The third season of Netflix’s series “Shtisel” has just been unveiled. The series is an amazing international success, in large part due to the fantastic acting by Dov Glickman, who stars as the main character, Shulem. Glickman lives in Tel Aviv and works in film, television and theater. In his exclusive interview with Neokohn, we talked about the character he shaped, the success of Shtisel, its origins, and the tensions in Israeli society.
Glickman. Many Jews from Hungary are called that. Are you Hungarian by chance?
No. My father is from somewhere in Belarus, but I was born in Tel Aviv.
Have you ever traveled to find out exactly where your family comes from?
Oddly, I’ve never been to Russia or the former Soviet states. I’ve been everywhere else, in Budapest many times as well.
I’ve been there at least five times, the last time maybe 15 years ago. I was with a theater company. I’ve been to Poland too, but never Russia.
Not many people may know this, but you were the one who came up with the expression “wa wa wee wa,” which became so popular in Borat movies. How did this happen?
I first used this phrase in an ad. I was later told that Sacha Baron Cohen uses this in his Borat series on MTV.
Did he pay royalties?
No, of course not. Later, several Israeli newspapers inquired, because he uses “wa wa wee wa” very often in the film, but it didn’t bother me. Maybe I was a little annoyed when he got the Oscar and taught the presenter on stage how to pronounce it correctly. Then a newspaper twisted my words with a big headline saying I was going to sue. Of course I won’t. I am glad that “wa wa wee wa” has become successful, and here in Israel, and now, many people in Hungary know that I came up with the original.
Shtisel is very popular and your character is undoubtedly the central figure in the series. What was the point when you felt like, yes, this was going to be great?
In truth, as soon as I read the script I knew it was very good. I didn’t know how popular it was going to be, but I knew right away that it was very authentic, the story and the dialogues were perfect.
What was so special about it?
Especially the language. Hebrew is not an easy language; it is very eclectic. There is a deep meaning behind each and every word. You have to imagine every word as if it’s an onion with many layers that people expose using emphasis, context, and gestures. In Shtisel, the language, the dialogues and, of course, the evolving drama were written quite precisely.
It was exactly the script that was a real gift to every actor. I fell in love immediately. Every situation, every event is a real drama in this series. With deep feelings.
Since I play a lot of fun roles, I have a good, or maybe bad, habit of improvising.
Not following the text?
I follow, but I change it a lot if I feel something is more appropriate. But I didn’t improvise in Shtisel. I didn’t have to because everything was in place. In addition, the staff was extremely professional. There were coaches next to us constantly who paid attention to every little detail to make it authentic and perfect. So I knew it would be good, but I didn’t think it would be as successful as it has been.
What happened when Netflix picked up the series?
We were tremendously happy. But even then, I didn’t know how successful it would be. Then came the premieres, audience meetings, in America, in England.
By then, I already knew that it was not only good what we were doing but that the audience would appreciate it, too.
I am very grateful because I really like this role.
We talked about language; but it’s not just Hebrew, Yiddish also plays an important role in the series. Do you know Yiddish or did you have to just memorize the words?
I don’t really know Yiddish.
So, you just memorized it?
It’s not like I had to learn Swedish, say. I heard a lot of Yiddish as a child, my parents spoke Yiddish well. So I understood, say, a fifth of the text, so I didn’t have to fully memorize it blindly.
I did have to know expressions used in the Haredi world. There were coaches who helped me with this.
You did a good job.
I’m glad. We worked hard to make it that way.
Shtisel is different from other Israeli series set in the Haredi world. Unfortunately, most of them portray this world in a rather negative light. Shtisel, on the other hand, is positive; it doesn’t look down on this way of life, but rather tries to point out that those living in the Haredi world are just like other people. Was this your objective?
We, the actors, had no say in that. The writers of the series, Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky, determined the tone of the series. They both come from the Haredi world; one of them, Ori Elon, is still religious, though no longer a part of the Haredi community. The other, Yehonatan Indursky, had left this world but has recently returned and again belongs to the Haredi community.
So, the writers came from this world; that’s why
this is not a series about folklore. It’s not for non-religious people who wonder how bearded people in black hats live.
This series is about human relationships. About the relationship between a father and son, about the relationship between a husband and his deceased wife, about a son who does not want to get married. Shtisel is not about Haredi people, but about people who happen to be Haredi. Maybe that’s why this world is so lovable.
