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Mark Ivanir

The human resources manager

Mark Ivanir | Photo by Giulio DoniniThe Human Resources Manager of Jerusalem’s largest bakery is in trouble. He’s separated from his wife, distanced from his daughter and stuck in a job he hates. When one of his female employees, a foreign worker, is killed in a suicide bombing and her body remains unclaimed, the bakery is accused of inhumanity and indifference. He is sent on a mission to make things right and embarks on a complex journey, beginning in the streets of Jerusalem and continuing in a post-Soviet country. The Manager finds himself leading an awkward convoy to the dead woman’s village including her rebellious son, a pesky journalist, a quirky consul, an old veteran driver and a coffin.

Beatrice Biggio (Fucine Mute): We have the pleasure to talk to Mark Ivanir, here in Locarno to present a film he plays the leading role in, The Human Resources Manager, under the direction of Eran Riklis. Let’s start by talking about this film. We saw the press screening and loved the film. At first I wondered: “Why is this not in competition?”. Then I saw the cinematography, and I thought, well, thank God it’s being screened in Piazza Grande, because it’s so amazing. Mind you, it’s Rainer Klausmann’s work, so… Can you tell us about the journey inside this film? It is an inner journey as far as the character goes… we understood as much.

MI: Yes.

BB: How did you live through this inner journey, as a character? And, also, I would like to know, personally, as an actor?

MI: Oh yeah, definitely. It was extremely challenging to begin with. When I saw it I said this to someone, that when I was shooting it I kind of regretted I took it, because it was a bit… As an actor, you want to act, and there’s not too much acting there, per se. There’s so much happening around you, and not too much that you contribute to. But I think it was a very interesting process, in hindsight, looking back at it, it made it, I think, for myself, a deeper journey into an emotional geography of that character as well as who I am. The reason I think I really connected to this guy is because he has an identity crisis, he is in a space where he kind of reached a wall and there’s no way out, and he needs to reinvent himself in order to keep on living and not be emotionally dead.

Mark Ivanir

I guess I was in that type of situation about ten years ago, twelve years ago, I was in a very successful theatre, I was a theatre actor playing leads, doing a lot of things in this womb-like theatre and at a certain stage it took me a few years to realise I hit that wall, there was nothing I could do that would change what was happening then, I was stuck. And I remember very vividly at that time the feeling of being in a coffin, in a place where there’s no air, and I had to reinvent myself, I was lucky enough to be able to, actually my wife pushed me to make a change. We went to England, I studied directing there, I met a French teacher, Philippe Lioret, who… I didn’t want to be an actor anymore, I was at a stage where I thought I’d be a director, and he revitalised the juices of acting. And then, we went to Los Angeles, instead of what I was supposed to do, go back to the theatre and be a director there. And I went to Los Angeles, and the great thing about California and Los Angeles is that it’s a place where people come to reinvent themselves, and so I reinvented myself. So, although it is a totally different journey from this guy, I could relate to the principles of what happened to him, I guess.

BB: Did you find that this multiplicity of experiences you’ve had, the theatre, the circus, all that, prepared you to hit Los Angeles in a different way?

MI: Yes. I think that… a lot of people come to LA as the completed product, you’re a star in your country, and now you’re going to make it big and go to LA. I wasn’t a star in my country, I was a well known theatre actor within the theatre community, but I didn’t do anything big TV and filmwise. So for me going to LA was… I went there because of my wife’s job really, I just dragged along, so for me, I think, it was very comforting to feel that the expectations weren’t on me. So I had the time to gradually getting to understand what the hell is going on in this city, what do I need to do, how do I need to handle myself, my career, etcetera etcetera… And I think this time, that journey that I had there, because I had enough time and not too many expectations — that helped a lot — and my life experience (I was coming there at the age of thirty-five) it was much easier than if you were a young star of twenty-two.

Cast HRM | Photo by Giulio Donini

BB: It also might have helped that you weren’t typified so much, because you’ve done so many different things…

MI: I tried. I think I made things go that way, because what I hate is to have myself being pidgeon-holed with my own eyes, so, you know, my wife and kids are now used to it, but I wake up in the morning and I’m a different person. ‘Cause I shave off, and then I grow a moustache, and then I have a beard that I glued on… which is basically for myself, not to get bored with my face, and try and create something new. Because I studied in the circus and the masks in street theatre, like actors they go either from the inside to the outside or the ouside catalizes something inside, so I go from the outside inside, the way I look helps me find something inside.

BB: So why was it that in that particular period of your life you were somehow bored with masks and you wanted to go in front of a camera?

