Oz Zahavi and Yuval Scharf in an excerpt from the series "4:20" (courtesy of HOT)
In two weeks, Oz Zahavi will be 40 years old. Against the background of the new cannabis thriller in which he stars, the series "4:20", the question arises whether reaching this age, for him, is a bad hallucination - or rather a pleasant Stella? "It depends on what morning I wake up," Zahavi says in an interview with Walla! Culture. "There are mornings when I wake up completely young, 20-plus years old in my conduct, my speech and the way I take things. And there are days when I feel very old, feel 40 years old, it manifests itself in all kinds of funny things like eating at night and because of that feeling unwell in the morning, in how you take life. You take life more seriously, more even-handedly and in a more orderly way. Sometimes I also feel 60 years old. When I was 20, 40 sounded like a lot to me. But when I turn 40, it doesn't feel that serious."
Listen, 40 is the new 40.
"40 is great. You're still young but you have more intelligence. You don't get excited about anything. With the years comes experience, with experience you learn from mistakes. All in all, it's fun growing up, as long as you're healthy. That, too, you learn to appreciate, your health."
When you look back, what do you regret – and what are you proud of in your life?
"I regret not learning something during the times I had time. I'm interested in studying music and it's something I still dream of doing. If I regret anything, it's that after I exploded as an actor I had a year or two, and during that time I spent less enriching myself with more content. But I'm answering you just because you asked. In general, I don't regret anything. I really think that everything happens because it needs to happen," says Zehavi, "and what am I most proud of? On a professional level, I am proud of myself for how I perceive my profession. I have devoted many years of research, interest and seriousness to this work. I'm proud to be an actor. It's a job that only when you do it for many years do you learn to appreciate it. I appreciate other players who have several abilities - talent, experience, flying hours, ethics of the profession. It's not a given that I'm an actor, and I'm proud of that."
"Where will I be at 60? On a yacht in Italy, drunk and tanned with a belly and speedo." Oz Zahavi (Photo: official website, Or Danon)
"On a personal level, I'm very proud of my two daughters," he adds, "I feel like we have really magical creatures at home. Every new idea that comes to them, you are filled with magic, admiration and crazy love. Love does not depend. Love that breaks out. A love that you don't have to decide on, it just exists and hugely. When I hang out with them around new people who meet them, there is a smile of pride in them."
Not long ago, you returned from filming "Peking Express" to Network 13, which was chosen to replace "The Race for a Million." How hard was it to be separated from the family for a month and a half?
"It was very difficult. It's like entering another planet, a reality that is net work, in different and diverse places in the world. It's like going into a tunnel for 48 days and coming back. I really missed the girls. It's very hard, it's scary even, you've been out for so long and you say, wow, will this damage the fabric of our relationship? We maintained a very strong connection, even when I was abroad, every spare moment I was connected to them. But the longing was very strong and the feelings were difficult. It's one of the sacrifices you have to make for this profession."
Parental love is also the focus of "4:20," the title, created by Ido Dror and David Dahan ("Galis") and directed by Jonathan Bar Ilan (HOT3, Tuesday through Thursday at 10:00 PM). Zahavi plays Assi, his ex-wife is Nivi (Yuval Scharf) and they are the parents of a girl (Emanuel Pfeffer) who suffers from a rare and drug-resistant type of epilepsy. Only cannabis oil, which she receives as part of clinical research, works magically on her and prevents her from irreversible brain injury. However, just before the finish line, the study was disqualified and this particular strain of cannabis is confiscated and sent for destruction. Assi decides to rob the truck with the cannabis on the way to confiscation, and to distill the oil himself that can save his daughter. To carry out the task, he is assisted by a pair of dealers who are mired in debt, Rafi (Dolev Mesika) and Koma (Neve Tzur). Assi fights everyone - the police looking for the perpetrators of the robberies, criminals who want to get their hands on the improper medical cannabis and even his ex-wife who insists on going with the girl for brain surgery.
