There are still balloons in the background from her daughter’s ninth birthday party as Hadar Ratzon-Rotem starts her Zoom interview about her role in the KAN 11 drama series, The Echo of Your Voice.
The series, which got rave reviews and which is still available on the KAN 11 website, is set in the music business and tells the story of three generations of musicians in the same family. One character, Kobi (Itamar Rotschild) is the son of an Arik Einstein-like music legend who can’t seem to shake the legacy of his famous father. Ratzon-Rotem plays a music teacher who works with the grandson (Orr Amrami-Brockman) of the music legend, who seems to have inherited his grandfather’s talent, and her character becomes involved with Kobi.
Ratzon-Rotem has made a name for herself as an actress both in Israel and abroad in recent years. She was one of the stars of the recent fact-based police drama, Line in the Sand, starring Tsahi Halevi, and she is probably best known to audiences abroad for her role as Eli Cohen’s wife in the Netflix series, The Spy, where she acted opposite Sacha Baron Cohen, who played Cohen. She also has a thriving stage career and recently appeared in a Beit Lessin production of Double Panther, a play about the Israeli Black Panther group, a political empowerment movement for Mizrahi Jews in Israel during the 1970s.
The role in The Echo of Your Voice was very meaningful to her. “It was very important to me, in terms of my career, because I had never gotten to play a regular role, a regular Tel Aviv woman. I love every role I’ve played, but so many times I was a Mossad agent or something to do with my coloring,” said the actress, who comes from a Yemenite background. So playing a down-to-earth teacher with no espionage in her background “was the fulfillment of a dream.”
One thing that nobody dreamed of was the coronavirus pandemic, during which the series was filmed. She said the “matching” auditions, where the actors perform scenes with other performers who they may play opposite in the series, were particularly challenging. “We went to the matching auditions with masks. At that point, you have been to one audition, you don’t know you’re going to be cast, you do scenes with another actor, you don’t know if it’s going to be him, but you have to have an audition together, to see if you work well and there’s chemistry and it’s supposed to be very intimate.”
She and her fellow actors overcame the challenge of masked auditions and she enjoyed working on the series. “The first time I got the script, I thought it’s like a full-length movie. There is something about the look of it, the rhythm of it, the relationships, it is very cinematic.” The idea that “talent skips a generation is very interesting.”
Ratzon-Rotem does not come from a theatrical family herself and almost did not become an actress. Her father was a career army man and later became a driving instructor, while her mother works in accounting. Ratzon-Rotem was a shy child who came out of her shell in school late, organizing cultural events. After the army, she spent several years in Miami, working in computer graphics and at other jobs, but the idea of an acting career intrigued her. Returning to Israel, she signed up for an acting workshop and then for more intensive studies at Yoram Loewenstein’s Performing Arts Studio. Not long after she finished there, she was cast in an American movie, Rendition, which starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon in a story about the US torturing terror suspects in a secret location, not on American soil.
Ratzon-Rotem, who spoke English and had lived in the US, found herself considering trying to build a career there. “My agent said, ‘You must move to LA’ But I felt that I wanted to be here [Israel]. I’ll never know if it was the right decision. I know that because I did that movie there, my name was floating around in America. But I decided that I needed to be here and that if I got a job there, I would fly back and forth if I needed to, as I have done. If an offer came up today to work there, I would definitely consider it.”
Certainly, her decision to return to Israel paid off handsomely when she was cast in a key role in Prisoners of War, the Israeli series by Gideon Raff that was adapted in the US as Homeland. In 2019, The New York Times named Prisoners of War as the best international television series of the decade.
“It was one of the high points of my career so far,” she said. It also led to her working with Raff again, who picked her to play Nadia Cohen, the wife of Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who was sent to Damascus and was eventually executed there.
“When I got the role, I was very curious: Who is going to play Eli? Sacha [Baron Cohen] is an amazing guy. I didn’t realize he is fluent in Hebrew, although he throws in some Hebrew sentences in some of his movies. I came with a bag of Israeli snacks that my mother packed, with Bisli and Bamba and I gave it to him, he was in shock, then he was really happy... His wife came to the set and it was great to see someone who is a star of his magnitude sitting with his family, like a regular dad... I’m sure for him it wasn’t simple to play a dramatic role, a lot was expected of him.”
She did not get a chance to meet Cohen’s widow and said, “I have played in stories of real people, but this was the first time I was playing someone who is living and breathing and it wasn’t easy... It’s very emotional to play such a tragic story, I am glad I was able to bring it to life in such a respectful way.”
She is happy that the miniseries introduced Cohen’s story to viewers all over the world. “I have so many fans in India, who saw the series and loved it,” she said.
But there are two fans much closer to home that she especially cares about: her daughters. “I had a part on the second season of Spyders,” she said. Spyders is a children’s show on the Teen Nick channel about kids who find out their parents are superspies and must help them out. “It was great to be in something they could see.”
Asked whether she would be happy if her daughters followed her footsteps into acting, she said, “They can do whatever they want. If they decide to do that, they will be amazing.”