Amit Rahav Wants to Make It Big In Hollywood

Amit Rahav Wants to Make It Big In Hollywood

Amit Rahav Wants to Make It Big In Hollywood

The Unorthodox star on auditioning with a longtime friend, living in Berlin and his childhood dreams of becoming a magician.

The Unorthodox star on auditioning with a longtime friend, living in Berlin and his childhood dreams of becoming a magician.

Photography: Eran Levi

Styling: ARYEH LAPPIN

Text: Valerie Stepanova

When Unorthodox  launched on Netflix on March 26, the world buckled down ready to watch. Centered around the unique experience of a young woman born and raised in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community, the series has managed to bring together the socially distanced world. 

The series stars Amit Rahav, an up-and-coming Israeli actor who has been gaining a lot of attention due to the project’s success. He took the role of Yanky, the troubled husband of female protagonist Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro, played by Shira Haas, who is tasked with tracking down his runaway spouse. When the lockdown-riddled world has figuratively received the story with open arms, the young actor quite literally felt like he just got the biggest hug from each and every one of the show’s viewers. “We didn't expect this amount of love and amazing feedback that we're getting,” Rahav reflects. “It is rare for us nowadays to stop and really become immersed in a TV show from beginning to end. And people had the time and willingness to dive deep into the world of this Hasidic community.”

Ironically enough, in real-life, Rahav is nothing like the character he played in the Netflix miniseries. Bold and outgoing, Rahav was keen on discovering his own path in life from a very young age. He dreamed of being a magician, of all things, and in many ways he has now become an illusionist of sorts, taking on different characters and personalities every time he takes the stage or comes on set. Starting his creative path as a classic theater kid, he brought his passion into adulthood — serving in Israel’s military entertainment troupe. 

“I was serving for three years in the army theater,” he recalls. “We were performing in all the bases of Israel in front of the soldiers — in kitchens and small rooms in front of maybe five or 10 people, with sketches and some educational stuff…” Fresh out of military service, he went on to study in an acting school and in his first year there, he got the role of Yanky in Unorthodox.

For Rahav, his character is a victim and a hero all at once. Born into a certain set of circumstances, he feels an obligation to his family and the Hasidic community en masse, desperate to fit in yet continuously dogged by the societal expectations and the peer pressure being placed upon him. He breaks free from the bigotry and dogmatism, at last: en route to find and win Esty back, he discovers his own truths and his place in this world. “It’s like a coming-of-age story where he suddenly finds himself as he goes out on this journey,” Rahav explains. “He's such a fighter and he suddenly is seeing everything clearly, he realizes there isn't one absolute truth — there are so many truths, and he suddenly finds his own voice. He finds what he wants, what he needs and how he wants to live in this world; that’s why I feel he's such an amazing character to portray.”

There is this apparent chemistry between Yanky and Esty who go through thrills and trials of being a married couple in the Orthodox Jewish community. That is no coincidence — the two actors have been close friends since age 15 and have dreamed of working with each other all along. “Shira [Haas] was studying with my best friends in one of the best high schools for acting in Israel, I used to go to watch them perform,” Rahav remembers. “Then I met her and we’ve been in contact ever since! We've seen each other in the most embarrassing situations and parties, like the funniest sleepovers. We had really fun adulthood, and we were waiting for the opportunity to work together as well.” And work they did.

Auditioning together felt like a wild dream come true, but when both had learned they were on the verge of getting their respective roles, they could hardly contain the excitement.  “It was just like the coolest thing, us being husband and wife in an audition,” Rahav says. “It was the craziest thing ever. You know, it was suddenly like, 'Did we just speak a whole conversation in Yiddish, what's going on here?’ And it was very intimate — it seemed like a fairytale back then, and we were crossing our fingers for each other.” 

A week later, Rahav got the fateful phone call: both friends had officially landed the gig. “I was just…screaming!” the actor laughs.

As it happens with many big film and TV projects, the cast and crew have developed a very tight relationship between themselves and have grown into one big family where all members could rely on each other at any time — day or night. 

“I asked so many questions… I would be sending voice messages at 1 or 2 A.M., asking [crew members] ‘Why is that? Why are they doing this? Do they touch each other at this point? Will they look in the eyes? How will the vibe be?’” the actor recalls. “I had to learn more than anyone else since I didn’t know as much [about the customs in Hasidic Jewish communities] when I first started the project, as I am very secular myself.” Traveling to New York and Berlin has allowed Rahav to not only discover new cultures but also revisit family ties of his own — one of the actor’s five sisters actually happens to live in Germany’s capital, bringing the whole experience up a notch. “I feel very privileged to have gotten a chance to live there for four months,” the actor says. “Berlin is definitely one of the best cities in the world.”

As for the future, Rahav is plotting to hop on over to the West Coast and continue to pursue his career in Hollywood and beyond — once the pandemic is over. “At this moment, I was supposed to be in LA to meet my managers and my team, so I’ll have to do that once quarantine is all over,” he says. “Until then, I’ll continue to rest and relax over here [in Israel].”

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