when she kept crying real tears while we were shooting my side! At the end of the scene, I asked her, “Do you always give your ALL even when your side is not filmed?” And she replied, “Of course. That’s what partners are for. Then they will do the same for you.” I was just shocked after hearing so many things about Hollywood stars, she completely won me over. Daniel was charming, and they both made the set very professional but also warm and fun.
HM: What would you be wearing on a day off?
ED: It really depends on my mood. When I’m moody – I spend the whole day in my jammies. When I’m feeling energetic and healthy – I’m in sportswear (I LOVE sportswear!). When I have meetings or auditions – I wear something trendy with shades. Mostly, I keep it comfortable so when I’m home, I can run around with my toddlers and have fun!
HM: Do you draw from current trends with your look or do you just do your own thing?
ED: I definitely like being in touch with what’s trending. I love getting inspired by new exciting trends, but I try not be a slave to that.
HM: Who are some of your style inspirations?
ED: I don’t really follow specific designers, but I love how everything is so accessible these days. There are so many great fashion blogs and sites. I can spend way too many hours on Pinterest!
HM: What are some of your passions away from acting?
ED: I love sports. I used to be a ballet dancer growing up, and I am addicted to sweating it out. It’s one of the best highs in the world. I love setting goals and reaching them. I have recently started running, and it is definitely my new crush. Before anything else, I love spending time at home with my family. They are my soul, and light, and source of all that is pure and good.
HM: Tell me something we’d be surprised to know about you?
ED: We don’t have a television. Well, we do have it, but it is not plugged in… I hardly watch it at all. The last couple of years were so busy. If there is something amazing to watch, I buy it online and stream… or go to the cinema. I love the cinema. So old school.
HM: If you look five years down the line, where would you like to be professionally and personally?
ED: I want to be working on amazing projects, after having done some great roles and worked with top directors and casts. Aspiring to have a great career in the US and also raising my two kids with my man, and maybe having another one or two…? Ambitious, I know. My mom shouldn’t have told me “everything is possible” when I was growing up!
‘THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE’ HITS THEATERS ON MARCH 31, 2017.
FOLLOW EFRAT ON INSTAGRAM: @efrat_dor
PHOTOGRAPHY: GILLES TOUCAS