In spite of the success of Israeli films worldwide, most actors and directors here have decided to stay put, with a few high-profile exceptions. The one star to cross over into a real Hollywood career is Ayelet Zurer, who starred opposite Tom Hanks in the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons. She was also chosen by Steven Spielberg to play the main character's wife in Munich. She also had leading roles in the thriller Vantage Point and in Paul Schrader's Adam Resurrected. Although she is a fine dramatic actress, in her Israeli roles she has displayed comic gifts that have yet to be used by American directors.
Meital Dohan, who had a memorable role in Weeds as a sadistic rabbinical school dean, is trying to make a go of it abroad. So is Noa Tishby, who executive produced In Treatment, the US adaptation of Betipul. She also had a role on the HBO series Big Love.
Several French-speaking stars, notably Ronit Elkabetz, work regularly in Europe.
But Hollywood is kinder to beautiful young women with accents than it is to men. The Israeli men in studio films, whether they are Jewish or Arab, tend to play one part: terrorist or Arab policeman. Ashraf Barhoum had a leading role as a Saudi police official in The Kingdom, along with his Paradise Now costar, Ali Suliman. Uri Gavriel, who often plays gangsters here, was a terror chief in that film as well. Givatayim native Yigal Naor played Saddam Hussein in the HBO/BBC series The House of Saddam, and will be seen as another terrorist baddie in the upcoming Green Zone with Matt Damon. Alon Abutbul was a terrorist leader in Body of Lies. This is an incomplete list; as I write this, more Israeli actors are being cast as terrorists.
But all the traffic among actors isn't in one direction. Israel-born Natalie Portman came home to star in Amos Gitai's Free Zone, and Fanny Ardant had a key role in Avi Nesher's The Secrets.
In terms of directors, Avi Nesher is the one who has made a real career for himself so far in Hollywood, directing genre movies such as the action thriller Timebomb (1991) or horror movies like Ritual starring Jennifer Grey. But in 2003 he chose to return to Israel and begin working here again.
Many young directors, when their film hits the festival circuit, get a Hollywood agent and flirt with the possibilities there. But so far they have chosen to come back here, even those who speak perfect English. As Eytan Fox said to me in a 2004 interview, "I realized, this is not good for me. I have to go back to Israel. I asked myself, what do you want, to stay here and make Batman 5?"