Ayelet Zurer interview: 'Daredevil' star shares what helped her become a better actress
A commitment to honesty and visualization has led to a career uptick.
Actors do a lot of things to their scripts while getting ready for a role. Some jot down notes about the character or how they think they should deliver a line. Others just doodle. Ayelet Zurer takes things a little farther.
"I see an image of the scene," she told From The Grapevine. It's a starting point that she can move away from once she gets on the set, but "I see it very vividly. Sometimes I even illustrate my characters how I see them, how they carry themselves in the world."
In a quarter-century career, this visualization has served Zurer well, allowing her to land meaty roles in both Israeli and American TV shows and movies. Since making her American debut in Steven Spielberg's 2005 movie "Munich," the Tel Aviv native has moved back and forth from big-budget Hollywood features like "Angels and Demons," "Man of Steel" and now "Ben-Hur" to smaller, more intimate Israeli efforts, like the original version of "In Treatment," and an Israeli remake of the CBS series "Hostages."
The picture she drew of Vanessa Marianna, the character she plays on the Netflix series "Marvel's Daredevil," was a lot different than the cool, collected art dealer who falls for the show's villain, the ruthless Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio). "She was artsy and I didn't quite see her as the femme fatale in the beginning ... not that she is but, you know, classically speaking, that's kind of where she's leaning toward. I saw her more as an art-world gallerist with bizarre clothing, but that would be too much on the nose, I guess."
When we spoke with Zurer, she called from Rome, where she was filming "Ben-Hur," playing the title character's mother, Naomi. The screenplay for this version adheres closer to the Lew Wallace book than the 1959 movie epic. But it's still a big role in a big project, something that Zurer has been doing a lot of lately. By coincidence, two of her most recent projects, "Daredevil" and "Man of Steel," are comic-book-based. Both franchises are supported by a legion of dedicated fans, as Zurer experienced attending New York Comic-Con to promote "Daredevil," which was recently renewed for a second season.
The cast of 'Daredevil:' (L-R) Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight, Charlie Cox, Vincent D'Onofrio, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Ayelet Zurer, Vondie Curtis, Bob Gunton, and Toby Leonard Moore at the 2014 New York Comic-Con Panel & Cast Signing. (Photo: D Dipasupil/Getty Images)
"The warmth of the fans is something I haven't seen," Zurer said. "Maybe with 'Angels and Demons' in Japan, you know, but yeah, this was particularly enthusiastic. Also I just love the fun idea of people getting dressed as their superheroes. It's kind of like Halloween, but a more psychological fit to the dream icon you want to be in this world."
Playing a romantic foil for D'Onofrio has taught Zurer a few things. She became good friends with D'Onofrio and his family. Zurer describes him as generous and honest.
"That worked for me pretty well because I'm brutally honest myself, which got me in trouble sometimes. I always thought, well, maybe it's a cultural thing but apparently it's a Cancer thing," said Zurer, jokingly referring to her astrological sign. "Sometimes you joke around and you just don't say the right things. You know? Or sometimes you're not asked your opinion and you say your opinion. I learned my lesson. Again, this is the positive thing about growing up."
That honesty and life experience has made Zurer more comfortable in her own skin as an actor.
"When you're actually acting, I think honesty is the highest level of intimacy that you can get," she said. "You need to understand what's standing in front of you, even if it's not spoken, so if a person is honest you sense something very deep within them and you can respond to that. If they go, you can go, and so forth. To me that's the meaning of being honest."
She attributes her current career roll to mostly luck and knows it won't last forever. That doesn't bother her as much as it would have in the past.
"I think when you have a family, you have perspective. That's one thing," she said. She's been married to fellow Israeli Gilad Londovski for 12 years; they have a 10-year-old son, Liad. She's been able to weather the lean years by using her other skills.
"For example, I had two years in Israel where I didn't work much, but then a friend of mine gave me an opportunity to illustrate his book, and that book, a year later, became a huge success," Zurer said.
Ah, yes, the book. A friend, Gabi Nizan, asked her to illustrate a fantasy book he was writing called "Badulina."
"I used to visit him and his wife and instead of talking or playing cards or what not, we would just invent a game, like a board game, we would invent something and I would illustrate it," Zurer said. "So when he came to think about 'Badulina' as a name for that book, he thought about me. I didn't even realize how serious it was. I was just like, 'Yeah, sure.'"
One of Ayelet Zurer's illustrations from the book "Badulina." (Photo: Badulina/Amazon)
The illustrations Zurer provided showed a level of skill and detail that belie the fact that she doesn't have formal training in that format. Growing up, she would paint with her father, but "then he stopped completely and never painted again at some point in his life for some reason. I continued but I'd never done it seriously." She concentrated on studying acting in school, but "I have to be honest, I really wanted to do both, but I just didn't."
That hasn't stopped her from illustrating those scripts she gets. Where are all of those character sketches? "They get stuck in a drawer," she said. Would she ever consider publishing them in a book? "Who knows? Maybe. Or maybe write my own story. That would be nice."
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