‘Shtisel’ Star Shira Haas on How Childhood Illness ‘Forced Me to Mature Early’
One of the most recognizable stars of Netflix’s Israeli soap opera Shtisel is actor Shira Haas. The 25-year-old has also gained fame recently with her turn in another Netflix hit, Unorthodox, based on the memoir by the same name by former ultra-Orthodox sect member Deborah Feldman. In the drama Haas, in the role of Feldman, escapes her Hasidic Brooklyn community.
For her part, Haas has had her own share of drama in her life, diagnosed with cancer at a very young age that she says made her grow up fast.
The actor portrays Ruchami Weiss Tonik on ‘Shtisel’
Haas told Variety about her delight in learning the dark horse Israeli drama had been picked up for a third season on Netflix. Filming with COVID restrictions in place was daunting, however.
“To be Ruchami again is amazing,” she said. “I gave up the idea of a third season, and suddenly it came back. You’re seeing all the people you know, but you can’t hug them.
“There aren’t a lot of people on set, and everyone is very careful. Definitely weird; it’s definitely different. But yeah, you know, the things we do for art!”
Haas had to learn Yiddish – fast – for her role in ‘Unorthodox’
Born and raised in Israel, Haas speaks Hebrew fluently. What she was not fluent in, before filming Unorthodox, was Yiddish.
She explained to IndieWire that “I went to sleep with Yiddish and I woke up with Yiddish. We spent hours every day. I recorded [her instructor Eli Rosen] and I watched videos and I wrote it on the page.
“It was so important to me to know my lines well and to know what I was saying, so that when I came to set I wouldn’t have to think about it, so I would be able to actually be in the scene. It was a major part of preparing for the role.”
Haas is a cancer survivor
In a recent interview with The Guardian, the petite actor talked about her diagnosis at age 3 with cancer of the kidney.
“I don’t remember anything of my life before [cancer],” she said. “From the age of three to six I was very sick. Being ill forced me to mature early. I started to write poems and stories. Of course, I wish it hadn’t happened, but a part of me is thankful for what I went through. I understand pain and suffering. It shaped who I am.”
She added that her discovery of the acting life in her teens gave her “protection,” and an outlet that she quickly found she not only enjoyed, but also excelled at.
“Being shy by nature, I find that performing offers me some protection,” she explained. “Acting is exposing, but telling a story gives me a protective shield to hide behind. Nobody ever knows quite how many of your personal experiences are on show when the cameras roll.”