MI: I think I was stuck, I wasn’t very good in theatre, apparently, looking back at it, it wasn’t my thing. In the theatre they really wanted me to go behind the scenes, and I did, I was a translator, the director was a genius, assisting for many years I was his translator and I did both. But he kind of pushed me, he wanted me by his side, being behind his ear and saying stuff to his ear and then going and taking over from him, which wasn’t good for me. I guarantee, now I know I wanted to be an actor. What I think just hit me, that I didn’t know about when I came to LA, was that I didn’t think I would be doing theatre anymore, whereas when I was in London I was doing theatre. And then I realised, a few months after I was there, what I really wanted to do was film, and camera. And I think it was a good decision for myself because, as an actor, I’m much more a screen actor than a theatre actor, my energies are smaller than that, I feel comfortable to play it diminished, small. When I’m on stage… You need to have some kind of energy on stage that has to reach the last row, I don’t have it, I don’t have the voice, I don’t have the rhythm and the tempo of a theatre actor, though I did it for many years, I think I’m much more a screen actor.

BB: As far as The Human Resources Manager goes, even the producers told us that it was very much of a concerted effort, and that the group worked very well together…

MI: Definitely.

A Woman in Jerusalem by A.B. YehoshuaBB: This shows very well on screen, of course, and it gives the film that life that Yehoshua’s book, and the director’s work is about. How did the writing process behind the film influence this concerted effort, how did it come into play? And I mean both the book and the excellent screenplay by Noah Stollman?

MI: I’ll tell you two things about it, first about the production. I’m reading a book now… most people in Russia don’t know about this now, but in the sixties and seventies there was a famous Russian theatre director, Anatoly Efros, and I’ reading a book about his work in theatre that he wrote. I was reading it the other night and there were two things that struck me: one is about art being magic. At its purest, art is magic. And he says, in the theatre as well as in film, you have forty, fifty, sixty, a hundred people in a team creating art. If one person in this group is not in tune, the magic is not going to happen. Magic happens when everyone is in unison, I think. And, even then, a lot of times it doesn’t happen. And then, another thing that Fellini said, he said that sometimes actors are cruel, they’re like the sailors of Columbus, all they want is go back home. And I think on this production, they really wanted to discover America, they tried, we tried. So in this sense, I think that this production really, feelingwise, for me, had the kind of magic that hopefully translates onto the screen. As for the writing, I think, above and beyond anything else, Abraham Yehoshua is a genius, I love his books. And this one, when I read it the first time, I wasn’t so thrilled about it, I have to say. A lot of question marks, I had to read it once again and once again, it’s a very complex book, it deals with political and social statements, and it has philosophy about love, and death, and God, the passion. The film doesn’t have it in its title, the book is called The Passion of the Human Resources Manager, the movie doesn’t have that part. And I think a good writer creates a world, a great writer creates a multidimensional world, I think this one is multidimensional, and I saw it in the movie, because, even though we did a totally different thing, even though we had to go away from the philosophy because it doesn’t fit into the film, the world he created had enough for this type of project to take off and have enough layers and enough dimensions to make a whole, to make another world. So he creates a world that is actually a multi-layered world and has many options.

BB: Did Yehoshua come to the set at all?

MI: Once. I don’t know whether he was allowed or not, maybe he doesn’t like to come to sets, but he just came once and sat there for twenty minutes, I don’t think he even waited for the scene to happen, then he went away, I don’t know exactly why. But he was there once.

BB: You’ve done so much in your acting career it’s so difficult to summarize them… it’s so complex…

MI: I just do it to make it difficult for you guys to figure it out!

BB: For example, you’ve worked with people like Spielberg and De Niro. Are you always able to relate to everyone in a relaxed way, is there any considerable difference in working with Spielberg or De Niro or Riklis?

Mark Ivanir | Photo by di Giulio DoniniMI: Well, let’s take Riklis versus Spielberg. With Eran it was a very big part, so it was a different way of working because the communication and cooperation is great, because it’s kind of… it’s not co-authorship, because it’s Eran Riklis’ and not my movie, but still, the magnitude of screen time… And Eran was amazing because he let me in and gave me a license to create, and didn’t stop me, which was, really, ego-wise, it was amazing. So, a different experience coming to Spielberg’s movies. Schindler’s List was a big part but it was never that big, so I can’t really compare them. I can say that with Spielberg I had an interesting experience, because the first time, in Schindler’s List, I was really inexperienced, and I did stupid things. I had my agenda of how the part should be, and I kind of pushed it, a bit too much, to a stage where he got angry with me. Hopefully, he doesn’t remember that. I don’t think he did, because he took me for two more movies, later! But it was very dumb of me, and mainly due to my inexperience. Then the other projects with him, well, there’s a very good relation now, not that we talk on the phone, but when I come to set, he’s an extremely pleasant man. He’s a very generous director, he lets you bring your staff, which is what I like to do, and what he likes, so it’s very comfortable. De Niro… It wasn’t a big part in the movie, but a very big part in the five days we shot, it was a very big scene, and in that sense, yes, I had a lot of feedback by De Niro, not different from what Eran demanded. I think it was the same decision from a director to say “I pick this man to do this part”. I think that is difficult. I didn’t pick Joseph or Jacob, I picked Mark. So I’m going with what Mark brings, and I think I felt the same in The Good Shepherd with Bob De Niro, which is amazing.

