Shira Haas, the star of the Netflix limited series “Unorthodox,” about Esther, a young woman fleeing Hasidic Brooklyn, will always have a record of where she was when she received her first Emmy nomination.
She decided to film the moment alongside Amit Rahav, who plays her husband in the series, because the two actors live a three-minute walk from each other in Tel Aviv. It could have been a disappointing clip, but it wasn’t. Haas, 25, earned a nomination for best lead actress in a limited series or movie, and the show itself was nominated for best limited series. Their reaction says it all.
Once she had given herself a couple of hours to process, Haas, whose primary language is Hebrew, got on the phone to talk about the exciting news. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
I was just on Twitter and I saw a video of you learning with Amit Rahav that you were nominated. It’s such a wonderful display of your joy. Who decided to film it?
We talked a few days ago on the phone, and we were talking about the Emmys. And we were like, this is such a rare moment that’s happening in life and we need to be together, first of all. And then we were like, why not film it? Even if we aren’t nominated, we’ll have this amazing memory. It was amazing to do it with Amit because he’s such a good friend of mine and we’re also neighbors. So it made sense.
You’re neighbors! That’s wild. How has your life changed since the show debuted on Netflix and you’ve become more internationally known?
It is amazing what has been happening and the amount of people who have been watching the show. We get messages from all over the world from different places. Something about the fact that there’s this pandemic and I’m at my home on lockdown is helping me, in a way, to take it in and really appreciate it. I did a lot of interviews and press, and at the same time I was sheltered in my home. I wish it was different circumstances, of course. But in a way it’s healthy to process the success of the TV series.
You said you’ve had a lot of people reach out to you about the show. Have you had any Orthodox women reach out to you?
Yes, of course. A lot of people wrote me messages. Lots of women are not necessarily Jewish but women that went through something similar. They were really moved by it, and it took strength for them to even write to me or put it out there.
The show was a surprise hit on Netflix. What do you think it was about the story that grabbed people?
When I read the script, I felt that even though it’s a different world from what I know, what attracted me was that I see myself within the character. Esther is going through a journey of finding herself and finding her voice and saying, “I’m a woman.” And even though I’m not coming from an Orthodox community and I don’t know Yiddish at all, I can still really relate to this character. I had so much empathy for this character and this story. And maybe that is what really moves people. An amazing thing that art can do is to bring something that is really, really different and show that we can relate to it and we’re still human beings.
How did you study the details of Orthodox life in preparation for this role?
I did a lot of research before I arrived to Berlin and New York, where we shot it. I read a lot and had a lot of conversations with women [who left their Orthodox communities] — not necessarily from the same community as Esther — and I saw videos of Deborah Feldman, the woman the story is inspired by. And then I had an amazing Yiddish coach who really taught me the language, and I had an accent coach and a singing coach. Up until now, it was one of the most, if not the most, committed I’ve been to a character. It was a very powerful experience.
Did you think you would have your first Emmy nomination by age 25?
No. The most honest answer is no. All of us put so much of us into this project, but I was not expecting to be nominated for the acting. The answer is definitely no, but I feel so very, very grateful. And I always believed in the show, but I’m surprised, to be honest.