The series doesn’t focus on who lives what kind of life, but what they feel.
The fact that Shitsel takes place in a Haredi community is comparable to the fact that the Sopranos takes place in a mafia family.
Don’t get me wrong; I mean this in the sense that there are rules in the religious community that set the framework, but they don’t define the feelings.
Maybe that’s why the series is also popular with Haredi people?
Exactly. Because it’s not a folklore show; everyone can identify with it.
Did you know this world well?
Here in Israel, we all know a little bit about how the other lives; yet often, we don’t always know the essentials. A couple of actors and crew spent three days, one weekend each, in Meah Shearim [ed. note: one of the oldest ultra-Orthodox quarters in Jerusalem]. We went to the synagogue, we went to a Hasidic Tish [ed. note: Friday night gathering with the leading rabbi of the community]. We took a look around, but we didn’t go there to find out about this world, because we all know how the other lives in this country. We simply spent a few days together, sleeping with families to get a taste of the atmosphere.
With all of this, I often thought about how Meah Shearim is just an hour from Tel Aviv but is such a different world.
Moreover, next to Tel Aviv is Bnei Braq [ed. note: a city where the majority is Haredi].
Exactly. Right next to us.
Let’s talk a little bit about Israeli politics. Now the election is over [ed. note: This interview was done on March 25] and yet it is not over.
We spend money we don’t have on elections.
Exactly. Did you think that Shtisel built a bridge between the secular and religious communities? I think polls show that many Haredi voted not for the traditional ultra-Orthodox party but for other parties.
I think we should have a lot more patience with the Haredi people.
On the other hand, it is appalling that everything is politicized by us. I was in a cafe in Paris two years ago. Two Lebanese women came to me. Muslims. Maybe they recognized my voice, I don’t know. They said that Shtisel is very popular in Lebanon. People identify with it, there are many similarities. If Shtisel has been able to build some bridges, that would be great.
In recent days, there has been word that Shtisel would have an American adaptation. Have you been approached for advice on this?
I know nothing about this, just what I read in the news.
Shtisel’s third season on Netflix began on March 25th. Are there talks about a fourth?
I really hope so. Back then, we were almost certain that there would be no third season. Then due to the success of the show on Netflix, there had to be a third season. Have you seen it yet?
Not the whole thing yet. Netflix, who helped organize this interview, gave press access even before the premiere, so I was able to watch a few parts.
The third season is a little different from the first two. First, because it’s only 9 episodes, not 12. Maybe that, too, will put a little pressure to make the fourth season. I love this role, I hope it will continue.
Can you talk about anything else you’ve been working on lately?
Here in Israel there is a very popular show, a bit like “Saturday Night Live”, called “Zehu ze!” (“This is it!”). It’s been going on for 20 years and it’s a great success. Now we’ve had more time to spend on it due to the coronavirus because the theaters were closed. It’s a live show.
I am also preparing for some theatrical roles. And a nice role I have in “Angina Pectoris” (coronary spasm) continues.
I play an Israeli defense minister who needs a heart transplant and gets an Arab heart, but he has to keep this a secret. Very funny.
We’ve been making new episodes for four years now. In addition, I am preparing for a Glengarry Glenn Ross presentation. I’m not bored, thank God.
We hear you will also be working with Steven Spielberg.
Yes. Although the shooting is over, the post-production is now underway. The film is titled “Oslo” and deals with real events surrounding the peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s, as well as the background talks. Spielberg is the executive producer of the film, most of which was shot in Prague. It was originally a Broadway show. I was there for two months during the coronavirus. I even got the virus.
Were you very ill?
No, thank God. I had a fever for only two days.
Shifting quickly back to the topic of public life: How do you see the future of Israel?
Look, this is a difficult country. At the same time, it is a fantastic and beautiful country. A country of extremes, and not just because of the weather. Right now, politics is pitting people against each other, but all in all, it’s a fantastic place. See what we did with the vaccines. The whole world is in awe.
That’s why we should come together. We have so many enemies, Iran and others; at least we should stick together.
We Jews love it when we’re the center of things, can’t help ourselves. Of course, maybe this is how it should be.
Thank you very much for making yourself available for this interview. Good luck, good health, and we happily look forward to seeing you in Budapest!
Thank you very much, please pass on my greetings to the people of Hungary and my fans there.