Without a doubt, Liraz Avni Segal, a gifted up-and-coming Israeli actor, had the most difficult part to play in the audio version of The True Adventures of Gidon Lev.
Liraz read the part of Gidon's mother, Doris, reading the emotional testimonial that Doris wrote about her time in the Nazi concentration camp of Terezin (Theresienstadt), near Prague, in the Czech Republic.
Amazingly, nobody had ever seen or read Doris' first-person testimonial before. It was buried in a folder marked "My Mother". Shortly after I found the testimonial, I sent a copy to Yad Vashem for safekeeping. What an incredibly heartbreaking and valuable document it is. But Gidon struggled with it.
Gidon had a troubled relationship with his mother throughout his life - before the Holocaust and after. But in the 12-page, hand-written testimonial (written an estimated three to four decades after she was liberated) Doris reveals exactly what it was that she experienced. Some of her memories matched Gidon's. Others did not.
Liraz had the courage to delve deeply into her soul as an actor and bring forth an aspect of Gidon's mother that he never knew. It was a revelation, years later, from parent to child. The reading was an emotional experience for Liraz and definitely for Gidon, as we worked to record this crucial part of the audiobook together. Though Liraz speaks English impeccably, her interview has been translated from Hebrew:
So Liraz, tell us about yourself! Where you born and where is your family from?
I am 40 years old, married, and the mother of three children. I was born and raised in Israel. My parents knew each other at Tzur Shalom in Kiryat Bialik after they immigrated to Israel in the 1960s. My mom was from Tunis and my dad was from Morocco. My grandparents on both sides suffered from the Nazis' harsh hands. When I was 10 months old, my family moved to Carmiel where all my childhood and adolescence experiences were. I discovered my love for acting and stage arts at an early age when I became involved in acting and dance classes in Carmiel's representative dance troupe and also in high school film studies.
In 1996, when I was 16, after I went off the stage after a performance I attended, I and my family (who had come to watch the play) received an unfortunate message that my middle brother Asaf was killed during a military service officer training course. This tragic event greatly affected my entire family and my personal worldview.
. Did you study acting formally? I am a graduate of Yoram Levinstein, one of the leading acting schools in Israel. It was an intensive three years of studies. Since then, I have done quite a bit of acting in Israeli productions and I also started a family. I continue to study the art of acting passionately and be prepared for any interesting opportunity that comes my way. The True Adventures of Gidon Lev was a special opportunity for me. I really connected with Doris' writing. What are your favorite Israeli movies, filmmakers and actors? Israel has always had excellent film and television writers and creatives. In recent years, the world has heard about Israeli films and tv series and I'm so proud of that! There are some films that I personally really like, such as Joseph Cedar's "Footnote," Savi Gavison's "Longing" and "Lost Islands" by Reshef Levy. Those are three creatives that I really love and hope I can work with. I had the privilege of working on "Ha-Borer", seasons 2 and 3 with Reshef Levy, who really has the ability to make the viewer laugh and cry in the same moment. I am hoping to work with him again and am always interested in creative opportunities that come my way. Have you done voice work before? This is the first time for me in such a project. It was really interesting and challenging. This role really touched me emotionally and creatively.
What was it like for you reading the part of Gidon's mother? When I read Doris's part, I felt that I had a responsibility to her. It was important to me to try as much as possible to understand her way of thinking - what she was feeling as she wrote the words, what came to mind for her - what she wanted to say - and what she avoided saying. During conversations with you, and getting to know Gidon, I felt that what Doris had inside was very different from what she may have said, outwardly. It was important for me to bring that into the performance those private, silent moments. Has there been anything in your life that helped you to connect to Doris' story, as a mother, as a woman, etc.?
When my brother Asaf died, I felt that the joy had been taken from my life. I pushed back at anyone and everyone who tried to support me. Somehow, I felt that they were just reminding me that my life was ruined - but all I wanted was to have my joy in life back. This created a stiffness in me, a resistance that looked like an outward acceptance but it wasn't. In fact, it has taken years for me to narrow the gap between what I really feel and what I allow myself to express. That experience reminded me of Doris and how she may have felt, surviving what she did and carrying on despite of it.
What would your advice be to actors doing voice work? It is important to understand the character's engine, so to speak. Why is it important for the character to say what happened when their actions were not obvious? I find this contraction very interesting. What would the character like others to think? Along the way, as I read the part, it seemed to me that Doris might have understood things that may have been new to her. I tried to imagine Doris sitting down to write things for the first time as she dared to reveal them on her own, giving rise to painful and private memories.