Ido Mosseri
Ido Mosseri Photo by Yanai Yehiel
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So how tall are you?

"Don't go there."

We're waiting.

"I'm short. You want a number? Will I get something out of it?"

Maybe. "One meter 65 [165 centimeters, or 5 feet 5 inches]. But it's not just the height. My mustache started growing in the sixth grade. I was the first in the class. That was more of an issue for me than the height, because I was still one of the tallest in the class, and then I suddenly stopped while everyone continued to grow. I was a hairy dwarf who was shaving at 12. It took me a lot of time to understand that I was probably OK. By 'a lot of time' I mean to this day. I'm still surprised when girls hit on me."

Two years ago, Ido Mosseri starred in Adam Sandler's imbecilic hit, "You Don't Mess with the Zohan." He had his own trailer on the set, and at night he went to parties with Madonna, Demi Moore and Natalie Portman. When he went to Los Angeles for the premiere he stayed with fellow cast member Rob Schneider. On a visit to Israel, Schneider brought Mosseri a new screenplay by Sandler, "Born to Be a Star" (scheduled for release in April 2011 ), with a role created for Mosseri as a producer of adult films. Mosseri returned to the United States a year ago to do the film, which stars Don Johnson ("there's a scene where I snort cocaine with him" ) and Christina Ricci.

But Mosseri also had a musical dream. The release of his debut album, "Fear Games," which he worked on for four years, was timed to coincide with the premiere of "Zohan" and was marketed as being "by Adam Sandler's pal." Mosseri flew back to Tel Aviv to do a promotional tour for the album, but radio stations ignored it and only a few hundred copies were sold. It was a flop.

Last month he performed at Tel Aviv's Levontin 7: just Mosseri, a piano and about a dozen songs, half of them poems by Nathan Zach set to music and the remainder by Mosseri himself. The audience of 20 included the performer's mother, sister, brother, sister-in-law and a few friends. There were only five people whom Mosseri did not know personally. "The loneliness of the long-distance artist," he commented from the stage.

These days, his life is performing in half-empty venues and guest spots on television. He has not yet broken into the Israeli film industry. "The transitions between the United States and Tel Aviv are sharp," he says. "It's not easy."

Temporary suffering

Ido Mosseri, 32, is a very busy theater actor. He can do comic and dramatic roles; he sings and he dances. He was raised in the affluent Tel Aviv suburb of Tzahala. His mother, Rachel, served in an army entertainment troupe before "devoting herself to raising her children"; his father, Tzachi, is an engineer. He was very young when the stage bug bit him, a toddler playing with his brother Tal, now an actor and popular children's television presenter.

"I was two or three, he was five," Ido Mosseri recalls. "We had a big stereo, with a microphone and an amplifier. Tal recorded himself as a talk-show host as I would switch roles and go crazy in the background. We were always doing shows at home. We turned off the lights and used a flashlight as a spotlight. I don't know where it came from, because we hadn't seen any theater at that age."

By the time he was eight he and his brother were working in a Cameri Theater production of "The King and I." "That was the first time I was on a professional stage, with rows [of seats] for the audience and an orchestra pit," he recalls. "I felt I had come home." He played Anna's son; Tal was the son of the King of Siam.

At the recommendation of a homeroom teacher, the brothers transferred to a school for arts. Two months later, they were hired for "Tofsim Rosh" ("Chilling Out" ), a teenage hit on state television, the only channel that existed in 1980s Israel. "From there things moved very fast," he says. "From anonymous kids, we became part of the business. The Cameri took me for 'Les Miserables' and then for 'Macbeth' when I was in the sixth grade. I finished school at three, rehearsed for Tofsim Rosh until seven and then headed for the theater. My mother drove me. That was our passion, in the same way that other children play soccer after school.

"It wasn't conscious. The genes and the talent are apparently from our mother, but her parents prevented her from continuing on the stage. They thought it wasn't serious and that you couldn't make a living from it, so they sent her to study literature at the university."

