News of a death

Lior Ashkenazi on Foxtrot and going to the edge of his emotions

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Lior Ashkenazi with Anne-Katrin Titze on his role in Samuel Maoz's Foxtrot:
Lior Ashkenazi with Anne-Katrin Titze on his role in Samuel Maoz's Foxtrot: "I had to take it to the edge of my skills, of my emotions." Photo: Whitby Hotel

Alexander Payne's Downsizing, starring Matt Damon with Kristen Wiig, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris, Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudeikis, Udo Kier, and Margo Martindale will open the 74th Venice International Film Festival. Three other world premières include Human Capital director Paolo Virzi's The Leisure Seeker (Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland); 45 Years director Andrew Haigh's Lean On Pete (Chloë Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi); and Lebanon (Golden Lion winner in 2009) director Samuel Maoz's Foxtrot, starring Sarah Adler and Lior Ashkenazi (Joseph Cedar's Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer).

Lior Ashkenazi's upcoming films José Padilha's Entebbe with Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl, and Julie Delpy's My Zoe with Gemma Arterton, Richard Armitage, and Brühl will open in 2018.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You have a movie coming up called Foxtrot?

Lior Ashkenazi: Yeah, Foxtrot, like the dance.

AKT: What is it about?

LA: It's kind of complicated. It's divided in three acts. The first act starts with a woman opening a door and then someone tells her "Are you Mrs. Feldmann?" And she faints. Then two military officers get into the picture and you understand that they are the officers coming to tell her "Your son's dead."

Alexander Payne's Downsizing, co-written with Jim Taylor, to open the 2017 Venice International Film Festival
Alexander Payne's Downsizing, co-written with Jim Taylor, to open the 2017 Venice International Film Festival Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

So the first act follows the mother [Sarah Adler as Daphna Feldmann]. They inject her with morphine. So we concentrate on the father for the first five hours [diegetic time] after the announcement and all these military administrative things. All the bureaucracy trying to arrange the funeral.

AKT: And who are you?

LA: I'm the father [Michael Feldmann]. He is trying to understand what happened to his son and nobody can tell him actually. Nobody knows what actually happened but they know he is dead. It becomes very violent and after five hours he is very stressed.

[A spoiler alert that Lior told me has been edited out at this point.]

AKT: Sounds like a Kafka story.

Lior continued to tell me the story.

LA: It becomes very violent in a way and he [Maoz] cuts to the second act. You see this barrel in the middle of nowhere. In the desert. A couple of soldiers doing nothing.

It's like 40 minutes with almost no drama. Just usual daily routine. You just see some 19-year-old soldiers. You know nothing about their life. Then you see [someone], who is a kind of artist. A comics artist.

They are struggling with the Palestinians. Nothing happens. Until something happens.

Andrew Haigh's Lean On Pete is in Venice competition
Andrew Haigh's Lean On Pete is in Venice competition Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Which you are not going to tell me?

LA: I won't tell you what. A tragedy happens. We were shooting in Berlin. It was German money. We built the house in Berlin in a studio. I was struggling to play this father, trying to understand that his boy is dead. I knew I couldn't do a sad face.

AKT: Do you sometimes go in the opposite direction to find the right way to play a scene?

LA: Of course. I don't consider myself as a method actor. And I don't think that I have any method. It's more analytic. It's got to be instincts. When people are crying - usually actors like to cry on the street and show off they are crying. I don't believe that. I don't need that. Because whenever a person is crying they try to hide it. Even if your father died, you don't want anyone to see your weakness.

AKT: You are correct.

LA: You hide your tears. So I'm from this method - the realistic one. It's early to talk about it but I'm talking to you. We know each other. Two days before shooting, I was very lost. I understood that I had to bring in something physical.

So I didn't go to sleep two days before shooting. I was dizzy on set. 48 hours that I didn't sleep. Because I was in the [Israeli] Army, I know there are tricks that make you awake all night. The first day of the shoot, I was leaning on the chairs just to stand on my legs. I was shaking, my eyes were burning.

Paolo Virzi's The Leisure Seeker is in Venice competition
Paolo Virzi's The Leisure Seeker is in Venice competition Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Your director said okay?

LA: He didn't know. I didn't tell him until after like 15 days. After 15 days he was asking "What's going on?" Because the first day I saw it works, so I said, okay, it's going to be like that the whole month, 22 days. After the shoot, I went back to the hotel, I was like collapsing into my chair in my hat and coat.

It was February in Berlin. I was sleeping for two hours then awake again going out. So after 15 days I was telling him what was going on. He said "Whatever makes it okay." It's an important script. It couldn't just be a sad face and the usual stuff. I had to take it to the edge of my skills, of my emotions.

AKT: Is that one of the privileges of being an actor? To do things like that?

LA: It's also because we were not shooting in Tel Aviv. Because we were shooting in Germany I had the privilege to sleep from Friday night till Sunday evening. But I wouldn't do it again. It was too much.

The 74th Venice International Film Festival, under the direction of Alberto Barbera, organised by La Biennale di Venezia, screens at Venice Lido from August 30 through September 9.

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