Language is no obstacle

Israeli actress Julia Levy-Boeken, who doesn't speak Hebrew, lets her acting do the talking.

JULIA LEVY BOEKEN 88 298 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Julia Levy-Boeken is a woman with a mission. The 22-year-old French born actress, who plays an intriguing and somewhat dark character in smash teen TV soap opera Ha'Alufa ("The Champ"), feels she has a message to convey to her viewers. "The part I play is a sort of femme fatale, but she is very strong. She is independent." This, she says, is an important image to convey to youngsters here. "Israel is, in a way, a conservative country. People have a macho attitude about being in the army, and bearing weapons. But Niki [Goddard, her character in Ha'Alufa] is her own person. She doesn't need to have a boyfriend, and she won't ever get married or have kids. I'm not saying Israeli girls shouldn't get married and become mothers, but Niki shows you can be a woman and stand on your own two feet, without a man to support you." Ha'Alufa is based on the fortunes of the Hakoakh Jerusalem soccer team. Like most things in Israel, there is more to the club than meets the eye. Behind the games and training sessions there are all manner of politicians and businessmen looking for a piece of the action. And there are some pretty complex relationships between the players and various women - who are not always their own partners. Levy-Boeken sees Niki as something fresh, something new on the Israeli screen. "She is a woman of action. There has never been anything like that on Israeli TV before. I play a secret agent, a mysterious sort of character." Add to that a whiff of something decidedly non-Israeli. "Niki comes from France, and I think that French touch broadens the spirit of the show. And the second season is less male dominated. That's good too." One of the more surprising things about Levy-Boeken and her part in the Israeli series is that despite the fact that she is highly educated, she can hardly speak Hebrew. She was born in Paris to a French mother and Dutch father and spent much of her formative years in Los Angeles. "I studied film and drama at USC (the University of Southern California). That was good training. I've also got an MA in political science from a French university." As a professional actress, Levy-Boeken can call on her acquired skills to compensate for her lack of Hebrew. Even so, there have been some comical on- and off-camera moments. "There was one scene where one of the actors talks about his sister, but I thought he was talking about his brother. Eventually he had to shout at me in English to make sure I understood. That was funny. Also I sometimes get the lines out in the wrong in order, but I mostly manage." Off the set, she also sometimes finds herself having to explain that she is not Israeli. "People come up to me in the street and are generally surprised when I ask them to speak to me in English. But most of them are cool about that." The French-born actress also admits to being attracted to the role because of its boundary leaping appeal. "The character could just as well have been a man. Niki doesn't use her womanly charms and sexual prowess to get what she wants." Does that mean we won't see Niki/Julia bare all later in the series? "I'm not going to say," Levy-Boeken answers guardedly. "What I will say, though, is that I am not against nudity on film, but it depends how it is done. It can be done in good taste, and as part of the dramatic plot, and not just to spark male interest." Levy-Boeken says she enjoys playing her role in HaAlufa immensely, precisely because of its complexity and strength of character. "Niki retains more integrity than any of the characters in the series. Even when she lies, and breaks all the rules, she is being honest with herself. I like that approach." With Levy-Boeken's soft tones and gentle looks it is hard to equate the actress with the tough-as-nails character she portrays. But she admits to considerable affinity with the part. "Niki starts out bad but turns a new leaf. I like that idea of it never being too late to start out afresh. I think we can all learn something from that." Still, even with all its hidden and more obvious messages, Levy-Boeken is quick to point out that Ha'Alufa is, after all, "only" entertainment. "Yes, there are things I think we can all take from the show and possibly see where that fits in with our daily lives, and we do have a moral responsibility to make sure things don't get out of hand. But, at the end of the day, it's really about telling the story, and telling it well." Twelve-year-old Jerusalemite and HaAlufa fan Tamar Ranel agrees. "I've been watching the show religiously almost since the very first episode," she says. "I don't think about learning things about life from it. But it's very addictive. I can't stop watching the show." Levy-Boeken leads a busy life. I caught up with her for this interview in the briefest of furloughs, in between finishing shooting some scenes for Ha'Alufa and jetting off to LA where she was due to take part in 10 days of filming for the HBO drama series, Entourage. Her schedule is hectic, but she appears to be just as determined as the character she plays. "Niki is courageous, and I think it takes guts to do something in a language you don't really understand. But this job is like a rapid ulpan course for me. You have to sink or swim. I think I manage to keep my head above water." 'HaAlufa' appears on HOT 3 Sunday-Thursday at 8:05 p.m.