Zahavi says that he identifies with Assi's character in his willingness to do anything to save his daughter. "Caring for children is something that precedes taking care of yourself," he says. "Caring for them and protecting them is a force of nature that you know when you experience it. It didn't come from any decision. You also need to be balanced, see where you are too anxious and where you need to let go. It was very easy for me to relate to the role. Here there is a girl who is epileptic, who gets seizures, is in danger of her life with every attack and needs to get fat. In general, seeing a child have an epileptic seizure is a heartbreaking sight. You'll hurt for it even without being his father. Your whole body vibrates and you just want to help. You don't have to look deep to connect to it. It was very easy for me. In general, as an actor, the idea is not to make an effort. The idea is to delve into something so much that you understand and identify with it. Once you understand and empathize, you really need to be, not play."
"I don't take it for granted that I'm an actor, and I'm proud of that." Oz Zahavi in the series "4:20" (Photo: official website, photo: Ohad Romano and courtesy of HOT and NEXT TV)
The opening scene of the film includes a shocking shot of your character hanging in the tunnel under Ayalon in Rashpon. Filmed as a man hanging 12 meters above the road, for no less than three hours. How do you film something like this and how did it feel?
"I remember every minute of my photography as hanging, because it's excruciating pain. You have this kind of hook, caught on your tailbone. You can't have a seat, because then they'll see that you're sitting on something. It gives you some kind of support and lifts you from the bottom of your spine. The rope on top is just an ornament, to make it look like I'm hanging. You're basically sitting on a hook. After 25 minutes the physics did its job, it hurt a lot in the tailbone, it's hysterical pain. But in those situations, I really like to play the game of how much I can stand in silence," he says.
"There was a lot of waiting time there, adjusting the cameras, and all this time I'm hanging. It was the opening shot of the series so it took a lot of technical time. I tried to meditate and breathe as much as possible. It worked for me at first. After about two takes, I said to Jonathan, the director: 'Listen, I need a break, I can't do it anymore.' Look, that's the profession. You can get selfies, you can get respect, but nothing says that on the next day of shooting you won't be hanged from your ass for three hours, and you'll sit quietly. But it's fun. Look, this is a series that is shot at a high pace. It's such a TV candy, short 25-minute episodes, a crime comedy that's forced to bite into. The filming days were accordingly, but here, because it's an opening scene, they invested in it. There was no drone but literally a hover camera with weights and a big crane of yesteryear and they put high lampposts and closed the road. I personally live for these moments, I love projects that have great things. It was fun and magic to work on set."
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You play a snake catcher in the series. I was told that in the first photos with real snakes - you died of fear.
"It was really scary. I play a snake catcher, when I read the script I didn't think deeply about how I had to prepare for it. Then comes the first time I have to hold a snake in a photoshoot, and I say, well, okay, we'll manage. But I was in a crazy phobia, I couldn't touch the snake, they told me to reach out and I was terrified. There was of course a professional there who helped me and guided me. The second time I took a picture with a snake, which is the first scene in the series that I'm with a snake, and it was a really huge snake. And there I had a really, really difficult moment, that I had to hold onto it, get it out of the box. This is the first time I've touched this snake. The whole set was very pressed for time, you have to finish lunch already and people are on the edge of let's finish filming this scene already. All I have to do is complete the whip I pick up the snake. Three, two, one, action! I reach for the snake - and the hand doesn't come out. I give a brain instruction to the hand to move—but the hand doesn't move. And I realize I'm paralyzed with fear and unable to do it. Then we cut for lunch. I say, I can't believe we couldn't finish this shot because I couldn't catch the snake. I decided I was dealing with it. The whole lunch break I asked the snake man to explain to me about the snake and what it does and if it is venomous and how it kills. Then I got confidence, stroked him and we completed the scene. The next week this snake arrived, and this time I picked it up, enjoyed it and petted it."
The series deals with medical cannabis. The year is 2023, cigarettes and alcohol are sold everywhere, but in Israel only medical use of cannabis is legalized with the approval of the Ministry of Health. Maybe it's time for legalization?
