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July 21, 2011

Hollywood’s falling hard for Nitzan Koshet

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/hollywoods_falling_hard_for_nitzan_koshet/

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An Israeli-born actress on her way to the top.

By: Micha Keynan

We were taken completely by surprise, because it seems like she just appeared out of nowhere—but we found ourselves instantly captivated by this Israeli-born Hollywood actress.

Nitzan Koshet, with her big, charming smile and her effortless ability to switch between playing a young, blood-covered victim of a horrific kidnapping and other acts of violence, to playing a legendary, oh-so-seductive Marilyn Monroe-based character, and then as an outspoken woman in The Vagina Monologues—has managed to make us fall head over heels for her.

We were eager to find out, who is she, and how does she do it? After spending the afternoon with the up-and-coming actress at a Beverly Hills cafe, it is safe to say that Nitzan Koshet’s star is rising in the Hollywood skies. It’s shining brightly and it will be here for a long, long time. So let’s get to know her.

The Early Years

“In my work, I use life itself and my imagination,” opens the baby-faced actress.
“I am an observer. I like to look at people, get into why they behave one way or another, what fuels them to be who they are. I guess I’m fascinated by human nature.” 

In conversation, Koshet quickly reveals her sharp thought process and a deep, insightful perception of herself, about people in general and the work she does.
I find her impressively wise beyond her years.

“I graduated couple of years ago from New York City’s Circle in The Square theatre school,” she says—its impressive list of alumni includes legendary Phillips Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Bacon and Felicity Huffman, to name a few—“and while in school I came across Arthur Miller’s play After The Fall and could not walk away from it. Shortly after graduation I found myself producing and starring in it on the New York City stage.”

But let’s start at the beginning.

“I was born on an Israeli military base, where I spent my first few years, due to my dad’s career in the Air Force,”—Koshet’s father was an Israeli Air Force commander and pilot— “and my mother worked as a marketing executive. We moved to Montgomery, Alabama, in the United States, shortly after.”

Though Koshet’s family returned to Israel eventually, her American-accented English stayed with her, as a result of these early years in the States. But when the conversation switches to Hebrew between us, so does the accent, and she sounds 100 percent Israeli.

“I had a very fun childhood,” she continues.  “I lived mostly on military property, so my parents knew I was well protected at all times, and therefore gave me a lot of freedom to run around. My friends and I would disappear for the whole night sometimes, sleeping in sleeping bags under the stars. It was lovely.”

“We lived next to the only movie theater on the base, and whenever I would come back from school, or had free time, I would go see a screening of whatever they were showing,” says Koshet. “Since it was an afternoon at an Air Force base, and most people were busy, I would often find myself sitting in an empty theatre, by myself. It was my favorite thing to do.”

World Upside Down

Everything changed overnight for Nitzan and her family when she was 11 years old. Koshet’s beloved father died in a fatal military air crash. The experience obviously made a huge impact on the young girl; she became a gloomier, darker version of herself.  She turned to art as an outlet.

“I wrote a lot, painted,” she says. “I became less and less verbally communicative during that process. I went into my own private world. In retrospect, I can understand why some people around me were a little worried.” She smiles, “It was a transformation from pink to black, lets just say. I was definitely testing boundaries at that point.”

Acting Out

“We were living in a small city south of Tel Aviv, in a neighborhood populated mostly with a mix of active and retired Air Force commanders and officers,” she continues. “I went to the local high school.  A few of my friends attended drama class, and seemed to be having a blast, so I found myself wanting to know what it was all about.”

“We had a Tel Aviv teacher and director who would come in and put on shows with us few times a year. When I joined the class, he was casting for a Hnoch Levine play. The material was grotesque and the characters were larger than life. He looked at me—then a small, shy kid—and didn’t know what to do with me, or where to cast me. The lead female part was of this big woman, full of air, and very strong and sexy in a grotesque way. A friend convinced our director to let me try out for it. And while our director told him he didn’t see it happening, he agreed to see me, and a last-minute audition opportunity was created unexpectedly. Right then and there, I was given a song to sing. I heard it once on the piano, and then I had to go for it.

