Digging for TV gold in Israel

Local casting agent Sharon Soleimani describes the cultural importance of the American TV series ‘The Dig’ filming in Jerusalem.

Sharon Soleimani (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sharon Soleimani
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Dig, an American television series, has begun filming in Jerusalem. This marks the very first time an American TV series will film entirely in Israel. One of the casting agents, Sharon Soleimani from CU, describes the filming process and why this is a historical moment not only for filming in Jerusalem, but for the city itself.
For those who don’t know, what is the TV series ‘The Dig’?

It’s been developed by Israeli Keshet, the writers of Hatufim, the makers of Homeland, and Tim Kring, who was behind such American shows as Chicago Hope, Crossing Jordan and Heroes. It’s going to be broadcast on the USA network towards the end of the year. The series is an archaeological thriller that takes place in Jerusalem. It tells the story of an FBI agent who is seeking answers regarding the mysterious murder of an American archaeological worker in Jerusalem.
He becomes involved in a big conspiracy theory that might change the way people look at history. It’s really fascinating and it’s a huge production.
As a casting agent, what do you look for in potential actors?
The casting agency that I work for casts not only actors in main roles, but a lot of extras and bit parts.
What I look for is “the look.” “The look” changes depending on the scene, but I know it when I see it.
For this series, I’m looking for English speakers because that’s what’s needed on this set. They have to not only understand English, but they also have to understand the size of this production and what it takes to be a part of this. The Israeli attitude is a bit short, so it can be a conflict because for this series, there’s a lot of changing and adjusting; it requires patience and going with the flow. It takes long hours and everything has to be perfect. It’s an American standard and not all the Israeli actors are used to it.

Has there been a lot of interest from actors in Israel?
The press that the show has received so far definitely makes our job a lot easier. Also, the fact that we have such famous writers and producers makes my job easier. We have tons of bit parts that need to be cast, and people want to be involved. We’re casting hundreds of people; all kind of types, ages and looks. We’re casting kids, adults, Arabs, hassidim. It’s a very colorful production. We’re also casting Jerusalem people, who are very different from actors in Tel Aviv or elsewhere in Israel. Jerusalem is like another country within Israel. Jerusalem actors are not as familiar with the field. The tempo of the people is slower; they’re more humble. They don’t care about taking photos next to celebrities, or things like that. They’re not wannabes like Tel Aviv people.
There are definitely a lot more English speakers in Jerusalem also.
Can you describe what the filming process has been like in Jerusalem?
It’s still early days, but so far, there are many people involved and the energy is incredible. It’s amazing to see how everything comes together in such a beautiful way. There’s a huge interest for people to take part in this. We’ve only just begun and it’s going to be a blast. It’s really pure fun.

Do you feel you’re breaking new ground by being the first American series to film entirely in Israel?
It’s history in the making. I’ve been casting for many Israeli television series, but this is a historic moment. It’s not just another American TV series; it’s really something special and something very big. This is a huge moment for television production in Israel especially. I think this is also an historic moment in the way Jerusalem is marketed. A lot of people around the globe are going to have a different and nicer perspective on Jerusalem after this. This represents authentic Jerusalem, which is so important.
How does Jerusalem’s history inform the plot of the show, in terms of it being about an archaeological dig?
Jerusalem is a fascinating city. Its history makes it perfect for filming an archaeological series. The blend and colors of the people here, plus the politics of the region here make it perfect for filming. The idea to produce this series in Jerusalem came up after a trip that Keshet took to Ir David two years ago. That trip gave them the inspiration. In addition, Jerusalem is now being supported by the mayor and the municipality. Jerusalem is being marketed all around the world just like Woody Allen has done with his films in Rome and New York. That’s a beautiful thing. Jerusalem is heaven for casting! Do you feel pressure for the show to be a success? It’s not pressure, it’s a challenge.
We work late hours and there is a very high demand to fulfill the mission.
It’s fun, but there is also a responsibility. We are proud to take part in this production. Not only me, I think everyone from the smallest extra [up] is proud to be part of this one.
Do you hope that this show will open the door for more American television series to be filmed here in Israel?

I don’t hope and I don’t think; I know. It has already opened the door. We’ve been contacted by American producers looking to film here in the future. The mayor and the municipality have already met with high-profile producers in Los Angeles, and I’m very glad for that.
If you had to describe what this experience has been like for you so far in one sentence, what would it be? It’s showtime!