"I'll tell you something unpopular. Right now, those who need medical pot can get it, and those who don't need medical weed don't get it. By the way, I exclude shell-shocked people from the equation on this issue, because it's a different approach. There were now cancer patients who did not receive Rick Simpson oil, and they need a minimum amount of 100-150 grams per month. I'm all for promoting it. But – and they might hate me for what I say – I wouldn't rush to make free pot for everyone. If you consume cannabis for pleasure and not for medical purposes, you should know that it is a medical product and not some something you can take like some kind of gum. It is indeed delusional that alcohol is sold free and weed is not. It's really delusional. I say, voila, legalization will probably happen at some point, regardless of whether I'm for or against, at some point they'll probably fall in line with the world. This will happen naturally, just as in the end with the coronavirus, everyone will fall in line with the world. But personally I'm not nervous about it happening tomorrow."
"The truth is, I sing for a living." Oz Zahavi revealed in "The Masked Singer" (Photo: screenshot, Keshet 12)
Eighteen months ago, Zahavi came in second place in the reality show "The Masked Singer". He then made another attempt to fulfill his dream of becoming a singer, releasing the song "Until the Next Wave" which he created with Ron Bitton and Jordi, which was also accompanied by an elaborate video - but the song was not a success. "True, the single didn't take off, but I'm very much at peace with it," Zahavi says. "Basically, I wanted to release a song once a year just for fun. My goal, in general, is that in the future – I don't know if tomorrow, in another month or in four years – I will be able to do a musical performance, so I will have materials. In two weeks, on my birthday, I will be releasing a new duet with Shira Gavrielov, Miki Gavrielov's daughter. She is an amazing singer. Shira really is a musician. I didn't dedicate my life to music, to releasing albums, to failing with them. I did this route in the game. I also realized after the song came out that it required me to deal only with that. Being on TikTok, making songs, collaborating and not taking acting roles. Let it be number one. And the truth is, it was just too hard for me. I have another choice, just put out a song once in a while, without making any statements about who I am. The truth is that I actually sing for a living, musicals I do all the time, and meet musicians along the way."
Zahavi indeed has a rich history in musicals, and recently he even participated in the musical "Crossing the Wall" at Beit Lisin - in the same role he played in the film version. He currently plays Captain von Trapp in the Hebrew Theater's musical "The Sound of Music" - the role of a man significantly older than him. "If you look at the original play, you're right," he says. "In the original story, he's 50-something, and she's 20. But in the adaptation they chose to make two main characters who are closer in age, and the captain in the adaptation is younger. And it's all about the stage weight of the role, [of] whether you're able to bring the stage weight of the role and it's not necessarily a matter of age. In the role of Captain von Trapp, it's as if I'm anxious. He takes great care not to sing and not to have fun. I can relate to that in terms of my work ethic, which is uncompromising. If, for example, I have to come prepared, then I don't overlap and come prepared."
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Alongside the musicals, Zahavi will also play in a more serious play at the Cameri Theater in the upcoming season - "Waking Up Lions" based on Ayelet Gonder Goshen's successful book, written by Yoav Shotan Goshen, directed by Shirilly Deshe and also starring Ruth Asrasai. This is a psychological drama in which Zahavi will play a senior doctor who was involved in a hit-and-run accident in which he hit an Eritrean refugee, and was blackmailed by the widow of Henderas, who demands that he provide medical treatment to the refugees in exchange for her silence.
"I really loved this play. In general, I like stories that ask what you would do. It's the little places of life, where no one sees what choice you make, and it's really a matter of character. This person makes a bad moral choice, and pays the price for it. It's very interesting to deal with the choices we make, whether they have a price or not," he says. "And along the way, the play sheds light on the phenomenon of infiltrators, the people, it should be said, who are among us, who see them as aliens, but in reality, in the end, the convicted among them are also human beings, who are here without rights. They are transparent people, who on the one hand are screwed and their passports taken away, and on the other hand they cannot complain to the police. In addition to these themes, the play also deals with the enlightened and liberal Tel Aviv image, which may crack in the dark."
More on human rights abuses: How do you feel about the threats of the legal revolution?
