• Golden Globe Awards

Asia (Israel) – Interview with Shira Haas

Alena Yiv and Shira Hass play mother and daughter in this intimate drama from Israel that explores the psychological effects of a teenager as she comes to terms with her impending death. For her mother, a youthful 35-year-old still trying to stay sexually relevant, the struggle contains a bitter irony: ironic that at her work at a hospital her job is to save people; while at home, she proves powerless to protect her daughter. Haas, who earlier in 2020, starred in the limited series Unorthodox, once against turns in a powerful performance as a young woman finding her voice in the world that she lives in.
There have been so many movies that we have seen that have dealt with teen drama, that have dealt with mother/daughter relationships, that have dealt with a character with an illness. And here we have all three of those components in the same story. Talk about navigating that.
It really brings me back to the first time I read the script and I know I might be an easy crier on screen, (laughs) but not in real life. I remember I could not stop my tears and I knew it was something that I really wanted to do, and it was a feeling that was stronger than I had ever felt before. It’s also because of what you just said, it touches all these subjects and some of them are very tough subjects, but at the same time, while doing these subjects, it has so much empathy within it and so much love. It touches on death and love and grief in a way with so much life. It’s not a story about death, but the condition is what brings these two characters together, that without this, wouldn’t get as close as they are at the end. And it’s like the highest form of art in my eyes to touch this subject and to bring it to the table and talk about it, but to do it with so much gentleness and empathy.
When we meet your character Vika, she is in the sweet spot of her teenage years and those are the times where you get to experience rebellion and go out and find your own identity. Yet she is burdened with this other condition. It is such an incredibly restrictive moment for her because she’s not allowed to take that leap that everybody normally gets to take.
I remember collecting some references and pictures when I was working on this role, I really dove into this one. I always got back to the stuff of pictures of people, and she is trapped in her own body, in reality, the years like you just said, to just want to break out and be free. This is also who Vika is, she is a bit rebellious and she is really trapped in her own body. But what makes her to also go beyond her years, I think a lot of times when I read the script and hopefully when you see the movie, also the two characters, the two actresses were very, very similar and sometimes you are like are they mother and daughter, are they sisters, who is the mother, are they friends? I think it’s also because of the reality of the characters but it’s also because of what Vika is going through. And in a way, she gets what she is going through, she is facing it more than her mother. That makes her shift, her mind to shift and to be this kind of woman, this person in charge. I feel like she is going through things that we cannot even experience in a lifetime I feel like.
What did you know about degenerative motor disease prior to tackling this film and once you learned, how did it inform how you needed to control your body?
I didn’t know much, I knew a little bit, as much as a lot of us know. It did require a lot of research of course. Along with Ruthy (Pribar) the director, we went to see doctors and we also met a patient that also had ALS and it was a very, very long process. By the way, just a fact that you don’t even hear the word, her disease, just one time in the movie. It’s not like a movie about a disease or anything like that, that’s what I really loved. But at the same time, I wanted, and we wanted to be very, very specific about this condition and also because we sometimes have so many jumps, like time jumps in the script, and so you suddenly see Vika in a different place and condition. We didn’t shoot it chronologically obviously, so it was so important for me to be accurate and be specific about every state of the condition. Every state had its own color and chart, and I knew exactly in what scene what state she was in. 
Did you have time to rehearse and figure her out?
We had rehearsals and I was working a lot alone but how she was, even her hands and her talking at some point. It was a very huge lesson, probably the biggest one that I had had about physicality within a character. What really proved mind-blowing for me to work on was her emotional state as well. I needed to be on the same page as her for that emotional journey she must take. I never played a character like this before. Physicality is always important to me, so I had to go deep into that.
Looking back on 2020, the show Unorthodox became this worldwide phenomenon and brought your work to a worldwide audience. In retrospect, how can you put that show in perspective?
You know when you do a project, also when I did Asia, but on Unorthodox, and I will explain it in a minute, you almost forget that eventually, it will get to an audience. (laughs) Not because the audience isn’t important, they are most important, but on my behalf, I am so dedicated and into a project that you don’t think about what will happen, you are really being this character in this story. And then suddenly it goes out and people are reacting, and you are like yeah, of course, this is why I did it, to bring people to talk about it, to put things on the table. With Unorthodox, things happened big time and a lot of us from the cast and the production was not expecting that. I mean I was reading the script and I felt like it was a universal story. I am secular but people from all over the world and legions, secular Muslims, Christians and Jewish from Argentina to the UK to the US, it’s really touched so many people.