Israeli Actress Hadas Yaron Faces Her Own Family History in 'We Were the Lucky Ones' – Kveller
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Israeli Actress Hadas Yaron Faces Her Own Family History in ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’

The award-winning actress and "Shtisel" star plays a haunting Jewish mother in the Hulu limited series.

We Were the Lucky Ones -- “Lvov” - Episode 102 -- Halina and Bella start their passage to Lvov. Sol, Nechuma, and Mila must find a new home in German-occupied Radom. Addy is conscripted into a Polish unit of the French army. Mila (Hadas Yaron), shown. (Photo by: Vlad Cioplea/Hulu)

The following piece contains spoilers for episode four of “We Were the Lucky Ones.”

At the end of the fourth episode of the Hulu Holocaust drama “We Were the Lucky Ones,” Hadas Yaron’s character, Mila Kurc, is faced with a harrowing scene. The truck she thought was taking her to safety, to a future for her and her daughter in Palestine, is actually taking her to a big barren field. There, Nazi soldiers are making her and dozens of other Jews of all ages dig their own graves, ahead of what she realizes will be a mass execution.

Mila miraculously survives. But the scene put Yaron, a celebrated award-winning actress, face to face with her own family’s Holocaust history. Her great-grandfather, like the people all around Mila in that field, was killed by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen, or death squads.

While filming that scene, Yaron felt like her brain was glitching. “I felt like I’m time-traveling, in a way,” the actress tells Kveller.

Hadas Yaron is a haunting and lyrical presence on screen. A secular Israeli, she is known for her many roles where she plays ultra-Orthodox Jews. She first rose to fame in the Rama Burshtein movie “Fill the Void” in which she plays a kind of romance novel heroine, young and beautiful and caught in tragic circumstances. It’s a role that earned her an Ophir Award, the highest honor in Israeli cinema, and led her to become the first Israeli to win a Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival. American viewers might know her as the determined cousin Libby in “Shtisel.” Now, she is reunited with her “Shtisel” co-star, Michael Aloni, in “We Were the Lucky Ones” though their characters are separated in the first episode of the show, and we still don’t know if they’ll reunite.

Kveller talked to Yaron about playing a young mother struggling for survival, and what Passover means to her.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Are you and Michael Aloni just not meant to be on screen together?!

We keep trying and it never works out!

They just tear you apart.

We try, we really try.

What was it like working with him again?

It was great. It’s always fun when you go on production abroad and you have a familiar face. Michael was actually supposed to be there with us for the first few weeks of pre-production, but then he got COVID, so he had to wait. And then I realized I forgot I really needed vitamin C — it was winter, and I was not feeling well. And I was like Michael, can you bring me vitamin C? He was like, “Yeah, of course! Do you need anything else?” He carried everything in his suitcase to bring to all of us. So it was really great to have him. He’s also a very good scene partner.

Speaking of scene partners, I feel like your scenes with Felicia, your character’s daughter, are so powerful, some of the most moving moments of the show. What was it like to work with her on those scenes?

I think working with a child on set is something so special. On the one hand, it’s really challenging because it’s a kid; if they don’t want to do something, they won’t do it. It’s not an actor coming for a job. so you have to be really, really delicate with them.

On the other hand, I think the most amazing thing is that they bring truth [to] the moment. They do what feels right for them. We had a lot of very dark, difficult scenes — we were protecting her. The difficult stuff, we did when she was not on set. And then we just [shot] her side when everything was clear, so she was just talking to me. But it was just so beautiful because she brought her childlike-ness, so full of light and joy. And she is such a unique child. It was amazing to have her because she just brought the truth of every moment.

It seems like everyone was bringing in their own family story to the show. How did this connect with your Jewish family’s story?

Both my grandmothers are Holocaust survivors. A lot of the stories that are told in this show are actually similar stories — these are things that actually happened in my family. The scene when they are digging [mass graves], that is actually something that happened in my family. My grandmother’s father, that’s how he was murdered. It’s weird because you’re on set, you’re an actor, you’re in costume, you’re happy to do this, to have this part and to work. And at the same time, I was like, “This is how it looked like [for my great-grandfather].” I was there physically. I’m alive because he was alive. He was alive. He was murdered. And then all these years later, I’m telling a story of something that actually happened to him. My brain at times was kind of glitching. I felt like I’m time traveling in a way.