“The female character sings the song to few men who are in love with her. She is bragging about her body and beauty, but all in a very over-the-top, funny way. I took a chair and got on top of it, turned my back to the audience in the audition room, and started this dance routine that came out of nowhere, swinging my behind from one side to another before finally turning around to face the class and sing. I was still holding the lyrics in my hands! I got the part. To this day, that director would tell you he has no idea how such a big character came out of such a small girl.”

No Holds Barred

Koshet has great instincts as an actress, a natural ability to move and engage her viewers. When I ask her where she gets her inspiration from, she says, “Mostly from life itself. Don’t you think we are fascinating creatures?”

“When I stand in front of a person, I find myself wondering what they are thinking about. What is it about themselves that they are trying to hide from the world? It’s like a little game I play in my mind. It is much more interesting to know and experience who we really are, not what we are trying to be. I think people, just the way we are, are fascinating characters. Trying to appear like the next person, trying to blend in, is boring to me.”

“I have always been fascinated by the idea of achieving my full potential as a person. I think I was born with a strong sense of self, and early on developed a growing fascination with the mystery of what makes me do something, feel something. That was supported by a desire to be part of some kind of dialogue about human nature. It makes me happy. To me, this—acting, this art form—is about accepting one’s humanity, one’s true colors. Seeing ourselves as we are. Completely natural. And forgiving ourselves.”

“I think you need to be very accepting of human nature if you want to play a human being. You can’t shy away from some behavior or needs in your character’s life when you play them. Which means you need to be able to see your own true colors completely, and not be scared to ‘go there,’ with the character, as the circumstances of the story ask you to. I think you ought to be a little fearless examining and observing your own life if you’d like to portray others.”

“I am often attracted to extreme characters and dramatic, borderline fatal situations. The joke is, I am pretty shy at times myself and mostly don’t enjoy attention. But when it comes to my acting, I have nothing holding me back. I don’t feel it is about me. I get out of myself and my inhibitions and am invested in the story telling. If I do a seductive scene, I don’t feel it is about me, it is about the character I am playing, and that gives me courage to behave in ways I probably wouldn’t behave in my personal life, and to step out of my comfort zone. When my character gets murdered, or goes through a horrific rape scene, as soon as my director yells, ‘Cut!’ I will get up, take the makeup off, take a bath, and shake off the experience. I’ll go to the beach and relax. I try not to stay with it. Let it go.”

“Subconsciously, I also learn a lot from my characters, walking in someone’s shoes. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing comedy or drama, it’s a person, a life—there is a message in it. If it is intense material, a dramatic moment that I am communicating and it affects a viewer, and they in return feel something or maybe realize something about themselves, it becomes their moment, and nothing makes me happier than knowing that I was a part of that. I did that for them, in some secret way.”

And what actors does Koshet feel inspired her in her life and work?
“I grew up watching so many films and actors, and was probably influenced by their work subconsciously. My favorite actors to watch were Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Julianne Moore, Vivian Lee, Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, Jessica Lange, John Malkovich, Daniel Day Lewis, Johnny Depp, and Al Pacino. and at the moment I just can’t get enough of Christian Bale’s acting. What a talent.”

“But I don’t really think about it when I work. I just try to be true to the written material I am given, my role, my director and my own instincts, of course. I go back to my training when I can’t figure something out, and the work I learned at Circle In The Square [Theater School, New York], and remember conversations i had with my teachers there.  And sometimes I just play for a while, till I find it.”


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Love Talk and Matters of the Heart

When asked about relationships, at first, Koshet appears a little guarded, but then she shares a little about her past.

“I’ve always enjoyed the company of boys. I would have three boyfriends at times,” she laughs, “but, hey, I was nine years old, so I don’t think I realized it’s considered a bad thing. Plus, it was innocent of course. At a later age, I developed ‘real crushes.’ My first actual boyfriend was when I was 16. My mother was very cool with that. I grew up in a very independent environment. I feel very lucky to have always enjoyed a good amount of freedom and respect from both my parents.”

We Were Soldiers

After graduating high-school, Koshet joined the Israeli Defense Force as part of Israel’s mandatory service.

“I thought about joining the theater division in the Army, but ended up training to be in the Air Force operation room at a helicopter squad. I wanted to get close to my dad, I think, in a way, by taking a job that would allow me to learn more about what he did in the Army. I was very young when he died, and this gave me a whole new understanding and respect for who he was, what he did.”

“I chose not to go to the same squad he commanded in, as I was nervous about being treated differently as ‘the daughter of.’ I worked shifts of 24 hours and then would go home to my mothers, and rest.”

