What do 'Game of Thrones' and Albert Einstein have in common?
It's Ania Bukstein, an Israeli actress bursting onto the scene with roles in both the HBO blockbuster and the NatGeo bio series 'Genius.'
Although she’s been acting for more than two decades in Israeli movies and television, Ania Bukstein has only two small roles here in the U.S. But the two happen to be intriguing characters in high-profile TV projects, the kind of roles that get people talking. Last season, she played the Red Priestess Kinvara on “Game of Thrones,” and on June 20, she appears with Geoffrey Rush in the two-hour finale of National Geographic’s miniseries “Genius” as Margarita Konenkova, Albert Einstein’s lover who's keeping a secret from him: she’s a Russian spy.
Married to sculptor Sergei Konenkov, Margarita met Einstein when he posed for her husband in New York. “They got together after his wife [Elsa] died, and were together for about 15 years,” says Bukstein, who read “everything she could find” about her. “She was an interesting woman, with a dark side. She loved Einstein very much, but she loved and was loyal to her country. It’s a conflict and that creates a great drama. She broke his heart.”
Working with the Oscar-winning Rush “was an amazing opportunity for me as a young actress,” the 35-year-old Bukstein tells From The Grapevine. “It was the best part of a great experience. Every [international] project I do is a stepping stone for me. It’s an important step for me and I hope it will open more doors.”
“Game of Thrones” certainly has. “That was an awesome character. She kicked ass. She showed power. She was so intimidating, so creepy,” Bukstein says of Kinvara. “I loved everything about it, from the moment I read the scene when I was auditioning. I’m a real fan of the show so I understood the language of ‘Game of Thrones.’”
She does not appear in Season 7, but she’s thrilled to have been part of the series. “It was a huge break for me,” she says. “With ‘Genius’ coming out I’m hoping it will bring the next good thing. The main thing is to just keep moving all the time.”
Discovered at school and cast in her first movie at age 11, Bukstein knew immediately that acting was what she wanted to do. She has gone on to star on screen and stage; she has a few movies coming out in Israel and will star in a theatrical production of “The Sound of Music.” A singer-songwriter-musician, she plans to release her second album in the next few months, a follow-up to her self-titled debut in 2013.
“I’ve been playing classical piano since I was 5 years old,” she said. “I’m writing songs and really developing as a musician. I’m trying to do both, to be an actress and a musician at the same time, and I’m enjoying it.”
Born in Russia, Bukstein moved to Israel with her family when she was 8. “The early years were difficult for me and my parents, to learn a new language and understand a new culture,” she admits. “But I’m grateful to my parents for taking me here. It’s a free country and I’m very happy here. I love it. I feel free, and that everything is possible.”
That said, she embraces her Russian heritage and its culture and language as well. Career-wise, it worked to her advantage in “Genius” and in other roles in which she’s played Russian-born women.
Bukstein, who has been married to real estate developer Dotan Vainer since 2013, also embraces the erratic schedule of a working artist’s life. “Sometimes there are months that I do nothing but work, I have no life, and then suddenly I have time to create, to think, do yoga, and clear my mind,” she says. She uses those breaks to read, listen to music, play the piano, travel with her husband, and spend time with friends and her parents. “But at the end of the day, I love my work and I’m so grateful to be doing what I love and really challenging myself all the time,” she tells us.
Bukstein is based in Tel Aviv, but is willing to relocate for the right opportunity. “I feel that anything is possible now,” she says. “I try to be free and open to whatever is needed.”
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