The Munich Factor
I changed my mind 20 times regarding the subject matter of this blog. Originally, I was going to write about Italy and ItaCon. I wanted to focus on what conventions were like from one of the actor’s perspective. That perspective opened Pandora’s box because I am not only one of the “new” actors to the Twilight Saga, I am new to this type of public reception.
So, to explain my perspective, I need to share some details of my life, pre-Twilight and post-Twilight. This may get a little dark, definitely not in the “GFYS” vein so please bear with me.
When I was a month old, my father was murdered. Moshe Weinberg was the wrestling coach on the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics. At the Olympic games that year, members of the PLO (“Black September”) snuck into the Olympic village in the middle of the night, identified the housing for the Israeli team and took 11 of the athletes hostage in a public spectacle that was broadcast worldwide. To make a statement of their determination to achieve their demands, these hostage takers threw out the naked, dead body of my father for the press to photograph. My father had been killed for attempting to fight off the hostage takers – twice.
To warn the Israeli hostages against similar moves, they threw the dead body of weightlifter Yousef Romano on the floor in the room the hostages were held in. He was another Israeli team member that attempted to fight back shortly after my father, despite having clear passage to escape without harm. The press, the news outlets, the visitors, the athletes, in fact EVERYONE was acutely aware of the situation unfolding right before their eyes – nine athletes held hostage in the Olympic village and 2 members of the team already dead as the Olympic games continued. The situation ended as badly as anyone might imagine…the remaining nine Israeli athletes were all killed/murdered in a shoot out between Black September and the German police at the airport in Munich in a badly bungled rescue attempt. The Olympic hallmark of peace and civility between all nations on earth in the spirit of excellence in sport and competition was forever shattered.
So, I grew up in the center of a larger debate over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, at least it felt that way to me. The families of the Munich 11 (as they came to be called) did press often as I grew up, always seeking to gain a moment of silence at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies from the Olympic committee on behalf of the 11 men murdered. Because of the heated debate and divide over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, these 11 men that had earned a place at the Olympics would not be memorialized at the Olympic Games. That somber remembrance was important to the 11 families as we wanted them remembered for being Olympians and all the persistence, sacrifice and excellence that infers – not casualties of a political debate. However, it was impossible to discuss that desire in the press, no matter how many years passed, without the conversation spiraling into political rhetoric and debate. Additionally, public opinion regarding Israelis can be searingly denigrating and callous, depending on your political afiliation. Over the years, it wore us all down – we were families mourning our losses, not political pundits, so most of us stopped discussing it altogether. Life became relatively quiet for me, save the odd death threat…or three.
My mother and I had extended stays in New York and Montreal during my childhood, finally settling in Los Angeles when I was starting high school. While I had lived in English speaking countries up until this point, we had always moved back to Israel for a time so I was constantly adjusting between Hebrew and English. I’m still not that great at either. However, I wanted as far away from a career in sports as I could get the older I got – which meant, to me, acting. I NEEDED to move beyond my father’s shadow and the Olympics. I needed to find my own path. The irony is that if he would have lived, my father most likely would have liked me to train as a wrestler and forget the “meshugena” acting thing.
Well, quite a few years were rough for me when I came here. One was my VERY strong, thick Israeli dialect. Reading/writing English was another challenge, it’s a CRAZY language to learn. Slang and catchphrases were difficult, it just didn’t make sense with my formal definitions of English words. For instance, “Heads Up!” was learned the hard way – I thought you were actually supposed to put your head up, not duck. That one left a mark FOR SURE.
Another issue was preconceptions people in the US had about Israelis. I met a woman after seeing a play one night who was SO friendly, SO complimentary…until she discovered I was born in Israel (I had started losing the accent by now) When she found out, she called me a terrorist. The irony was so STUNNING, I was speechless. I met a prominent woman in the entertainment industry, an Israeli, that bluntly told me to I should move back to Israel – the climate was not a good one in Hollywood toward Israelis. I met hardliners on both sides of the political aisle that made me question if these politicos here in America WERE any different than the political partisanship in Israel. However, I had grown a pretty thick skin to this issue by now. Honestly, I DO love politics still – but I am not a fan of partisanship for the sake of partisanship. It makes me want to be a contrarian for the sake of being contrary. Trust me – being too rigid in your beliefs with no ability to see the other side is deadly. At least for my father.
