Moran Atias poses at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images) Moran Atias poses at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images) Moran Atias poses at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

From Israel to Italy to America, Moran Atias is making waves

Israeli actress stars in TV’s ‘Tyrant’ and the new Paul Haggis film 'Third Person.'

Moran Atias recently spent time living in Italy, begging for money and washing car windows. It’s not what you’d expect from a 33-year-old up-and-coming actress.

But the Israeli beauty likes to immerse herself in her roles. She stars as Monika, an Albanian Gypsy woman, for director Paul Haggis’ new film “Third Person” alongside Mila Kunis, Liam Nesson, Kim Basinger and James Franco. She also learned the language, immersed herself in books, articles and documentaries even before she was cast.

Despite having previously appeared in writer-director Paul Haggis’ “The Next Three Days” and the TV version of his movie “Crash,” this time, “Nobody wanted me for the part,” she confided to From the Grapevine during an interview. “I had to convince a lot of people that I was suitable for the role.”

Her Method immersion enabled her to understand the character and “really get under her skin.” This helped her to “be confident she wouldn’t be apologetic for what she has become. If she has to take this guy on a journey she will, to survive.”

Adrien Brody and Moran AtiasAdrien Brody and Moran Atias appear in the new film 'Third Person.' (Photo: Sony Picture Classics)

The guy in question is a businessman played by Adrien Brody, who encounters Atias’ Monika in a bar and agrees to help when she tells him she’s lost the money to ransom her kidnapped daughter. Is she telling the truth or is she a con artist? “It’s up to the audience to decide,” Atias replied.

Growing up, Atias didn’t dream about being an actress. “I wanted to be a therapist - a psychiatrist - since I was very young,” she revealed. What changed that “is a long story that involves a lot of countries and a lot of relationships but it eventually led me to Italy where I met an agent who told me I should stay and live and work there. I thought she was crazy, because I didn’t speak Italian. But I stayed and within three months I learned the language and started working in TV series and films.”

'We wanted her from the very start' When producers were auditioning actors for roles in the new FX series “Tyrant,” Moran Atias stood out from the start. “Moran came in on the first day of casting. We put her picture on the wall and it never left,” remembers executive producer Gideon Raff. “We wanted her from the very start.”

Atias plays Leila Al Fayeed, who married into the corrupt ruling family of a fictional Middle Eastern country. The story centers on the expat Americanized son, a doctor, who reluctantly returns for a wedding and is forced to stay. Leila has some history with him, to be revealed later in the show.

“I was attracted to Leila because she's so mysterious. She’s doing a lot to orchestrate what happens behind the scenes,” said Atias, whose character is married to the abusive and sadistic heir to the ruling dynasty. “I found it really interesting that a woman would be married to a husband like mine and not be a victim.”

She was elated that “Third Person” brought her back to Italy, and she’s thrilled that “Tyrant” is shooting in Tel Aviv, “because I get to bring a wonderful, challenging project to my homeland. It’s not only going to provide a opportunities for work and creativity in my country, it will also be an opportunity to introduce my country to the other actors, people who never visited there,” she said of her castmates.

Moran AtiasMoran Atias in a scene from 'Third Person.' (Photo: Sony Picture Classics)

Atias is involved with Israel’s IsraAID humanitarian organization as a Goodwill Ambassador and has gone to Haiti to help in disaster relief efforts. She also serves as an Ambassador for Artists for Peace and Justice.

She said it’s about time that Israeli actresses are finding success in Hollywood. “After one or two actresses have established themselves,” she theorized, “other actresses saw hope so they pursued it. And I think what’s also happened in the last few years is that casting has been so global. A few years ago, you just worked where you lived. Today, everything is much more open and so easy to audition in Israel for an American show or a British movie.”

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