Episode 26: Mark Ivanir – Hollywood actor, Parisian circus performer, Israeli spy

He got his big break in Steven Spielberg's 'Schindler's List' and his career hasn't slowed down since.

Mark Ivanir wanted to be an actor since he was five-years-old, but he made several pitstops along the way.

First, he served as an Israeli spy who went undercover on a secret mission to rescue Jews out of Ethiopia. Then he took some time off and joined a circus – juggling and performing pantomime on the streets of Paris. Eventually, he returned to his first love and his start in Hollywood couldn't have gone better: One of his first roles was in Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List." Since then, he has worked non-stop, appearing in more than 50 movies and television shows – and has starred alongside Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon and Robert De Niro.

His latest role pairs him with yet another A-list star: two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank. They make up two of the five astronauts on the first human mission to Mars in a compelling new Netflix series called "Away." The journey is set to keep the astronauts 20 million miles away from their families for three years.

Jason Katims, the show's executive producer, said that when the team first met Ivanir, he made everyone fall in love with him on the spot. “He has this humor, he has heart, and he also has this bravado," Katims explained. "It was so great because the show is dealing with big, high stakes issues. Mark has all of that, but he also brings humor to almost everything that he does and everything that he says. He has done everything from great comedic work to really wonderful dramatic work and we were just so excited to have him be part of this.”

Ivanir found an unlikely muse for his role as a cocky, know-it-all astronaut with a sense of humor. “Someone I took inspiration from was my contractor,” Ivanir said, laughing. “He has nothing to do with space, but he cracks jokes all the time. That's his default. That's where he goes. He is emotionally armored. The character was written like that from the beginning and then I realized that that's the guy. It's funny, but it's true. No pilots or astronauts, just my contractor.”

In 'Away,' Mark Ivanir plays Russian cosmonaut and engineer Misha Popov. In 'Away,' Mark Ivanir plays Russian cosmonaut and engineer Misha Popov. (Photo: Diyah Pera / Netflix)

His previous career as a spy also helped, since he was able to completely embody a new character. And his time doing summersaults in Paris aided his work in the scenes where he's floating in zero-gravity. “We had to try to figure out how to move in space in terms of the speed and your ability to go forty-five degrees or to do a full circle on the wire. Luckily, I have a background as a circus performer so by the second day I was doing all kinds of backflips!”

"Away" is a workplace drama set in outer space, but it's also a poignant tale for the historic moment in which we find ourselves. It's a story of flight, of possibility and of hope. The first season of the show debuts on Netflix on September 4th.

In this new episode of our podcast, we caught up with Ivanir to talk about the new Netflix series, as well as his previous career as both a circus performer and an Israeli spy. Of all three of those careers, he told us he enjoys acting the most. "In many ways, it gives you an opportunity to do all of these things in a somewhat safe capacity. So, you can be a spy, and then the director says 'Cut!,' and you go and have a snack. It gives you the opportunity to get into so many characters and then leave them and be yourself. It's lovely."

A team of international astronauts are attempting to become the first humans on Mars. They are portrayed by (from left to right): Vivian Wu, Mark Ivanir, Hilary Swank, Ray Panthaki and Ato Essandoh. A team of international astronauts are attempting to become the first humans on Mars. They are portrayed by (from left to right): Vivian Wu, Mark Ivanir, Hilary Swank, Ray Panthaki and Ato Essandoh. (Photo: Diyah Pera / Netflix)

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Episode 26: Mark Ivanir – Hollywood actor, Parisian circus performer, Israeli spy
Mark Ivanir, who stars in the new Netflix series 'Away, got his big break in Steven Spielberg's 'Schindler's List' and his career hasn't slowed down since.