Donning a spangly, silvery top on a recent visit to Los Angeles that was only outshined by her bubbly personality, Hadas Yaron is a far cry from the reserved young woman she plays in “Fill the Void,” an Israeli drama set in the cloistered community of the Orthodox Hasidic community. A firecracker in person, she limits those sparks to her eyes as Shira, the youngest daughter of a deeply religious family who’s faced with an unimaginable decision after tragedy befalls her older sister during childbirth and her family tries to find a way to keep her brother-in-law in the fold to tend to the newborn.
Yaron has known her own fate for some time, studying to become an actress in her teens and going so far as to sneak out of her mandatory service to the Israeli in order to audition for “Fill the Void,” a risk that was rewarded with prizes for her performance at the Venice Film Festival and the Israeli Academy Awards. As her collaboration with the equally revelatory Rama Burshtein finally begins to hit American theaters, she took the time to talk about how she got the part, familiarizing herself with Hasidic culture and how she learned her waitressing days were behind her.
What attracted you to the role of Shira?
Actually the first audition I did was before I read the script. In Israel, first you audition and after you get the part, you get to read the script. [When you audition], you read a scene, so you can’t realize exactly what the film is about or what is going to happen or will it be a good project, but you feel the energy or that it’s beautifully written and it has something different in it. What was so beautiful about the script and this character is that it’s not what you think it is.
What was it like getting into this community that you were probably aware of, but might not necessarily know how it worked?
Definitely. I’m used to seeing them walk in the streets. I never knew anyone religious in person because our lives, most of the time, don’t [intersect]. It was actually very good because when you look at it from the outside, you can’t really understand and once you get to know [them as] a human being, you can really understand what’s going on because you meet people, they tell you their experience and they just communicate with you. You say this is a person next to me and we’re talking. Not that I used to make a separation, but I always thought they maybe had strict rules and if they looked at me, they wouldn’t like me because I don’t live their lives. All of a sudden, it doesn’t mean anything.
As you were saying, a lot of the beauty of this film comes not necessarily from the dialogue, but from the glances you give – to show the rebellion of this character while being respectful of the religious beliefs. Was it difficult to convey that?
I think it was because most of the time, you are not used to scripts that you have to say something that is behind the words. Those are the best scripts, but most of the time, it’s like blah blah blah blah, too many words and not much meaning, so it was a challenge because you just have to really feel it. If you don’t feel it, then it won’t work because people will notice. So it was very frightening most of the time, but Rama really knew how to connect it to my heart, so most of the time, it all felt real. We were having this experience and every day was experiencing everything the characters were going through.
Perhaps the most beautiful sequence in the film where that occurs is where you’re playing an accordion to a classroom of young children and the music turns sorrowful and you can see all the emotions you’re dealing with at this crossroads. Tell me about that scene. Did you actually know how to play the accordion?
I did not know how to play the accordion. It’s a very difficult instrument! [laughs] There was so much noise in that scene. It was like rrrrrrnnnnngh [as I tried to play], I was faking the melody and it was ugly, very weird stuff. I had to really switch this button [in my head] like don’t listen to it and feel what you’re feeling. It took a while because at the beginning, I was very aware of playing this horrible melody, if you could call it a melody, and I knew I had to feel something. It took a few takes because I thought, “oh, how could [the crew] listen to that? The cinematographer!” It took awhile to ignore that and just be in the moment.
Is there any truth to the story that when you won the Volpi Cup for your performance at the Venice Film Festival, you were actually back home waitressing when you heard the news?
It’s partly true. They made a whole mess out of the real story. I was waiting tables at the time, but I took the week off for Venice and the manager knew I was not going to show up. Reporters said I was in the coffee shop and that they called me back. It wasn’t true. But the thing is I did come back on Thursday night to Israel just to continue with my life and then on Friday morning, I got a call from the producer, “You should come back to Venice.”
What’s it been like to have an experience like this, going around the world this past year?
I still don’t really get it. It still is a dream. It feels unreal most of the time, but it’s a good experience. It’s crazy because you go through this journey with a film while you’re shooting it, then once it’s released, the audience [sees it] and you’re going on another journey with the film in starting to realize what it means to people.