In a world in which Osama bin Laden threatens the husband of singer Whitney Houston, the object of the arch-terrorist's fantasies, it is difficult to compete with humor, actor Menashe Noy says, with amused resignation. But he still succeeds in doing so. He manages to be funny while explaining, with the blank expression so characteristic of him, that he definitely identifies with "the man who guards my black sister" from her aggressive husband.
And he succeeds in portraying the character he has adopted in a series of short films broadcast on the Internet, at the YouTube and LiveVideo sites: Papadizi, a Greek shepherd from Macedonia, calls out to various American personalities from Hollywood and elsewhere from among the oak trees (he was photographed in a forest in the Jerusalem region). In heavily accented English, he explains to them why he is looking for "an American woman" for himself.
These Internet clips, which Noy shot virtually on his own, will now be adapted into a TV series, to be broadcast on the Yes satellite network next year (it, too, will be in the shepherd's same broken English). Shooting has not begun yet, but it has already been decided that Tiki Dayan will play the shepherd's mother, Moni Moshonov will be the head of the Greek village from which Papadizi comes, and Keren Mor - Noy's wife in real life and in other TV series, including "Parashat Hashavua" - will play the woman Papadizi almost married, but whom he left at the last minute.
Sharing Schwarzenegger's wife
Sporting a beard and wearing a gray sweater over a white shirt, with a cross on a chain dangling on his chest, Papadizi looks straight at the camera and turns to his friends from "the Internet village" - "Mister Spielberg," "Mister Bill Gates" and other people whose opinions matter and who have plenty of money.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is among them, too. In one of the films, Papadizi can be seen running away, with a red mark on his forehead. He explains to the viewers that a sniper is trying to get him, the exterminator from "The Terminator," or perhaps even Arnold Schwarzenegger, who portrayed him. The shepherd tries to persuade California's governor to share his American wife with him. "One night you, one night me," he tells him. "That is the capitalist custom in our Mediterranean village. Why do you always want to kill someone? Why aren't you romantic like me, and more of an American gigolo like that Richard Gere?"
Papadizi likes to talk about his erection. In one of the short films, it even seems as though he is about to expose it, but fortunately he is wearing long gatkes under his rolled-up pants. In many ways, he is a kind of Borat with goats. "He also resembles Peter Sellers, Zorba or Roberto Benigni under Jim Jarmusch," Noy says of his alter ego. "He comes from the periphery and talks about the predominant culture." Noy speaks with reservations and, he says, out of fear of the evil eye, about a plan that is at a relatively early stage of development. "Unlike Borat, who presents his homeland Kazakhstan in a bad light, Papadizi loves his country. He is also not a laughingstock. He is smart - perhaps not educated - but certainly with it."
Is he a high school graduate?
"Sure, sure. He studied for 12 years."
Are you making that up now?
Whenever he is asked, Noy insists that Papadizi - whom he loves - is not a complete caricature. "He is proud of the fact that he comes from the cradle of Western civilization. He refers to the old argument between America and Europe about cultural superiority, and clearly represents the European viewpoint that holds that 'everything started with us.'"
Do you identify with this concept?
"No I don't. I'm Jewish."
Yearning for an American Everywoman
Papadizi, Noy says, "is one of those dark men who wants a blonde, anything from Marilyn Monroe to Paris Hilton. It is not clear whether he differentiates between them at all. During the Middle Ages, there were morality plays featuring Everyman - his aspiration is for an American Everywoman. In her he sees everything he is lacking in the village."
The choice of Keren Mor, with her light hair, to play the village woman Papadizi rejected in favor of his yearning for an imaginary woman, is of course an inside joke. But it is also a dig at the shepherd, who wants a blonde from a far-off country so badly that he rejects the blonde next to him. "That is your interpretation," is all Noy will say - he is not prepared to comment on his repeated practice of portraying couples with his real wife.
Whatever the case, while the connection between Mor and Noy is known to Israelis, most of the people who view Papadizi's exploits online know nothing about either him or his creator. Yet, this did not prevent many of them from sending written and filmed responses to the short films. The site, which was bought by Google (Papadizi also turns into "Mr. Google" in one of the clips - he is very well-mannered), features a response to the shepherd received from two youths from India who explain to him what is wrong with his longing for an American woman. There is also a film from a Canadian woman, who proposes herself as a parody of the woman of his dreams.
How did the videotaped production for the Internet come into being?
"It started as a spontaneous thing about a year ago. Uri Sasson approached me to make some sort of TV series. We tried to promote it with the franchisees and in various other platforms - without success. Then we decided to give this medium a try and we created the character. I was curious to return to a situation of anonymity and elementariness. To me, it's like a street performance. Like Hyde Park, where you take your box, stand on it and speak to the crowd."
The Auschwitz simile
As mentioned, those who gathered around the virtual box did have something to say. "Some of them wanted to educate Papadizi; they were angry that he did not have a credit card or a mobile phone. How could he want to try to be a part of the world without them? There was a clip from a woman announcing that she wants an American man. Most of those who responded identified with the statement against globalization."
The site has received quite a few hits - at least half a million. Noy does not know exactly what this translates into in terms of exposure, but he and Sasson went to Yes with 30 prepared installments and succeeded in persuading the satellite company to translate the initiative into the recognized TV format of 24 minutes, once a week. For now, 15 installments are planned. Noy says that in the future, he would like for the show "to be broadcast continuously, so it will be possible to access at any given time, like the Internet." This new series, which has already proved that it attracts a universal interest and is produced at a low cost, is yet another one of the brilliant format ideas grabbed up by TV bodies as if they have struck gold. When asked whether he does not consider it a mistake to be on the lookout for new formats all the time, rather than searching for quality and content, Noy fixes his gaze on the questioner and responds: "That is like asking an inmate of Auschwitz if he feels like his life is in danger."
Are you sure you want to use that simile?
"Yes," he replies, and for a moment it is not exactly clear whether the actor in the black T-shirt and the stylish sunglasses has entered into the character of the loquacious and extrovert shepherd. And then he adds: "It's like asking Ehud Barak whether he feels now that he is playing with fire."
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