The star of Unorthodox talks about meeting author Deborah Feldman, the filming moment that broke her heart and if there will ever be a part two.
If there is one book that has changed Shira Haas’ life we would hazard a guess it might be Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. The book is the basis of Unorthodox the hit Netflix TV series of which Haas is the breakout star gone stratospheric and the cover star of this week’s Stylist.
Written by Deborah Feldman and released in 2012, the memoir recounts how Feldman left the ultra-Orthodox Satmar community she had grown up in and moved to Berlin for a chance at a new life. Feldman’s experiences form the basis of the four part-drama, particularly the scenes set in Williamsburg Though Feldman did move to Berlin, it wasn’t to audition for a prestigious music school and unlike in the drama she already had a child when she left the USA.
Unorthodox has been raved about by critics and audiences alike. The drama is both a very specific story of Esty (Haas) a young woman growing up in a strict community where your life is planned out for you and a universal story of self-discovery and finding your own path. Haas is utterly mesmerising in the role with a unique ability to convey everything Esty is feeling and experiencing without ever saying a word. When we interview Haas she is at home in Israel wearing very relatable: “sweatpants and most comfortable T-shirt” and tells Stylist about how nervous she was to meet Feldman and what she taught her about Esty.
Deborah Feldman’s real-life experiences inspired this drama and Esty specifically, how was it when you met her?
I found the book so inspiring, and it’s such a big responsibility to do a role like this; to give justice to someone’s life. I didn’t meet Deborah until the second week of shooting – it was really important that I didn’t imitate someone. We went for brunch, it was Amit [Rahav, who plays her husband Yanky Shapiro] the producer and I. We were very excited about meeting her, but I was kind of shy in the beginning; I was out of words. I already had my shaved hair and she was a bit shocked that I shaved it. She’s not that far from my age - I have best friends that are her age - and she’s been through so much. I have a lot of respect for her. She came to set a few times and to Israel. And then we talked non-stop. We developed a friendship and respect. And she really loves the show, which I’m so happy and relieved about.
Did Deborah reveal anything about her life during that time?
We talked for example about the scene where Esty is confronting Yanky, and telling him to stop his mother and sister interrupting them. She told me that this was the voice she had inside her but she didn’t have the ability to say it out loud – it wasn’t about courage, she just couldn’t do it. We also talked about her grandmother, it helped me understand important that connection was. I think for me the saddest moment in the script is where her Babby [Esty’s grandmother] hangs up on her [when she calls from Berlin asking for help]. That moment broke my heart.
What were the things that weren’t in the book that were important for you to convey?
The present day was completely different and the past was made so it can combine later with the present day. For me playing Esty when she’s young it was so important for me to show her bright side in the community and to show an opportunity for a real connection with Yanky. It was important for me to show she’s happy in the wedding. She’s trying so hard to fit in so then when it doesn’t work anymore it’s way more powerful and interesting. Life isn’t just black and white, or bad and good. It’s really complex. She leaves this place because she’s unhappy and everyone can understand why Esty is leaving, but it’s really important to show how complicated it is. She loved her family and she’ll miss a lot of things from there. Those sides were really important for me to portray in Esty’s story.
And of course, with the unprecedented success of the show, everyone really wants to know: will there be another series?
From what I know there is no plans for a second season. But I’m willing to give everyone the producer’s phone number to talk with her about that [she laughs]. I love Esty. I would love that but I know it was supposed to be a four-episode series. But who knows. For us for now it’s not supposed to be any longer.
If you’re an avid Stylist fan, you’ll know it’s not always possible to find an issue of our magazine. Often they’re gone before you head into work (they disappear fast!), or you live in a part of the UK where you can’t get your hands on a copy. Add to this the fact that millions of us are not commuting right now, and we wanted to ensure you don’t miss out on the magazine any longer.
Which is why we’re delighted to let you know that Stylist magazine is now available in a digital format, both for Apple and Android users, allowing you to download the full magazine directly to your smartphone or tablet, wherever you may be.
Pricing for our digital magazine starts at just 99p for a single issue, or £21.99 for a full year’s subscription –that’s less than 50p a week! Simply click on the link to activate your Stylist app download from either the Apple store or Google Play and enjoy!