Why She’s On Our Radar: Hani Furstenberg has already made great strides as an actress in the Israeli theater with occasional, and equally successful, forays into film. She has already worked with two giants of contemporary Israeli cinema: Eytan Fox, who cast her in the gay soldier drama “Yossi and Jagger,” as well as Joseph Cedar, whose “Campfire” brought the actress an Israeli Oscar. Only now, however, has Furtenberg made her way into an English language movie, and it’s a fairly humble start: In “The Loneliest Planet,” which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival and opens this Friday in limited release, she holds her own opposite Gael Garcia Bernal as one half of a couple journeying through the mountains of the Georgian peninsula and unsure about the future of their relationship. Directed by Julia Loktev (“Day Night Day Night”), the movie relies on pregnant pauses and other quiet details that provides a real showcase for Furstenberg’s nuanced abilities.
[Editor’s Note: This interview originally ran during the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, where “The Loneliest Planet” screened.]
More About Her: She has spent most of her life in two very different places: Although born in Israel, she moved to New York with her family when she was six weeks old, but they returned to Israel when she was 16. She returned to New York to study acting at the age of 23, then moved to Los Angeles for two years, followed by a four-and-half year return to Israel. Most recently, she has moved back to New York.
How did you hear about this project?
Julia was looking for a non-American actor to play the role of the man. A friend of hers had told her to look at Israeli cinema because Israeli men are manly but still have a sensitive side. Among the Israeli films she had seen were “Yossi and Jagger,” and then she saw “Campfire,” and I guess she liked me in both. She figured she could change it so the girl was the non-American. She looked me up, googled me, and saw that I was going to be in Cleveland performing in “Hamlet” as Ophelia. She sent me an email saying she was a filmmaker and asked if I was stopping in New York on the way back to Israel so she could meet me. I stopped there for two days, having set up meetings with casting agents. At this point, she realized I was American, so the script didn’t have to change.
Had you heard of “Day Night Day Night”?
No, I hadn’t. I got to New York; I landed in the morning and was leaving that evening. I accidentally missed all my meetings except my one with her. I guess it was meant to be. I don’t tend to believe in that sort of thing, but the way that things went with this movie made me feel that way. So I went to meet her in Brooklyn and we spoke for two hours. Half a year later, she called me up and asked me to come to Madrid to meet Gael.
What were the challenges involved with improvising around a fairly experimental plot? It’s especially unique since Gael is something of a star.
Well, he’s not a very star-like person. It was also not a very star-quality production. I felt very home with Gael, acting-wise, right away. It was very easy for us to play off each other. The improvisation depended on a lot of aspects of the scene. There were many that were carefully blocked out for the camera work, and then there were other scenes that were more loose. It was surprising to me how difficult the production was, physically. I had never been in the mountains. The altitude, the hiking, waking up early each morning just to start the day was difficult, but quite an amazing experience. There was no way not to get sucked into it as an actor.
What was it like to watch the movie for the first time with an audience?
It was an amazing experience. Films that I’m in I have to see a few times because it’s so cut up in my head. I remember the experiences. Since I had seen it once before, I could definitely feel the tension of it much more.
What sort of expectations do you have for the film and its impact on your career?
Oh, I have no idea, no expectations. I just stopped working. I’ve been working very hard for the past few years in the Israeli theater. It’s been three productions at a time for four-and-a-half. I did “Hamlet,” “Fiddler on the Roof, and my favorite role which I just won an award for: “Ghetto,” which is an Israeli play by Joshua Sobol but was on Broadway years ago. Right now, I’m enjoying life and would love to do theater in New York and continue doing films. I hope as many people as possible see this film. I hope the English-speaking world can see that I’m not only an Israeli actress. My husband and I just got back to the States and we’re going to be there for awhile. It’s a privilege but also complicated. Throughout my life, I’m in one place for some time then get fed up with the mentality and miss the other place and go back there. It would be great if I could have a career where I could have both places as my home. I’ve been able to work with great directors in Israel. It’s the same profession everywhere you go. I guess some American films have more money, but this film felt more like an Israeli film in that regard.