Secret Diary of a Haifa Kid

"The Secret Diary of a Call Girl" is a British series about Hannah, a chic and likable woman who chooses to make a living from prostitution because she really loves sex, and is good at it.

It's that simple. No trafficking in women, no drug addiction, no oppressive pimp, just a trendy life, meetings with interesting people, nice clothes, amazing wigs and a sexy moniker (Belle du Jour). It's no wonder that the series, which airs this week on Yes Start 1, is a hit in Britain and on the American channel Showtime.

Hannah's best friend, Ben, thinks she works as a legal secretary at an international firm and so sometimes has to work nights. The British actor who plays Ben is Iddo Goldberg, 33. He grew up in Haifa until the age of 10, and has lived in England ever since.

From his apartment in Golders Green, an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood "with young and liberal sections," as he describes it, Goldberg talks about his Israeli past and the role that has brought him some fame. He does it as he folds his laundry and looks for matching pairs of socks.

The conversation is conducted in English with bits of Hebrew, which he is slightly embarrassed about. "When I was 8 or 9, I remember that one of the kids in class went to the U.S. for a year and when he came back he had a heavy accent," he says. "It was embarrassing. That's how I sound now." Despite his periodic visits to Israel ("my father has a twin brother and his entire family is in Haifa"), his Hebrew was weakened over the years.

Accent is everything when it comes to a foreign actor, he says. The absence of a foreign accent when he speaks English lets him play a variety of roles, unlike many Israeli actors abroad who play terrorists. But he is also pigeonholed into certain roles sometimes.

"Many times I played the part of a Jew. You walk into an audition and people want to see the real thing," he says. It doesn't bother him. "When I was younger, I thought an actor could play everything. Maybe it was naive to think that. When I play the part of a Jew, it's actually nice."

He is now shooting the film "Defiance" by Edward Zwick, who directed the films "Blood Diamond" and "Glory," and created the television series "Thirtysomething," "My So-Called Life" and "Once and Again." "Defiance" is about three Jewish brothers during World War II who flee from a Polish village to the forests of Belarus and join the partisans.

"My role is not a big one," he says. "I play Yitzchak Shulman, a man who runs away from the ghetto at a time when they still didn't believe that people really did run away to the forests."

When he lives in England, he identifies with his Israeli side. "I watch the news on television; for example, the terrorist attack at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, and I'm heartbroken. I have a very strong connection; I love my roots. I don't forget where I came from," he says.

"I have fond memories of the Reali School in Haifa, and of other places. When I saw the movie 'Borat' and heard Sacha Baron Cohen's Hebrew, I enjoyed being in on the secret. But when I come to Israel, I feel so English. Pale and refined."

Goldberg started his career as an extra. "I didn't enjoy school, I didn't want to start a college education. I was a bit lost. I started working as an extra in films and discovered that it's fun. I went to all kinds of filming sites and saw famous actors. I got a lot of money for watching the work of people like Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn and Phoebe Cates, and like a typical nerd I was drawn to it.

"It wasn't at all like the extras on the Ricky Gervais television show I like a lot. But it amused me to listen to the other extras who were complaining about the food at the film site, talking about past experiences in comparison to present ones. 'I worked with Tom Cruise and he's such a sweetie,'" he says, imitating one extra. "People want so much to belong to this glamorous world."

Unlike the stereotype of TV show extras who long for the day when they get a role with a few lines, and that day never comes, Goldberg got a television part shortly after working as an extra. He appeared in the British TV series "Holby City" and "Skins." He actually had speaking roles; the problem was with the clothes.

In the first episode of "Attachments," about a start-up company, he played a programmer who doesn't really communicate with his surroundings. "In the first episode, I appear seated in front of a computer completely naked."

In "The Secret Diary of a Call Girl," on the other hand, he is just about the only one who doesn't have to strip. "On set, everyone is wrapped in robes, except me. It's embarrassing," he says. "I know this is a very Jewish way of looking at it."

Is he disturbed by the way the show portrays prostitution? "I won't tell you that it's a wonderful professional choice; if I had a daughter, I'd rather she didn't engage in it. This series is not Amos Gitai's 'Promised Land,' I admit," he says, referring to the film about the smuggling of Estonian women across the Sinai into Israel. "But the series fulfills a fantasy; it makes viewers feel special, because Belle shares a secret with them."

He is enjoying the success that "The Secret Diary of a Call Girl" is experiencing. "It's really nice. Opens doors, boosts confidence. It's better than a lack of success," he says with English understatement. "But I'm sitting now and folding socks, so as you can see, nothing's really changed."