March 18, 2019

Israeli Actress Moran Atias Moves Into ‘The Village’

Moran Atias; Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC

The intertwined lives, loves and crises of neighbors in a Brooklyn apartment building play out in the new NBC ensemble drama “The Village.” The residents include a post-traumatic stress disorder-afflicted veteran, a single mom with a pregnant teen daughter, a law student rooming with his grandfather and a woman fighting cancer. Israeli actress Moran Atias plays Ava Behzadi, an Iranian immigrant who has been living in New York for 10 years. However, because of a technicality, she finds herself facing deportation and losing her 6-year-old American-born son. 

Atias was instantly drawn to the project. “I fell in love with the script and its poetry, humanity and kindness and how these characters celebrate each other’s joys and help each other through their daily difficulties,” Atias told the Journal. “Ava is detained for possibly entering the country illegally, and through the course of the season we’ll find what brought her here and what her chances are to remain. Even though it does deal with deportation, more importantly, the story is about how the community comes together to help her, whether it’s with legal help or emotional support, which is what we all need to face a challenge.”

As an immigrant herself, Atias understands the desire to leave the country of one’s birth for a better future. “[America] is still the land of opportunities, the land of dreams,” Atias said.  It has been for me and for so many people. I feel a great deal of compassion for Ava and others in difficult situations and the sacrifices they have to make.”

Atias has never lived in an apartment building like The Village, where the neighbors are close as family and have regular get-togethers on their rooftop, “but growing up in Israel, you feel like your hometown is your village,” the Haifa native said. “I have a very big family so I always felt a sense of community. Our door was always open and people came to visit. My grandparents are Moroccan and there were always guests they were hosting.”

Atias spent five months living in New York while filming “The Village.” During that time, she said, “I was lucky enough to meet a beautiful Jewish community that hosted me for Shabbat dinners. I think it’s one of the most beautiful things in our culture, people coming together and blessing the wine and bread and what we have. I’m hosting 18 people for Shabbat tonight, trying to continue the tradition.”

The granddaughter of a rabbi, Atias grew up in a Conservative home. “I love being Jewish, especially after learning about other cultures that don’t respect women,” she said.

Even though her “Village” character is in crisis, “It was a joy to be part of ‘The Village,’ ” Atias said. “When you work on such material, it opens your heart. I felt like it softened me a lot.” 

Atias is no stranger to playing Muslim characters. In the 2016 television series “Tyrant” she played Leila al-Fayeed, the first lady of a fictional Arab country married to a sadistic, abusive despot. In the third and final season, her character ran for president, “which is pretty unheard of in the Muslim world — and many worlds,” she said. 

The story is about how the community comes together to help her, whether it’s with legal help or emotional support, which is what we all need to face a challenge. 

— Moran Atias

Atias is also known for TV roles in “Crash,” “24: Legacy” and “The Resident” and the films “The Next Three Days” and “Third Person,” both from writer-director Paul Haggis. “I enjoy the transformation into very different characters,” she said. “That’s the part I like best about acting. Not only do I get to grow and expand my own personal experience, I learn so much from playing these women of different cultures.”

Ironically, she hasn’t yet had the chance to play an Israeli in American projects. 

While growing up, Atias thought she’d become a psychotherapist. But a detour into modeling took her to Italy, where she segued into TV and films. She moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago, but visits Israel often. Last year, she was a judge on “Israel’s Got Talent.” 

But the projects she’s proudest of are philanthropic. Atias traveled to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to help in the rescue effort and raised money to build a high school there via Haggis’ nonprofit Artists for Peace and Justice. “It was a life-changing experience,” she said. 

Now writing and developing a comedy “to give balance to the other material I like to work on,” Atias said she is looking forward to “creating and playing wonderful, complicated characters and bringing personal stories to audiences. I’d like to continue to grow personally, to always find more compassion, help more people and play roles about courageous people that have to overcome challenges that can inspire us.”

“The Village” premieres March 19 on NBC.