Holy Land Meets Hollywood With ‘When Heroes Fly,’ ‘Shtisel’ Stars on the Rise

Adaptations of such international shows as “BeTipul” and “Prisoners of War” introduced American audiences to Israeli formats (becoming “In Treatment” and “Homeland,” respectively). Now a batch of popular Israeli series are thrusting up-and-coming actors into the spotlight, poised to take Hollywood by storm.

Tomer Capon, who was cast by Natalie Portman in her directorial debut, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” and has starred in two hit series overseas, “Fauda” and “When Heroes Fly,” is one such actor making headway in the States.

“Everything happened really fast for me,” Capon says. “When I got the call that Natalie [Portman] wanted to meet with me, I thought it was a joke. I was so naive and green, I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know anything.”

Although Capon says he “wasn’t that well-known and my career was not that stable” at the time, while shooting with Portman he got an audition for “Fauda,” which helped turn him into a bonafide star in Israel. Appearing next on Amazon’s “The Boys,” executive produced by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Eric Kripke, Capon is part of a core group of thesps growing increasingly popular as TV series exported from Israel gain a progressively robust following on streaming sites.

“Technology has created a global platform for everyone,” says Moran Atias, an Israeli-born actress who has been working on American TV series for years, from roles on “Crash” and FX’s “Tyrant” to the recently canceled “The Village” on NBC. “What comes from Israel is complex, nuanced and specific so it translates around the world.”

“Shtisel” is one of those complex and nuanced series. The dramedy about an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem has cultivated such a zealous following since landing on Netflix that Michael Aloni, its star, is starting to become a household name in places as far-flung as Taiwan. On the Jewish holiday of Purim, on which it’s customary to dress up, Instagram posts of people dressed up as characters on the show went viral. “Friends” creator Marta Kauffman bought the format for development as an American series and in early May, “Shtisel’s” writer Yehonatan Indursky announced the show’s pick-up for a surprise third season (Israeli production company Yes has yet to confirm).

“Netflix’s platform allows series from all over the world to be exposed all over the world — from Israel to Spain to South America. It’s opened the gates to all forms of television and audiences,” says Aloni, who also stars in “When Heroes Fly,” which lensed in both Israel and Colombia.

In addition to Aloni and Capon, “When Heroes Fly” also stars Ninet Tayeb, a famous rock star in Israel who is now living in Los Angeles.

“Israel is a small place,” says Aloni. “Everybody knows everybody, you’ve probably worked with everybody and it’s really common that you get to work with people over and over again. We’re like family.”

With six albums under her belt, Tayeb wasn’t sure she wanted to act anymore before she was approached for the lead role of Yaeli in the thriller revolving around a woman thought dead who turns up in a cult in the Colombian jungle. What changed her mind was the character.

After receiving a copy of the script from the director, Tayeb says her response was, “Oh My God, this is me. I’m Yaeli. I’m Yaeli.” She “fell in love with the story and felt a deep, deep connection to it,” which revived her appetite for acting.

Keshet recently renewed “When Heroes Fly” for a second season, and Tayeb says now she accepts “all parts of myself without trying to compress anything. Now it’s like hand in hand — the acting career and the music career.”

That actors such as Capon, Tayeb and Aloni are making a splash outside Israel, which is covered in the international press more for politics than pop culture, can be attributed in part to the country’s collective strength in “storytelling,” says Alon Shtruzman, CEO of Keshet Intl.

“The Israeli TV market has always been prolific,” Shtruzman says. “Israel is a nation of storytellers and Israel is also a place of conflict and passion and a melting pot of different societies and regions. That, combined with the openness of global audiences to other languages, whether it’s Hebrew or Spanish or Italian or Chinese, means there’s much more room for Israeli TV shows to make an impact outside of Israel.”

But the number of Israeli series being made is still considerably smaller than in the States, and the time span between seasons can stretch on for years, which means the competition within the Israeli acting pool is fierce.

Tom Gal, who has appeared in the Israeli series “Ha-Chevre Ha-Tovim” and “Rosh Gadol,” notes that when you stack “instability” on top of “an already unstable” career path, it makes sense that Israeli thesps on the cusp are eager to court Hollywood.

“The options for TV roles here in Israel are getting even smaller,” Gal says. “You see the same faces and the same names on all the channels, so it’s kind of difficult to break in. It takes a lot of patience.”

Once you do break through, the payoff can be enormous, Tayeb says, especially when it comes to educating global audiences about Israel in a way that goes beyond any narrative set forth in the news.

“I think through music and art and acting, that’s the only way you can reach people’s hearts,” says Tayeb. “We need to open our hearts to whatever hatred comes our way and then the change will come. This is the only way.”

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