"I am encouraged by the demonstrations that remind us that we are still in a democracy and that people want democracy here. There's a huge collective of people here who decided to go outside, it's something that comes from the people, and that's what dictates the agenda in the countries. I personally like people who are freethinkers, who want answers. I think these are the people we need to be, and less people who land on them and accept things as they are. Leaders have already proven that they have interests. You have to read a little and understand that free thought, demonstrations and freedom of expression – this is not an extraordinary right. This is a basic and significant right for a state that is democratic. The day it stops, we will enter another era."
From film to theater. Oz Zahavi with Chen Amsalem in the play "Crossing the Wall" (Photo: Reuven Castro)
Two years ago, you filmed for HOT's series "The Good City" under difficult conditions, during Operation Guardian of the Walls and during a missile landing in Tel Aviv where you filmed. It must have been difficult.
"At that time there was a strange sequence. We also went out to take pictures during Corona, when people were wearing masks and if someone was sick, our day of filming would stand out, and yes, there was also a war. We were somewhere in Florentine where we didn't give specific advance warning, so filming could go on. It was a day when school continued in north Tel Aviv and in south school didn't. We were filming, and then there were sirens. The place we filmed was not protected. You run to the street, looking for a safe place. Of course I had some friends who went up to the rooftops to look at the Iron Dome interceptions, it's a tragic phenomenon that I don't recommend. It was delusional, and yet, it's unpleasant to say, you get used to it. You understand that this is the country you live in. You realize that even in the best-case scenario, because of where you are, you're under constant threat. And that's something that makes you realize that. When there are no sirens we feel that everything is fine, when there are missiles we understand that we are still in a difficult problem. It was challenging."
So there may be someone in Florentine who hasn't stopped telling since then how, to his amazement, during "Guardian of the Walls" he met Oz Zahavi in the stairwell, who escaped from a set. Were you asked for a selfie there during the sirens or in some other inappropriate situation?
"It didn't happen to me right now. But I can tell you that during my wife's first birth I was very embarrassed that the attention was coming my way. There's my wife here, she's about to give birth, in pain. I quickly said that this was not the direction now, that my wife was the queen and the Slav and asked that all further reference be only to my wife. Luckily, no one asked me for a selfie when my wife gave birth."
"Raising money is a basic right, not something out of the ordinary." Oz Zahavi and his wife Hagar Danon (Photo: Rafi Deloya)
Your ex-fiancée, Lihi Kornowsky, is doing well overseas, including starring in the movie "Crimes of the Future." You've auditioned in the U.S. in the past, which didn't ripen for a breakthrough abroad. Do you still have international ambitions?
"Really in the past, when I had free time, I flew to the United States to do auditions. The truth is that I came to the United States because Asfur was bought by Warner Bros. A company representative came to Israel, met with me and arranged a six-month visa for me in the United States to audition. Sponsored me, so called. I came for six months, I even got a role for the pilot of the American 'Smokestacks', but the pilot didn't come to fruition. Eventually, my visa ran out and I returned to Israel. I didn't want to be there without status and evade immigration. In fact, over time I encountered all sorts of bureaucratic problems to get back there. I went back there a few more times, it cost a lot of money. And the world has changed, there has been globalization. And I also realized through this experience there, which lasted at the end of about a year of back-and-forth, that even if I lose a role in Hollywood, I don't play the same thing in English. Not that I'm saying you can't. But there is something about the fact that I play in this country a lot and am connected to our language. Language is our code of behavior. My characters are also very connected. I don't make detached elitist characters, but people you can identify with, because I live in our world. I am connected to streams in Israeli society and I have a way to influence. This is where I have the most to say. Slowly, I'm less interested in doing things abroad. Money is the only thing that interests me abroad."
Let's look to the future. Just before you celebrate your 40th birthday - where do you see yourself on your 60th birthday?
"I see myself at the age of 60 on some yacht in Italy. With belly. Very tanned. With Speedo. Yes, I will be with speedo, tanned, drunk, with belly. Hope the yacht stays above water. I'm pretty sure that at 60 I'll allow myself to have a belly. Or maybe not? Maybe I'll be like Tom Cruise?"
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- Oz Zahavi