A drug cartel, a mysterious sect, corrupt government officials and four Israeli war veterans: When Heroes Fly is a 10-part thriller inspired by a best-selling novel and set deep in the Colombian jungle. It won the Best Series Award at the inaugural Cannes International Series Festival in April 2018 and premiered on Netflix in January 2019.
Why is the series so successful? Who are the main actors? Where was the series shot? Is Yaeli still alive? Who is the guru El padre pálido (the pale father)? Let’s discover 25 facts about When Heroes Fly.
[This article was first published on 29 March 2019. Given the fact that it is still one of our most clicked articles, it was been updated in January 2022.]
TRAILER: WHEN HEROES FLY
25 FACTS ABOUT WHEN HEROES FLY
When Heroes Fly is based on a novel published by Israeli author and screenwriter Amir Gutfreund (1963-2015).
The TV series was written and created by Omri Givon (42), the co-creator of Hostages, an Israeli TV series about a female surgeon who is forced to kill the prime minister in exchange for the life of her husband and children. (You can watch the suspenseful show Hostages on Netflix.)
When Heroes Fly premiered on Keshet 12, an Israeli free-to-air TV channel, in May 2018 and received rave reviews, increasing slot average by 35% in ratings and 21% in share. It was the channel’s most watched drama since the Channel 2 split in November 2017.
The thriller tells the story of four Israeli friends, war veterans of a special forces unit in the Lebanon, who, eleven years after falling out, reunite for one personal mission.
TOMER KAPON AS AVIV DANINO
Tomer Kapon plays Aviv Danino. Aviv lost his father when he was six years old. At the age of 18, Aviv was admitted to an elite military unit. After his mandatory service, he became a successful nightclub owner.
Everything changed when he was called back to reserve service during the Second Lebanon War. The war left him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He lost his business and broke up with his girfriend Yaeli.
Tomer Kapon (36) is an Israeli actor and model. He is best known for his role as Boaz in Fauda. He also starred in Hostages and A Tale of Love and Darkness, a film directed by Natalie Portman (read our interview with Natalie’s language coach Neta Riskin). He also appeared in the Amazon Show The Boys.
“The series is very Israeli, it has a significant military derivative, but it goes way beyond that,” says Tomer. “It’s first and foremost about friendship. Secondly, it’s about coping. And thirdly, it’s a tragic love story. Following the horrific events of the Second Lebanon War, the guilt and trauma slowly creep up on my character, Aviv.”
Find out more about Tomer Kapon on Instagram.
SHTISEL ACTOR MICHAEL ALONI AS DOTAN FRIEDMAN
Michael Aloni plays Dotan “Himmler” Friedman. Born and raised in a wealthy family, Dotan always felt like an outsider in his rich neighborhood. Dotan got his Nazi nickname during basic military training. It started with him standing out as the only blond-haired soldier. But beyond that, he is known for his calm demeanor; he doesn’t know what fear is, and doesn’t know what bravery is either, because for him, running into a hail of bullets is like a walk in the park.
Michael Aloni (37) is an Israeli actor, film director and TV presenter. He is best known for his role as Akiva in Shtisel, a Netflix series about an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem (read our article about Shtisel). In the film Out In The Dark, he played an Israeli who falls in love with a Palestinian. In 2021, Michael starred in The Queen of Jerusalem and Plan A.
On set, Michael was impressed by Ninet Tayeb (Yaeli). “She’s simply magic,” he said. “She embraced her role so openly, with so much emotion and with so much willingness to work, and when you look at her inside the frame, she’s beautiful.”
ROCK SINGER NINET TAYEB AS YAELI ASHKENAZI
Ninet Tayeb plays Yaeli Ashkenazi. She’s Dubi’s younger sister and grew up in a religious family in Jerusalem. As an adult, she decided to become a secular Israeli and to move to Tel Aviv. Her parents never accepted her decision.
Yaeli is beautiful, sharp, witty and sensitive. Before becoming Aviv’s girlfriend, she had a relationship with Himmler. She has to give up her dreams the day Aviv returns from the battlefield. His post-traumatic stress disorder and his refusal to seek help put an end to their relationship. Yaeli travels to South America to get strength and balance. In Bogotá, Colombia, she meets Benda, who has become a drug addict. A few days later, she is involved in a bus accident in the jungle.
Ninet Tayeb (38) is an Israeli singer, songwriter, musician and actress.
Ninet was mainly influenced by Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Oasis and Pearl Jam. She has released six successful albums and has twice won Israel’s Favourite Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
In 2016, she moved from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles with her husband, musician Yosi Mizrachi, and their daughter Emilia Sarah (4). Find out more about Ninet on Instagram.
MOSHE ASHKENAZI AS EX-DRUG ADDICT BENDA
Moshe Ashkenazi plays Yakir “Benda” Ben-David. He comes from a line of farmers, and the men in his family have all served in the Golani brigade. After the Second Lebanon War, Dubi left the farm and took a trip through South America, where he soon became a drug addict. One day, he meets María (Vanessa Chaplot), a Colombian drug addict. They fall in love and decide to start a new life by overcoming their addiction and opening a small Israeli restaurant in Bogotá.
Moshe Ashkenazi (35) is an Israeli actor and stand-up comedian. Find out more about him and his family on Instagram.
“The four characters in the TV series are distinctly different, which is something you see in every group of friends,” says Moshe. “Like the women in Sex and the City, only with guys. Yeah, something like that!”
NADAV NETZ AS THE ORTHODOX JEW DUBI
Nadav Netz (36) plays Dov “Dubi” Ashkenazi, Yaeli’s brother. Dubi grew up in a religious family. He’s the only member of the group who wears a kippah and who prays daily. He is married to Rona and has two children. After a brief career in high-tech, Dubi decided to become a middle school teacher. But he has a secret, and he knows he can’t hold onto it forever.
“Before we started rehearsals, we did some team building with the soldiers from the Golani reconnaissance platoon, and it was just like the real deal,” says actor Nadav Netz.
When Heroes Fly was created, written and directed by Omri Givon (42). In 2013, he wrote and directed the series Hostages with Rotem Shamir. Hostages was the first Israeli series to be broadcast on Canal Plus in France, Channel 4 in the UK and Netflix, and was adapted by Warner Brothers with Jerry Bruckheimer for CBS. Givon and Shamir wrote and directed a second season which was co-produced with Canal+.
When Heroes Fly was shot in Israel and Colombia. “We flew the entire cast to Colombia for six weeks to film in Bogotá and the surrounding forests,” says Omri. “It’s as complicated as it gets, because most of the story takes place in present day Colombia, but we keep cutting to flashbacks to understand the past which takes place in Israel. The look, the costume and the locations have to change according to past or present, so it’s a big mess, not to mention Colombia.”
VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH THE ACTORS IN CANNES
VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR OMRI GIVON
There’s much more to discover than 25 facts about When Heroes Fly. Watch the interview with film director Omri Givon.
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