Actress Ayelet Zurer packs a punch in psychological thriller ‘Losing Alice’

Eight-part series features the ‘Shtisel’ actress as a director thrown into a new project with a femme fatale screenwriter

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Veteran actress Ayelet Zurer takes viewers on a wild ride of power, sex and femininity in “Losing Alice,” the psychological thriller series produced by Israel’s Dori Media Productions with HOT.

The eight-episode series is currently airing on HOT and will stream worldwide later this year on Apple TV Plus.

Created by Sigal Avin, who also directed the show, this heavily feminine Israeli series follows Alice (Zurer), a 48-year-old film director who hasn’t had professional success in years, since she’s focusing on raising the three young daughters she has with husband David (Gal Toren), a successful actor. That’s until she meets Sophie (Lihi Kornowski), a young screenwriter, in a serendipitous encounter on a train and the two embark on a project together. The project leads Alice down a trepidatious path of questionable motives and a whole load of sexual expression.

The eight-part series has a lot to say about motherhood in correlation to work, said Zurer, speaking from her home in Los Angeles early last week.

“What kind of work do you do when you’re a mother?” said Zurer.

Alice is struggling to find herself at this point in life, but she’s not necessarily struggling in her overall life. The series “finds her at a time when she doesn’t feel fulfilled,” said Zurer.

True enough. Alice lives in a beautiful home in the northern suburb of Binyamina, supported by a cloying mother-in-law who helps out regularly with the kids and her handsome husband. It’s a home that allows for voyeurism, with an entire side of the house constructed of windows, allowing viewers and other characters to peer in on Alice’s life, watching her every move.

Alice has been directing commercials, telling herself she’s happy to be planning her daughter’s birthday party and Friday night dinner, but in reality she’s bored, and experiencing serious writer’s block on her next script.

The chance meeting with Sophie, an extremely sexy, expressive young woman, ends up changing Alice’s life, personally and professionally.

Sophie’s entrance feels serendipitous, although her femme fatale character makes Alice question whether the choices she’s making are right or wrong.

Ayelet Zurer (left) with Lihi Kornowski who plays femme fatale Sophie in the noir thriller ‘Losing Alice’ (Courtesy HOT)

Serendipity played a role in planning the series as well, particularly for Zurer and Avin. The director screen-tested many actresses in Israel, but wanted Zurer to try out as well. “I think she had me in mind,” said Zurer.

At the time, Zurer was in Los Angeles and Avin wanted her to test over Skype.

“I didn’t want to, I couldn’t grasp how I could read for something over Skype,” said Zurer, who has now regularly been taking part in Zoom interviews and conversations during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I felt the character was so deep, it had to be done in person, so I told her, ‘No, thank you.'”

Avin moved on. Then Zurer’s mother came to visit her in the US on a long-awaited trip, broke her elbow and Zurer had to fly her back to Israel. While in Israel, Avin texted Zurer and asked if she was by chance in Israel, given that it was during the Passover holiday season. Zurer said she was, by chance, and the screen test finally happened, in person.

“That kept happening throughout the production,” said Zurer. “We kept on being lucky. We call it the gods of production.”

Part of that, said Zurer, is the way Israeli productions work. Avin is both screenwriter and director, which allows the actors to speak with her about the scenes, episodes and themes as she worked on it throughout filming.

“You have the whole view,” she said. “You get to see the whole building, not just the structure.”

Ayelet Zurer (second from left) in ‘B’Tipul,’ remade as ‘In Treatment’ for American TV (Courtesy B’Tipul)

For Zurer, there are also the benefits of working in Hebrew, and in Israel, which is something she’s continued to do after 15 years in the US.

“It just takes more work for me in English,” said Zurer, whose has a rich, accent-less American English vocabulary. “I have to be really feeling comfortable with the lines, I need to really work it. Working in Hebrew is like sitting with a childhood friend and working in English is like sitting with a new friend.”

Zurer moved to the US at 35, with her husband and child, and at a time when most of her career had been established in Israel and there were opportunities to be had in Hollywood.

“I had done pretty tremendous things that I cherish, like ‘B’Tipul,'” she said, referring to the now-classic Israeli TV show about a psychologist and his patients that was remade for the US as “In Treatment.”

“I feel that I’m almost better in some sense in Israel; the language is so easy for me that I can go deeper and deeper and deeper. And if I’m honest, I don’t know if I’ve received roles in English that are as deep as Alice.”

Zurer’s first English-speaking role was when she was cast by Steven Spielberg as Eric Bana’s character’s wife in the Oscar-nominated film “Munich” (2005). She also starred with Dennis Quaid and William Hurt in “Vantage Point” (2008), opposite Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe in “Adam Resurrected,” and in Ron Howard’s “Angels & Demons” (2009) with Tom Hanks.

Just found this photo of the first day on #Angeles & Demons. With the incomparable #Tom Hanks, fabulous #Ron Howard and actor #David Pasquesi, #pierfrancesco. Guess who makes us laugh?

Posted by Ayelet Zurer on Tuesday, January 15, 2019

There have been ensemble casts, such as “Darling Companion” (2012) with Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline and “Man Of Steel” (2013) opposite Russell Crow. And of course, Zurer’s turn as Elisheva in “Shtisel,” which brought her acclaim via Netflix and millions of fans of a show about a Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox family.

Filming movies remains Zurer’s favorite acting form, for the process in making it feels like “a poem in motion,” she said.

“Losing Alice” had the feel of a film because of its mini-series format, said Zurer, as well as a beginning, middle and end that mirror the structure of a movie.

As the main character, Zurer is on the screen much of the time, and she has a deep relationship with the camera. This translates into a highly personal experience for the viewer, who feels like they looking right into Alice’s soul.

Ayelet Zurer as Elisheva, and Michael Aloni as Akiva who play star-crossed lovers in the TV show, ‘Shtisel’ (Courtesy YES Studios)

“It’s a mental thing where I really erase everything around me,” said Zurer. “I’m not very talkative or friendly on set, I keep my energy really specifically aimed on people I act with and on the camera. I try not to lie in any sense and not to make any decision but to be really present in the moment.”

It’s a set of skills that she’s used in her acting for years, but is particularly essential in “Losing Alice”, where all the good and bad of the story being told is meant to be shown.

“The power is in the bad things, the little lies that you tell yourself and the envy and manipulations, and all these things that you normally don’t want to show in life, and all of a sudden you dwell on them,” she said.

With the series recently purchased by Apple, where it will be dubbed and subtitled into English, Zurer feels elated that the show will reach a wider audience. For now, however, she’s sticking close to her Los Angeles home these days, where not much is happening on the filming front due to the coronavirus, but she gets to work on her own writing and creative projects.

“Very little is being done here,” said Zurer, “but I do other things and I’m okay with not being in front of the camera all the time.”

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