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Q&A: The Cast of the Chilling Israeli Shocker “BIG BAD WOLVES”

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The 2014 genre year already has one of its top titles with today’s release of BIG BAD WOLVES (see our review here), Israeli writer/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s mesmerizing revenge opus. The film has already won praise and awards at numerous festivals, and following its world premiere at last year’s Tribeca Film Fest, Fango sat down with lead actors Tzahi Grad, Rotem Keinan and Dov Glickman to chat about their roles.

BIG BAD WOLVES, which arrives in select theaters beginning today (see a list of playdates here) and on VOD and iTunes from Magnolia Pictures, centers on a horrific series of kidnappings in which young girls are murdered and decapitated. Believing that religious teacher Dror (Keinan) is guilty despite the lack of sufficient evidence to keep him in custody, rogue detective Miki (Lior Ashkenazi, from the filmmakers’ previous RABIES) plans to administer his own brand of questioning. But then both are abducted by Gidi (Grad), the father of the latest victim, who takes them to a remote house in the woods and imprisons them in the basement, planning to torture Dror into a confession. Gidi’s father, army veteran Yoram (Glickman), eventually becomes embroiled in the scenario, which develops a blackly comic side to compliment its heartstopping suspense and brutality.

Grad and Glickman are veterans of the Israeli acting scene (Glickman as a popular comedian), while Keinan is a newcomer—but all play roles that are uncommon in a country that has been slow to embrace genre fare. The skill with which the actors and their directors bring BIG BAD WOLVES’ scenario to life makes that likely to change…

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FANGORIA: Can you each talk about how you came to be involved with BIG BAD WOLVES?

DOV GLICKMAN: The directors and I made an appointment, and we met at a cafe not far from where I live in Haifa. They told me about the movie, and I read the script and liked it very much; I fell in love with it, and with the part, so I said OK.

ROTEM KEINAN: I came to the audition after reading only a few scenes, and it went very well. They sent me the script and told me, “The part is yours if you’d like to do it,” and I really liked the script from the first reading.

TZAHI GRAD: My story is similar; we made an appointment, we spoke about it and they offered it to me. I read it and felt it would be a big challenge for me, which ws a good thing; I wanted to be part of it.

FANG: Is Gidi a different sort of role from those you’ve played before?

GRAD: Yes, it is. It’s not that all the others are so similar, but this one is different from those. And a horror film with a lot of black comedy is also different from what’s going on in Israeli film.

FANG: Were any of you familiar with RABIES before you became involved with BIG BAD WOLVES?

KEINAN: I saw RABIES and I know some of the actors; it’s a very small country. But I didn’t know Navot and Aharon before. I really liked RABIES and thought it was a good direction to take Israeli cinema toward, making something a bit different from all the usual Israeli movies.

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FANG: Dror seems to have been a difficult role to play, in that the audience can’t know whether he’s guilty or not over the course of the film. How did you go about approaching that side of the part?

KEINAN: Well, it wasn’t easy, because I had to find for myself the right justifications for whatever it was Dror was doing. I understood that he should have a bit of a dual personality, so I took him a bit to the extreme in that direction. It was very challenging, but a good experience.

FANG: You also had to enact a lot of physical suffering; how was it performing all of that?

KEINAN: Well, it was not a picnic. Nothing really harsh went on—it was all very organized and rehearsed—but still, it was difficult. In scenes like that, you have to prepare your body, you have to prepare your mind to not be afraid, to trust your partners, trust the camera, to know everything will be all right once “cut” is heard. It was very good for me; I had never done this kind of work before, and I don’t think I’ll ever do something exactly like this again.

FANG: And Tzahi, you had to inflict all that brutality, but stay very calm and cool in character throughout the movie. GRAD: To play that side of the role, I think eventually I felt Gidi is like a spoiled boy who doesn’t get what he wants, and it’s impossible for him to act otherwise, like he’s in a psychological trap. So that was my attitude toward doing bad things to Rotem [they both laugh].

FANG: How was the experience working with all the makeup FX involved?

GRAD: It made things more difficult sometimes. On one side, it’s interesting to do something new or that you haven’t experienced before. On the other, it breaks up the nature of our work as actors, because you have to stop and do the effect again, and you have to be so careful about the technique. But we were professional, and got through it.

KEINAN: We came in very early in the morning and went home really late at night for those scenes. I had lots of blood all over me, and parts that were not mine, but duplicates. It wasn’t easy, but it was really fun, because we don’t do that in Israel a lot—or ever.

FANG: Dov, you’re involved in some of the more humorous moments—the black humor between the father and son. Did you enjoy those moments?

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GLICKMAN: Yes, but although I am a comedian, what was fun was not the humor, but playing someone who’s very different from me. Yoram is a man whose roots are in the land and the country, and I myself like to fly and travel. The military is in Yoram’s blood, [and you see that when] he asks Tzahi, “Do they teach you nothing now in the army?” That’s really far from who I am. But it was fun to do a genre, as Tzahi said, that’s uncommon for Israel, not just for us. It’s very dark humor, which is good “meat” for an actor.

FANG: I’m curious whether any of you are parents yourselves, and if that influenced how you approached your roles.

KEINAN: We’re all parents, I think.

GLICKMAN: Me, no. I am not a father; I have cats! I had parents, but I am not a parent myself.

KEINAN: I am a father, but I didn’t really make that a part of my work; just maybe at one or two moments in the film. It was very difficult to talk about pedophilia and child molesting and think about subjects like that. Once you create that mental image, it’s there forever, so I didn’t want to do that. I just developed my ideas about the character and went from there.

GRAD: There is something very basic about the idea of revenge, or doing something bad to someone who has done something bad to your child, even if it’s a smaller thing. Now, you can use that in the psychological work you do for your character, but normally, what we do when we’re acting is decide on small things along the way.

FANG: How was it acting for two directors?

GRAD: They work very, very well together, and that was good for us, because two directors could have made things confusing.

GLICKMAN: There was no pressure. They knew how to guide us to do what they wanted, yet feel it was our decisions. They love the work so much; it’s fun for them. Let’s see what happens after a number of years; maybe they’ll kill each other, but in the meantime…

KEINAN: They’re very symbiotic; it’s like two heads on one body, going to the right places. As an actor, I felt confident and safe with them in that situation, because I knew that if one of them told me something, the other would back him up all the way, so it was very comfortable.

Pick up Fango #330, on sale now, for an in-depth interview with BIG BAD WOLVES filmmakers Keshales and Papushado.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor, the position he holds to this day while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews.
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