Director Guy Nattiv (right) with actor Jackson Robert Smith (left) on the set of the Academy Award nominated 'Skin.' Director Guy Nattiv (right) with actor Jackson Robert Smith (left) on the set of the Academy Award nominated 'Skin.' Director Guy Nattiv (right) with actor Jackson Robert Smith (left) on the set of the Academy Award nominated 'Skin.' (Photo: Courtesy)

Behind the scenes with the Israeli director going to this year's Oscars

Academy Award nominee Guy Nattiv shares his preparation for the big night. 'Honestly,' he said, 'it's surreal.'

It's not every day that you have lunch with Bradley Cooper, Glenn Close and Spike Lee. But that's exactly where Israeli director Guy Nattiv found himself on Monday, as the 2019 Academy Award nominees broke bread and gathered for their annual class photo ahead of the big night on Feb. 24.

"I'm looking up and there's Lady Gaga. It's insane," Nattiv told From the Grapevine. "She was very down to earth."

For the 45-year-old Tel Aviv native, his inaugural trip to the Oscars will be all the more special because he was nominated with his wife, American actress Jaime Ray Newman. Together, they produced "Skin," which is up for an Academy Award in the Best Live-Action Short category. "I looked at my wife and my wife looked at me and we were like, 'What? Where are we? Is this a dream? Are we just going to wake up?' Honestly, it's surreal."

Newman, who splits her time between being in front of the camera and working behind the scenes, also can't believe their good fortune. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that this little short film we made, literally in our garage, would be seen by so many people around the world," she told us. "It just goes to show you, focus on your art and do what you think is important and all the rest will fall into place."

The nominations were announced on the morning of Jan. 22. It was 5 a.m. in Los Angeles where Nattiv and Newman reside with their 4-month-old daughter, Alma. For their family in Israel, it was 3 in the afternoon. But thanks to video chat, they were able to share in the good news at the exact same moment. Take a look at this home video they made:


Nattiv admits he wasn't expecting much on that fateful morning because he had made it close once before. "Strangers," a 2004 film he made with Erez Tadmor, was hailed at Sundance and was shortlisted for an Academy Award – but it was never nominated. "It was a huge heartbreak," he told us. "Those opportunities are so random. It doesn't happen to you every day. So when you miss an opportunity, you say to yourself, 'When is this ever going to happen again?'"

So when this year's Oscar nominations were announced, Nattiv and Newman took a more conservative approach. "I've been there, I didn't get in," he explained. "We were cautiously optimistic. That's why when they read our name, it was a burst of happiness and relief."

Leading up to the big night, the two have hired a stylist who has been helping dress them for screenings of their film and other Oscar-related parties leading up to the big night. "For every event you have a different suit because you don't want to repeat attire. There are photographers everywhere," Nattiv said, laughing. They will be taking some of the cast and crew with them to the Academy Awards, and Nattiv's brother from Israel will be flying in.

Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman attend The Hollywood Reporter 2019 Oscar Nominee Party in Beverly Hills. Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman attend The Hollywood Reporter 2019 Oscar Nominee Party in Beverly Hills. (Photo: Amy Sussman / Getty Images)

Asked if he has a speech prepared in case they win, he becomes modest. "I will have something, but I don't like to jinx it. We have very hard competitors this year. They are some great films. I don't even think about winning. I'm thinking about being here, being in the moment – and if we win, it's just icing on the cake."

For now, Nattiv is just in awe that he's going to be in the same room with some of his childhood idols. He remembers the first film he saw growing up in Tel Aviv. "My father took me to see 'E.T.' at the cinema, and I was blown away." He revealed that the majority of his influences are the great directors of his youth – Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone. "But I also grew up on '70s cinema: 'The French Connection' and European directors like Roman Polanski and Milos Forman."

Hints of those directors' work are seen in "Skin," the short film for which he and Newman are nominated. Fellow Israeli Sharon Maymon co-wrote the film. The 20-minute movie is an elegy to issues surrounding race in America.

Due to the success of the short film, the couple was able to make a feature-length version. It stars Vera Farmiga, Jamie Bell and Danielle Macdonald from the hit Netflix movie "Dumplin." Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, is a producer on the film. The feature-length version premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, where it won the prestigious Fipresci Prize, an award given by the International Federation of Film Critics. The Hollywood Reporter called Bell's performance "moving" and "powerful." It's expected to arrive in theaters this August.

Nattiv's next project will be a movie based on the life of his grandmother, a World War II survivor, who ended up as part of a cult in Virginia. "It's about the pursuit of happiness at all costs," he said. He plans to start filming it later this year.

But before he can do that, he has an awards show to attend. At lunch earlier this week, Lady Gaga offered him some advice. "She asked me how it feels to be nominated for the first time," Nattiv recalled. "She said, 'Oh, trust me. I've been there a couple of years ago when I was nominated for Best Song and it felt surreal. You know what, we just need to be very, very honored to be here.' And I agree with her. I'm just very honored and lucky. That's how it feels. It feels like we are in a dream. But you know what it is? It's a realistic dream."

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Behind the scenes with the Israeli director going to this year's Oscars
Guy Nattiv, Academy Award nominee for directing Skin, shares his preparation for the big night. 'Honestly,' he said, 'it's surreal.'