New York Times

Shortly after her military service, Koshet packed one suitcase and caught a flight to the Big Apple.

“I arrived in New York City by myself and crashed at my high school friend’s apartment in Queens. My mom was really supportive—she gave me license to go and pursue my dreams, and a lot of help in the process. I auditioned for two of the best schools I knew of, and got accepted into both. I chose Circle in the Square theater school for their great reputation and their impressive alumni list.

“After about a month in New York City, I started getting homesick. It wasn’t easy. There were nights I would ask myself, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I was lucky to have so much support and faith from my teachers at school, at a time that I was really unsure of my path or if I was even good enough.

“I had these legendary teachers [who discovered many of America’s top actors of this generation] tell me, ‘You are a real artist. You can do this. You have a real talent.’ They gave me the support I needed and challenged me to work harder everyday.

“The fact that we moved so much as a family growing up, and losing my dad at such a young age, kind of prepared me for life, in some way, and made me learn how to take care of myself. I became a cat-like person who always lands on their feet. I think that quality carried me through these times in New York.

“I graduated from Circle and was cast in my first show shortly after. I worked on a few theater shows during the time I spent in New York City after graduation. My favorite was After the Fall by Arthur Miller. It’s the most autobiographical play he wrote. When I read the play, I decided I wanted to produce the show. The play deals in-depth with Miller’s relationship with his second wife, Marilyn Monroe. It also touches political views and ideas of Miller. As an actress, I was immediately drawn to the Marilyn Monroe character, called ‘Maggie’ in the play. It also touches on the subjects of Judaism, Miller’s relationship to the Holocaust, and basically examines how we, as human beings and as countries, have the need to control each other to the point of mutual destruction.

“I approached Alan Langdon, an amazing theatre director I got to work and study with at Circle in the Square and asked if he’d direct this production, knowing he is the only person I wanted to work with on this complex material. He agreed immediately, but doubted I’d be granted the rights to produce this big play in New York City. Being a first-time producer, I wrote to the owners of the rights to the place and asked for permission. I explained to them in the most honest way why I believed in the play, who I was, and what I’d like to do with the material and production. After a few days, I was given the right to produce it in New York City! There I was, a first-time producer in New York, not sure I how I gathered the nerve to even get this production going! It wasn’t an ego thing, it was a true attraction to the material.

“Alan (the director) and I started casting right away, before we even had a budget to work with! All the things we were able to achieve at each stage of the production, enabling us to get to the next level, truly amazed me. I really didn’t think we’d get far at all with it!

“At the first rehearsal, looking at the whole room full of actors, producers, directors, assistants and so on, I was moved to tears. So many talented people were working on this project at that point! Who would have thought? I felt a huge sense of responsibility to make this a great experience for everyone involved. In a short time, we got all our investors. Circle in the Square donated their amazing rehearsal space, while left and right, everyone involved was working enthusiastically. We were all certain this was such a great project and were so happy to be part.

“I got to play the Maggie part, which was on some levels a life changing experience for me. This role demanded everything I got. She was deeply disturbed in her life, fighting substance abuse, mental illness. On a personal level, she was pretty much betrayed and abandoned by everyone she knew. I was deeply moved by her actual story and wanted to do her justice in my performance.”

Seeing Koshet on stage as Maggie made you want to pick her up, protect her and love her. It was a very vulnerable, brave performance. Both the audience and the critics fell in love.

“She is the type of person that experienced being a goddess and nothing at the same time. She is fascinating,” adds Koshet about her character.

“I tried to play her without the clichés. I felt her seductive persona was a result of a strong need for warmth, affection and help. She needed support so badly and that was important for me to portray. We all know she was sexy. But digging in deeper to her soul, and the need and the ‘why’ is more interesting and honest, to me as an actress, more than trying to be attractive. I think it leaves the audience with a more rounded experience as well. Hopefully.” She smiles.

The show was sold out and had a very successful run. When asked about that, Koshet says, “Me and Marilyn were so excited.”

California Dreams

“Because of the Maggie [Marilyn] part, I am here in Los Angeles. Out of playing her, walking in her shoes, I discovered a new courage to take my career to the next level, and to join the Hollywood industry, and make films, which was always a secret dream of mine. But I was very scared about this transition as well.”