BB: One thing I was curious about is, as every man who grows up in Israel – you were actually born in Ukraine, but you were brought up in Israel – going through your military service you must have had lots of experiences that may be interesting material for your job as well… And is it true that you were approached by the Secret Services to join them? Did that kind of career appeal to you in some way?

MI: Well, the military you have to, at least back in the Eighties, when I did it. It was not only mandatory, socially it was unacceptable not to do that, so you did it. I did it gladly, too, because I was eighteen and enthusiastic about everything, that’s why they make military service for people of eighteen, nineteen or twenty and not twenty-nine, thirty or fourty. At the end of the Army I actually had a moment when I was thinking of taking on a military career, and had the Secret Services started offers when I was twenty or twenty-one, maybe I would be a Moussad agent right now. Or not. But I think it started a bit later, and pretty quickly, after I left the military, I discovered what I wanted to do. I became a clown, and an actor. At that stage, tht’s what i wanted to do, so when these offers started coming, I said: “No, thanks, I think I found what I want to do, Sir”, so I’m good with that. And the other thing that I wanted to say about that is, you know, we have cycles in life. So, they say, every six, seven years everybody dies and rejuvenates itself and is different, and I feel I’ve got within me, being in my mid forties, I have many people within myself who are Mark Ivanir, but we’re not the same Mark Ivanir. I’m the one who’s talking to you now and I’ve got a bunch of them sitting inside me, so I think that the military Mark and anything that came after that in those ten years wasn’t who I am now. So I can use it for what I do.

BB: You can, even just because you know how to sit in a tank…

MI: I love what you have in the Commedia dell’Arte, it’s called Zibaldone, so I loved that image, they had the actors starring as very young people and they would change masks as they would grow up, you would have the young lovers, who didn’t wear masks, and then you had the Capitano, who was a young soldier, and then the Dottore, Pantalone. So it’s the same, actors just go through the masks, so each one has a craft which is his Zibaldone, and I have all these things in my Zibaldone.

The Human Resources Manager

BB: One last question, then I’ll let you go… I’m very interested in your Holy Rollers project, because I think it’s quite an amazing story, although I don’t know the director, Kevin Ash…

MI: He’s a first time director.

BB: Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

MI: It’s based on a true story, of Hasidic Jews in New York at the end of the Nineties. It started with an Israeli Mafioso in New York who came up with a brilliant idea of using Hasidic Jews to smuggle exstasy between Amsterdam and New York, because no one would stop them and he found a guy who was a religious Hasidic Jew but he went south, he became a criminal, and he started enlisting others, and they didn’t know what they were doing, they told them they’re smuggling medicine, but it’s illegal because the FDA or whatever doesn’t approve it but it’s fine, so they’re actually smuggling medicine that helps people, and they did it for, I don’t know, two years or something, they smuggled a lot of drugs to the States. Of course they caught them in the end and they went to jail. An American producer saw the story and decided to make a movie out of it, he approached Jesse Eisenberg who’s a great, great guy, and an actor, and suggested he plays the lead. Jesse said yes because he loved the story, and he started bringing friends of his, he brought Justin Bartha who was in The Hangover and who’s a great guy, and then he called me because we worked together on the Richard Gere movie, The Hunting Party, and we became friends, so he asked me would I want to do that. Yes, say I! Actually we met and he said to me, I was doing something in New York and he said: “There’s a really interesting project, and I’m learning Yiddish”, and I said: “I speak Yiddish, did you know I spoke Yiddish?” “Well, then I need to talk to them about that”. And then I didn’t hear from them for a long time until they called me and said there was an offer to play his father, who is a fifty-five year old guy. And it was a very interesting experience because I played a father, and, being a father to two young girls, I tried to translate my experiences as a father to being the father of this guy, and in many ways it’s not so different because he’s a father who’s disappointed by his son who is a drugs smuggler , and I tried to find a way to relate to it through even when my daughter disappoints me and it’s something small, and I’m angry at her. I tried to take this and use it on a bigger scale to what happens to someone, a religious person, whose son becomes a criminal. There’s a scene I loved, it’s about being a father, definitely about being a father and when your role breaks, and I really really hope it’s not going to happen to me.

BB: Let’s hope not…

Mark Ivanir, actor, was born in the Former USSR in 1964 and immigrated to Israel in 1972. After his army service he began his artistic studies with juggling and appeared in the circus in France. Mark is a graduate of the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio. He participated in plays of the Cameri Theater and in productions of the Israel Opera before he joined the Gesher Theater, where he was a member for 10 years. He participated in a number of Israeli TV series, including the successful Franco & Spector. Mark has also been a translator of fiction and plays from Russian to Hebrew. His Hollywood debut was in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Since then he appeared in American TV series such as 24, Hill Street Blues, CSI and Alias. Among the films in which he participated is another film by Spielberg The Terminal (2003), The Good Shepherd (2005) with Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon, The Cutter, Cries from Ramah, Mr. &Mrs. Smith, When do we Eat (2006) with Michael Lerner and in 2007 The Hunting Party with Richard Gere.


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