There’s this interesting character tension between Mila and Halina [played by Joey King]. They’re polar opposites in a way. Mila is very traditional — she got married, is having kids when we meet her. Halina is a free spirit and they clash a lot. What was it like to film those scenes with Joey?

It was so beautifully written because they’re this beautiful family and you really love watching their dynamics. They love each other. It’s kind of like a perfect family, but it’s a perfect family because you see those little moments of tension and those moments of teasing each other, moments of getting pissed at each other. The way it was written gave us so much to play with.

Later on in the show, they’re pretending not to be Jewish and Halina tells Mila, “Stop with the Jewish eyes.” It really struck me because from the beginning, Mila has these tortured eyes. When we meet her, she’s pregnant and then she has a hard time with motherhood.

You meet her very frustrated. There’s a lot of heaviness, a little bit of bitterness — she’s upset. Things are not working out.

Do you feel the “Jewish eyes” thing? Specifically in the moment being portrayed, every Jewish person is carrying the anguish of their persecution. But at all times, this kind of generational sadness and pain, does that resonate with you?

Weirdly enough, and sadly enough, it does resonate with me. I’m a very easygoing person, and I really enjoy life. But I do feel like there is a weight. There is a weight to carry, unfortunately. You come from somewhere, and it is what makes you who you are — your story, your family’s history, the culture and where you come from. Now, on the other hand, you’re like, I’m an individual, and I don’t have to be affected by where I came from. But it’s bullshit. Because where we come from affects us so much. So I feel it. Now more than ever, there is a weight you carry. Definitely.

Can you talk a little bit more Mila’s evolution as a parent? 

When we first meet her, she’s just a new mother. It’s very hard on her — it’s not what she expected. She’s struggling with it. She’s feeling like a failure. She’s feeling very frustrated and disappointed, not yet finding the connection to her baby. And then war is starting, and she has to deal with all of that.

As the story moves unfolds, the fact that she has a baby is now making her life way harder, because she has to survive these crazy circumstances with a baby. But when you have to take care of someone, I think that somehow [brings] a moment of connection. There’s this moment where she’s hiding her in her coat, and I think that’s a first moment of connection. And then, of course, they’re inseparable. And slowly, slowly, she’s protecting her and saving her, but at the same time, her child is saving her. I think children are the source of good in this life, in this world full of evil. She finds her center as a human being, she finds her strength as a human being, as a mother protecting her child.

Can you talk a little bit about filming the Passover scenes?

We just had a good time. They had the camera rolling and they were just like, do whatever you want, feel free. We were all just drinking, laughing, talking. Some of the Israeli cast was like, oh, we need to remember not to tell jokes in Hebrew to each other! We just really, really enjoyed ourselves.

What is Passover like in your house? 

It’s always a very, very long meal. And sometimes you’re like — I’m tired. This should end soon. It’s always good to be with family. But like, we could have made it a bit shorter. It takes hours! Enough! Can we just wrap this up?!

Can we just chug the four glasses of wine and call it a night?

Yeah, a glass of wine does help in those situations.

Does the current moment change the way that you’re viewing the show and your role?

When we filmed this, it felt like a story of the past, a very distant past. All of a sudden, it feels a bit more real, and a bit more like, “Oh, if we’re not careful, the world can still be an ugly place.” There are a lot of triggering moments.

I am very excited for “Kugel,” the “Shtisel” prequel. Is there anything you can tell us about it?

I’m still filming it. I’m on a break right now and I’m going back there next week. I think it’s going to be pretty beautiful. It’s very, very different. It’s kind of like “Shtisel,” but also, we’re in Europe! And it’s European! It’s really interesting to see. I’m really curious what people will think about it.

I’m so excited to see you go back to this character!

Yeah, me too. It’s different. It’s interesting.

Read a recap of all the episodes of “We Were the Lucky Ones.”

Read a breakdown of the characters of “We Were the Lucky Ones.”

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