While American audiences got to know Shira Haas for her breakout role in the Netflix limited series “Unorthodox,” Haas says she was truly moved to tears while reading the screenplay for her latest film “Asia,” which not only won Haas an Israeli Oscar but also a Best Actress prize from the Tribeca Film Festival.
In “Asia,” Haas plays a teenage girl slowly dying from a degenerative motor disease, and the film is named for her character’s mother as the two learn to grapple with death and acceptance. Haas described having an “urge” to tell the story and felt a “spiritual connection” with everyone involved.
“In real life I’m not such an easy crier, and I just couldn’t stop the tears. Also because I really felt a great honor to play such a great complex and amazing character,” Haas told Steve Pond for TheWrap’s Awards and International Screening Series. “But also the whole script, the fact that it touches subjects of course like grief, death and loss, but at the same time it’s written and done with so much sensitivity and empathy and love.”
Director Ruthy Pribar says “Asia” is based on some of her own life experiences when 14 years earlier, she lost a sister, something that left her “not really present” and “emotionally detached.” But in writing “Asia,” she turned the perspective toward her mother who managed to be the rock for her family.
“She was able to be there for my sister and do everything she can for her,” Pribar said. “I just had to find a bridge from where I was to where my mother was.”
But what made Pribar even closer to the material is that just prior to shooting, she had become the mother to a newborn baby. Though the script and cast was ready to go, shooting on “Asia” was postponed until after Pribar gave birth and completed maternity leave. In that time though, Haas and her co-star Alena Yiv got to know each other better in a way that helped deepen the film’s characters.
“We got to know each other, we had so many conversations, not only about the script but about our lives, 0ur conflict and what we were going through” Pribar said. “Shira and Alena brought a lot of themselves into this film. It’s them over there. It’s not just Shira and Alena. That’s how two characters become real when you put yourself into it.”
Haas said one of the biggest challenges of the shoot was not just conveying the physical challenges of playing a character suffering from a degenerative motor disease but the emotional aspect of it as well. The film was not shot chronologically, so Haas had to think about what her character’s condition would be like, both mentally and physically, at that time and be ready at any given moment.
“It was really important for us to be specific and as accurate as possible in order to tell this story,” Haas said. “Of course the physical elements, but it’s really about this journey of realizing, of accepting what’s happening to you and that it will come together as one with the physical challenge of what’s going on. To see them together was pretty challenging, physically of course, but also to understand it emotionally. How can you really understand it and dive into it? We tried our best.”
Hear TheWrap’s full conversation with “Asia” director Ruthy Pribar and stars Shira Haas and Alena Yiv here and above.