October 19, 2018

Israeli actress Odelya Halevi joins ‘Revolt’

Since moving to Los Angeles from Israel eight years ago with a limited grasp of English, Odelya Halevi has had small parts in the TV series “Mike & Molly,” “New Girl” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.” Now much more proficient in the language and her craft, Halevi has landed a key role in the series “Good Girls Revolt,” which began streaming on Amazon Prime Video in late October.

Set in 1969, the show follows a group of young female magazine researchers who sue their bosses for workplace discrimination. It is loosely based on the book “Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace” by Lynn Povich. Halevi plays Talia, the wife of editor Finn Woodhouse (Chris Diamantopoulos) in three of the 10 episodes in the first season. 

The character Talia is “a very smart, very strong Egyptian-born woman who grew up all over the world. She challenges him intellectually and emotionally,” Halevi said. “Everything is great on the outside: perfect-looking couple, perfect kids. But they’re having difficulties in their marriage.”

Halevi, a Sephardic Jew whose grandparents immigrated to Israel from Yemen, felt an immediate affinity for the character. Even though Talia’s religion is not stated in the script, the actress said she “made the choice that she’s Jewish because I’m Jewish.”

At her audition, “I was so calm because I just felt her in my bones,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing that happens once in a blue moon. I thought, “This is so me.’ ”

Halevi delved into researching the period and “women who fought for their voices to be heard,” she said. She read about Nora Ephron, the celebrated author and screenwriter who worked at Newsweek and is a character (played by Grace Gummer) in the series. 

From Rosh Ha’Ayin in central Israel, also the hometown of actress Gal Gadot, Halevi grew up in a religious home, the second-oldest of six children and the oldest girl in her family. She attended an Orthodox girls school, where she remembers writing and directing little plays every month for Rosh Chodesh. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an actor,” she said. “It’s the need to be loved and liked, wanting people to look up to you in some way. It’s a validation.”

Halevi completed a year of military service, and at 19, she obtained a working visa and came to Los Angeles, with the blessing of her parents, a teacher and a retired firefighter. Although she returned to Israel, she said she “followed my heart” and came back to L.A. the following year. 

“At the beginning, it was a real struggle,” she said. “I worked at a restaurant. I met a lot of people there and took acting classes. I did a student film. I worked on my English while I was waiting for my green card. I got a commercial agent and I started doing commercials. I felt like I was ready for the next step.”

Now her patience and hard work are paying off. She has a part in the diamond business drama “Ice” for DirecTV and AT&T, premiering Nov. 16, and has roles in the Nov. 22 episode of “NCIS” and the NBC midseason series “Midnight, Texas.” “Good Girls Revolt” could be green-lighted for a second season, depending on the ratings.

But Halevi hopes to return to Israel to work. “Amazing projects are being made there that I’d love to be a part of,” she said. “I feel safer there than anywhere else.” 

Halevi, who is single and in her 20s, said that she’d prefer to find a Jewish or Israeli husband, “someone who grew up like me and shares the same history.” She visits home in Israel twice a year. 

Halevi confided that she misses “being around my family every Friday night. There’s something about Shabbat with your family that you can’t re-create,” she said. Meanwhile, she has found a family of Israeli and Jewish friends in Los Angeles with whom she celebrates Shabbat and holidays. “I sometimes go to temple on Yom Kippur. It takes me back to my childhood and it connects me, and that’s important, to remember where you come from,” she said. 

“I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t grow up Jewish and Israeli,” Halevi continued. “It’s about caring for one another and fighting for your country, your people. You have commonality of pain, of history. You can take the Israeli out of Israel, but you can’t take the Israel out of the Israeli.”

So far, Halevi is the only actor in her family, but her youngest brother wants to be a director. “He’s close to 17 and knows what he wants to do — not everyone does,” she said. “I told him if he makes good grades in school, I’ll fly him here and he can spend some time here in L.A.”

She said she hopes her future brings many diverse roles. 

“I’m good at comedies and really like to make people laugh, so I’d want to be on a sitcom like ‘Friends’ or ‘Mike & Molly,’ with [a live] audience,” Halevi said. On the dramatic side, she would love to play dark and troubled characters like Angelina Jolie’s in “Girl, Interrupted.” “I’m obsessed with that movie and loved her character in it,” she said. 

“Movies are definitely the goal. I’d like to play another character like Talia, maybe an Arab girl that marries a Jewish guy, a story with lots of conflict. I hope to inspire people through my work.”