I met my wife. She was an actress on a show I watched and loved and I was smitten from moment one. In fact, I already had developed a crush on her character in the show. On our first date, she told me to spill the beans about my life. I was so gun shy about telling people my story normally but with her, it just came out all at once. She looked down after I finished, took a big drink and said, “Shit. I’m no where NEAR emotionally stable enough for you…”
But she was.
She talked me into therapy. She talked me into doing improv at The Groundlings, her old stomping ground. She talked me into following my passion for painting, photography and writing. More than anything, she kept me looking at the future and following my heart. When I worked as an actor (or didn’t), she was always right there, cheerleading and sometimes reality checking. She kept me sane and she kept me…acting. She is the love of my life, my best friend and the opinion I always seek and respect. It warmed my heart more than anything when Twilight fans in Italy embraced her SO strongly when she came with me to ItaCon. I love those women for how they treated my wife.
Back to the timeline of my life and an event that changed everything. When I was 33, I was asked to play my father in the Steven Spielberg film, “Munich”. Eerily enough, my father had been 33 when he died. My father’s murder was not a light or insignificant event in my life and I had long struggled to bring about closure for myself. I saw the emotional toll that recreating my father’s murder might entail for me and more than anything I saw more laborious, contentious press in my future. My wife said, “Do it, if you think you can. Spielberg is apt to film the hostage scenes well and specifically, which might help you get some closure on all this. Tell the press to GFTS. They’ve gotten all the comments from you they ever need on this. You know what? Better idea. Tell them to talk to me so I can tell them to piss up a rope.” The press did pursue but I did not tell them to piss up a rope. I DID ignore them and refuse most interview requests. “Munich” wasn’t a P.R. move, this was DEEPLY personal and I wanted to keep it that way.
It was an exceptionally emotional set – actors and crew alike – filming those hostage scenes. The actor that killed my “character” collapsed into my arms in tears as Steven yelled “Cut”. We all have a bond over this experience/film that is hard to explain. But “Munich” is a different blog. In fact, it’s a few blogs. It was, quite frankly, the most difficult thing I have ever done and also the most rewarding.
As you might imagine, I started working as an actor more frequently then. Working for Spielberg WILL open doors for an actor professionally. One victory actually came via Adam Sandler. I auditioned for “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” and was wrong for just about every role. I knew it, I just loved Adam Sandler and wanted to work with him – in any capacity. I improvised my entire audition (thanks, Groundlings!) and was surprised by all the laughs in the room. I booked the film and later learned that Adam thought I was really funny and created a “role” for me so I could hang on set with Adam and his posse (the. most. fun. EVER) and make a ton of money on residuals. EVERY time I get a residual, I always say a little “thank you” to Adam for being such a righteous dude.
Then came “Breaking Dawn”. I auditioned and unlike every other audition process I have ever been involved in, there was only the one reading and then the offer came less than a week later. Then my life changed again.
I knew NOTHING about Twilight before I was signed up for it. I had NO idea what to expect. My wife and I watched all the films in the saga and my wife summed it up like this, “Ahh. It’s a story about true love. We know ALL about that…”
Summit asked me to get a twitter account (and the dialog between my manager and I as I was starting an account is also another blog – she’s hysterical) and inexplicably, my account blew up. I won’t lie. It scared the shit out of me. Twilight fans were very mysterious to me at this point and I didn’t know what to expect. Would there be my usual harassers that thrived on mid-east conflict? For the most part? No. Most fans were more interested in Team Edward versus Team Jacob. The others? Ehhh…I block them. However, to answer those that feel I am joking about disturbing messages in my DM box on Twitter – I’m not. Unfortunately, there are still those people that must spew bile and racism wherever they go.
That being said, to say that all the GOOD public attention was overwhelming would be an extreme understatement. I didn’t expect it. I especially didn’t expect the level of affection I would receive just for being a part of it all. In my world, attention has been a negative thing. Now, it’s different in every way. I actually found myself getting emotional about all the recent birthday wishes, video and photo tributes I received on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you, more than you know, thank you. You’ve touched my heart and I will always be grateful for this chance to see public opinion focused on my work rather than Israeli politics. I will always be happy to discuss as many Twilight questions you might have…I’m actually excited to see fans’ reactions to a few really spectacular surprises. I may be new to the Twilight dance but you all handed me a beer at the door…and I will never forget that.
And every GFYS from fans still warms my heart.