She looks fragile, reserved, sometimes vulnerable and frightened. But life has taught her many lessons, and when her husband left her and their five children, she realized that she had to stop crying to save her family. For the first time in her life, she looked for a job, worked in a non-Orthodox household and soon started her own business as a money change agent.
Giti Weiss, one of the leading characters of the highly acclaimed Israeli TV show Shtisel, was Neta Riskin’s big chance in life. The talented actress soon rose to international fame and was cast for several other interesting film productions.
In spring 2019, I had the chance to meet Neta Riskin and to interview her about her career and her amazing performance in Shtisel. A few months before, when I had watched Shtisel Season 1, I had been overwhelmed by the dialogues, the humour and the humanity of the drama series.
INTERVIEW WITH SHTISEL ACTRESS NETA RISKIN
When the shooting of Shtisel Season 1 started, did you and the cast expect that the series would be such a huge international success?
When I was offered to audition for a role in Shtisel and I read that it was about an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem, I said to myself: I don’t want to do it.
The Orthodox communities and the secular communities in Israel don’t know each other. They don’t meet, they don’t talk, they hardly know anything about each other and they don’t like each other. Therefore, I didn’t want to play in a series about Orthodox Jews. I didn’t like that world. Moreover, the series was planned to be shot in summer for three months, mostly in Jerusalem, a city where it’s very hot. I wanted to go to Berlin for the summer instead of spending it in Jerusalem sweating all day long.
Why did you change your mind?
I decided to read the script, even though I was convinced that I would turn down the role. I spent the whole weekend reading the script. I couldn’t stop reading. I ordered a lot of food and in the end the script was full of stains. It felt like I was reading a great novel. It was unique, subtle, wise and so different, nearly epic.
What expectations did you and the cast have at the beginning of the shooting?
Shtisel Season 1 was shot for an Israeli broadcast channel, not for a cable channel, which means less viewers. We thought that nobody would watch the series in Israel, even though we were convinced of its high quality. To our great surprise, Shtisel became a huge hit.
Shtisel was a huge international success, even though it didn’t fit in the category of the Netflix hits with lots of action, science fiction or sex scenes.
There are no erotic scenes, people don’t even touch each other and the characters look awful, even though for instance Michael Aloni, who plays my brother Akiva, is a very handsome actor. But people all over the world loved the drama series. It’s like a cross-sector production. It took us off-guard. We never thought that Shtisel would be a success.
How did you notice that people all over the world are watching Shtisel?
The series is tremendously successful worldwide. I get messages from all over the world: India, Brazil, Argentina, France, it’s crazy. During my recent stay in Berlin, people stopped me on the street to take selfies with me.
Shtisel portrays a very mysterious world. Even you as a native Israeli know hardly anything about the Orthodox community in Jerusalem. But the characters are not portrayed as exotic animals in a zoo, they have emotions, feelings and problems like anyone else.
If I had to think of a stereotype of a Jew, it would be Giti counting bank notes in Season 1. That’s a stereotype. But if you see the scene in a context, you know why she’s doing it. To survive.
Giti Weiss is a very interesting character because of her evolution. In Season 1, she’s standing in the street with her five children and bids her husband Lipa, who’s going to Argentina, goodbye. You see a very fragile woman who’s crying and who seems helpless without her husband. After a few weeks, Giti realizes that her husband is not coming back anymore. And all of a sudden she changes and becomes stronger and cunning.
Giti fights for her rights to keep her life as a simple woman. She doesn’t want to evolve too much. She has very little tools to deal with her situation: she doesn’t have an education, she doesn’t have a very good father and she doesn’t really know how to raise her children. She’s in her own surrounding, she’s never been out, she never had any job. As an actress, I can’t give her more than she has.
In this difficult situation, Giti can’t even count on her father’s help.
Rabbi Shtisel is the worst father, but you love him. He makes every possible mistake, he’s arrogant, he thinks he’s smart, he’s too proud, he doesn’t listen to anyone.
The elder members of the Shtisel family have many dialogues in Yiddish, especially Dov Glickman (Shulem), Sasson Gabai (Nuchem) and Leah Koenig (grandmother). Did any of these actors already speak Yiddish?
Only two actresses spoke Yiddish, Leah Koenig, the grandmother in Season 2, and Hannah Rieber, who played the grandmother in Season 1. Sasson Gabai is an Iraki Jew. He really had to learn Yiddish from scratch. The older generation of the ultra-Orthodox Jews often speaks Yiddish, the younger generation only Hebrew.
Do Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem speak the same way secular Israelis do? Is their Hebrew identical or not?
It depends on how modern they are. The language is different. We use a lot of slang in our daily lifes, for instance we say bye, which you can’t use for the characters of Shtisel. They use different words, it’s a higher level.
Nobody of the Shtisel cast had ever lived in an ultra-Orthodox family. How did you all prepare for your roles?
We spent three months studying how to be an Orthodox Jew. How to drink, how to walk, how to hold your hands, not to cross your legs etc. The Shtisel production team put so much effort in research and studies. Even for Othodox Jews, the characters in Shtisel are not fake.
How did you manage to speak, move and behave like Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem? Did you walk around Mea Shearim observing people?
We lived partly in Mea Sharim. We spent there at least every weekend, even though we had our own flats. We had teachers and we dressed like Orthodox Jews. We had classes, we were converted. Each actor had a personal coach who took him to his family, putting him in all kind of live situations. My coach did some tests with me. I had to walk, because I didn’t walk well. She said to me: “The minute they stop looking at you, you do a good job.” Although I was dressed like an Orthodox Jewish woman, something was missing. It smells like another animal. After one and a half months of walking, nobody looked at me anyore. I was ready for the role as Giti Weiss.
NETA RISKIN IN SHTISEL SEASON 1
Three seasons of Shtisel are available on Netflix. According to Danna Stern, managing director of Yes studios, there won’t be another season of Shtisel.
TRAILERS: NETA RISKIN IN 3 FILMS
In the psychological drama/thriller Shelter (2018), Neta Riskin plays a Mossad agent who has to protect Mona, a Lebanese informant who has betrayed the Hezbollah. Mona is played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. The plot is largely set in a spacious apartment in Hamburg, Germany.
In the Israeli drama Longing (2017), a middle-aged bachelor discovers that he had a 19-year old son who died a few weeks before in an accident. Neta Riskin plays the son’s French teacher.
In the film with the German title Anderswo (Anywhere Else), which was released in 2014, Neta Riskin plays Noa, a young Israeli who was studying in Berlin, but who had to go back to her homecountry when her scholarship was cancelled. One day, her German boyfriend shows up in Tel Aviv without advance notice.
Interview with Shtisel Actress Neta Riskin is one of four articles about the Shtisel family. Read more about the cast and the series in our film section.
(This article was first published on 21 April 2021 and updated recently.)
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Interview With Shtisel Actress Neta Riskin is the second article about the Israeli actress. Read our first interview with her.
Photos: Courtesy of Yes Studios and Vered Adir