‘Unorthodox’ Star Shira Haas Says the Lead Role of Esty Required ‘A Lot of Research’

The new series from Netflix about an Orthodox Jewish community, Unorthodox, came out just a few weeks ago. Unorthodox stars Israeli actress Shira Haas as the main character Esty Shapiro. Haas recently revealed how much time and effort she put in to preparing for the main role in Unorthodox.

Israeli actress Shira Haas cast as ‘Unorthodox’ lead role Esty Shapiro

Unorthodox Esty
Shira Haas in Unorthodox | Anika Molnar/Netflix

IndieWire recently interviewed Unorthodox lead Shira Haas. Aside from the brand new Netflix series, Haas has a long resume of solid acting work. IndieWire wrote:

After landing her breakout role in the Natalie Portman-directed A Tale of Love and Darkness, she appeared opposite Jessica Chastain in Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, as well is in Shtisel, which was a small hit internationally.

Haas told the publication what she did to get ready to play Esty Shapiro, the young woman who breaks free of her Hasidic community in Netflix’s Unorthodox. She spent weeks studying the Yiddish dialect that the Satmar community speaks in Williamsburg.

But Haas told IndieWire there was much more than just the language she had to learn. The Unorthodox actress recalled:

It did require me to do a lot of research, which included, of course, reading the book a few times, but also the internet and seeing a lot of interviews and lectures and reading about the rituals, which are very different.

The “book” Haas is referring to here is the memoir on which the Netflix series was based, Deborah Feldman’s 2012 book by the same name.

Haas also traveled to Berlin “two months before filming began in order to study Yiddish with the show’s religious consultant.” Eli Rosen, the actor who portrays the Rabbi in the limited series, helped Haas out with the dialect.

Haas says her character research for the Netflix miniseries was intense

A behind-the-scenes short called Making Unorthodox is also available on Netflix. In it, many of the show’s creative decision-makers explain how they created the world of the show.

Shira Haas
Shira Haas in 2017 | Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

“We knew it was so important to get people on board not just as actors but behind and in front of the camera who are from this community,” producer and co-creator Alexa Karolinski said in Making Unorthodox. Rosen, who assisted Haas with the language, served as an “actor, translator, and … specialist when it comes to Yiddish.”

“He not only translated the scripts, he coached the actors in Yiddish, he helped us with all the cultural details, and he played the rabbi,” Anna Winger, the other co-creator of Unorthodox continued.

“I would have been lost without this advice,” the director Unorthodox, Maria Schrader, said in the Netflix mini-doc.

Haas recalled her time working with Rosen in the IndieWire interview. She shared:

I went to sleep with Yiddish and I woke up with Yiddish. We spent hours every day. I recorded him 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.

‘Unorthodox’ producers and writers wanted to get the details right

IndieWire also confirmed that the production design team and cinematographers were “just as committed to authenticity.” The publication confirmed:

Netflix Unorthodox
Shira Haas as Esty in Unorthodox | Anika Molnar/Netflix

Cinematographer Wolfgang Thaler painstakingly matched Berlin’s interiors to New York’s exteriors. The entire production team, from the set to costume to production design, went to great lengths to ensure the accuracy down to every last detail.

In Making Unorthodox, Karolinski also explained how the crew took “two research trips to New York.” The production team took in what they saw in Willamsburg–where the Satmar community resides–to recreate Esty’s world.

The Unorthodox director remembered these trips as “a hunt for impressions, for feeling atmosphere, just watching, just taking things in.”

The series premiered Mar. 26, 2020.