During the time she spent in New York City, Koshet mastered her skills, performing in productions such an Off-Broadway production of The Vagina Monologues and Chekhov’s The Seagull, playing Nina, the young actress who gets lost and self-destructs in her pursuit of fame, while falling in love with the wrong guy.

“After arriving in Los Angeles, two years ago, I discovered the world of film again, a world I was very much in love with as a child. I wanted to get the theater training, as I realized most of the actors I look up to started in theater. But I wanted to end up in film. Or at least enjoy both worlds. I love the intimacy film allows you to have with the life you are playing. It doesn’t have to be big or loaded. It feels more realistic to me, in some way. But the experience of a live audience is pretty magical as well. So I’ll probably do both!”

The first one to take notice of the young star-to-be when arriving in Los Angeles was legendary producer director Michael Robin (The Closer, Nip/Tuck, NYPD Blue), who personally cast Koshet to appear in his pilot episode of Rizzoli & Isles on TNT, starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander.

In a very short time, Koshet has been noticed by more and more industry leaders and has found herself working as a film and T.V. actress in this very challenging world of Hollywood.

Keith Gordon, the very well respected Dexter director said about Koshet’s work on the award winning show, “Nitzan was so gracious and did such a great job under difficult circumstances.”

In the show, Koshet played an American small town girl who falls victim to horrific acts of violence and sexual abuse on the fifth season of the acclaimed Showtime series.

“What she did was spectacular,” continued Gordon. “Everyone thought she did an amazing job!”

But Koshet seems surprisingly grounded about the whole buzz around her. “Listen, I work hard, and feel so, so fortunate to take part in these amazing projects and work with these great people. I just feel very blessed to be given the opportunities I have been given so far and am very eager to do so much more. I really just scraped the tip of the iceberg, as far as what I’d like to achieve in my work as an actress. There is this whole huge mountain to climb, still,” she modestly concludes. “I am the new kid on the block, and there is a lot I have to prove to people and myself.”

And work hard she does. Her days usually start at 6 a.m., going to the gym or practicing her lines and working on her next role. On a typical week, you’ll find her running around town in a constant juggling act, trying to make her auditions, meetings and shooting schedule work.

Koshet also works in commercials and has the occasional modeling gig in between her promising film and television debuts. She was recently cast opposite a huge Hollywood leading male in a summer film currently in development, playing his off-beat, charming love interest in a comedic love story.

“I am willing to try almost any material and style out there,” she comments when asked about her future selection of projects. “I just love to work! You know what would also be super cool, is if I get to do an action film at some point and kick some ass.”

Her huge smile takes over as she toys with that idea. “After all, I know my Krav Maga [Israeli martial art form] and am not afraid to use it!” she laughs. “Isn’t that the Israeli cliché? That we all are good fighters?”

Koshet is rarely cast as a foreigner though, due to her accent capabilities and her fair skinned, blonde-haired appearance. But she has played few Slavic roles in her career so far.

“Every time I come back to the U.S. from abroad, the people in customs think I am Irish for some reason! Born in Israel? Are you sure?” she amazingly acts out the customs officer questioning her at the airport. “But it’s never in a mean way, they just think it’s funny, I guess.”

But back on the topic of kicking some ass…

“I LOVE Tarantino’s films, and the Cohen Brothers. Working with these people is definitely on my Hollywood bucket list. And Scorsese! What a treat would THAT be!! He is truly amazing.”

When I ask her what makes her stand out, in a sea of young Hollywood actresses, she thinks for a minute.

“Good question. Maybe that I do both comedy and drama? I’ve been told that’s a unique quality. I’d also like to think that the fact that I am a hard-working and genuine person is something that is respected, as well as the talent. I think people are people in any profession, and we all want to get along, do a good job and be happy. So if you come across as a team player and good person, I think people respond to that, as much as they respond to good training and talent.”

Plans for the Future

“To be happy, keep working, be involved in projects that are exciting to me and to the people watching. Having a family of my own at some point. To give, I think that’s the secret. To be part of something. And to keep learning and discovering.”

When I ask if there is something we will never see her do as far as her acting goes, she looks at me, first very seriously, but then that signature smiles starts to crack as she says, “Never say never.”

For more info, go to   www.nitzankoshet.com.

 

On imdb at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2390498

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