At first, Tal Mosseri was far more famous than Ido. Their parents, Mosseri says, did not discriminate between them. "They were able to strike a balance between us; they are geniuses. Tal was the first one who pushed me to do things. That set the course for the lack of competition between us. We are good brothers more than we are good friends. There are boundaries between us. We're not like buddies who talk about girls."

As a youngster, he was more successful than you.

"I didn't like the things he did on the TV series 'Young in Tel Aviv' and I didn't think much of the series artistically. But I saw that he had girl fans and was having a ball with all the guys and girls, and I wanted that, too. So I followed him there."

Did that generate envy?

"Yes, on the part of a 14-year-old for his 17-year-old brother who was surrounded by female groupies. Looking at the reruns on Channel 33 now, I want to leave the country. I look awful ... terrible acting. But Tal's big breakthrough was on the Children's Channel. I was at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio and people referred to me as 'Tal Mosseri's brother.' I suffered, but I knew it was temporary."

Now you are the more famous one.

"Not really. It's true that tourists sometimes recognize me and are usually more excited than Israelis, but in Israel Tal is better known."

Did your success in Hollywood change the relations between you?

"No."

Elusive intimacy

Mosseri had his first serious girlfriend in high school ("the healthiest and sanest relationship I've had to this day" ). His second steady girlfriend was the actress Shiri Gadni, whom he met when they were both at Nissan Nativ. They blossomed together professionally. "We were both immediately accepted into the young group of the Gesher Theater. I directed, she wrote. We were young and promising, 24 years old. When we started living together a year later, a kind of difficulty came up. It's a type of coping that requires practice, and Shiri had practice, because she had already lived with a boyfriend before. For me it was the first time. The illusion and the dream of love and a romantic relationship was shattered by a hard daily life in which you have to work on the bond and cultivate it, even if things aren't always rosy. I found myself hurting her and hurting myself. The separation was long and hard. I went to the other extreme: I didn't want any commitment, I didn't want to hurt others or myself. I became a fickle libertine and avoided any type of intimacy for a few years."

"Right now I am at a kind of intermediate stage," he says. "I understand that I want and need a relationship and I want to establish a family, and I'm preparing myself for that."

But why isn't it happening? "For fear that I will not be able to give myself, with my shortcomings. I also have a longing for freedom, for independence, to do whatever I feel like whenever I feel like it. I am not really a bad boy. Even when I was going out and drinking, I usually went home drunk and alone. I was afraid to be told no. I was turned on by a lot of girls, but didn't do anything about it because I'm not a tall blond."

What does blonde have to do with it?

"Nothing, really."

Enter Adam Sandler

After acting school, Mosseri embarked on a safe path - becoming the latest former wunderkind and present theater actor, with a stable but lackluster career. He acted in Gesher Theater productions and then signed on with the Cameri Theater. But despite his performances in a series of impressive productions, he was unable to make the leap into films or television, which is where the bread is buttered in Israel's small acting industry.

"In the five years after I finished acting school," Mosseri relates, "apart from 'Our Song," a 50-minute drama on cable television, and a small part for [the director] Uri Barabash, I just couldn't get a part anywhere."

Why didn't anyone want you?

"I have no explanation. There are actors who work and suddenly disappear - things go by trends. Someone suddenly becomes popular and lands every part, and someone who is serially rejected, like me, loses his confidence. I fell between the cracks in terms of looks and image. It took people time to digest the situation: Is he still a kid? Is he a mature actor? In the theater, in contrast, they are not after precise typecasting or what you project in close-ups. It's talent that counts. "

Deeply frustrated when he was invited to audition for "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," a movie about an Israeli war hero who fakes his death in order to launch a career as a hair stylist in New York, Mosseri told his friends acidly, "For sure they want me to play a corpse, or a soldier who says two words. And they won't even take me for that, because I don't get parts anywhere."

But after looking more closely at the script, "I said to myself, A, it's funny, and B, I can do this. I understand the character. I came to the audition, at which the Israeli casting director was Bruria Albek. Naturally, all the big stars were waiting in line. I didn't believe I would make the first cut. When I came out of the audition I felt unsatisfied. I went home and told my sister that it hadn't gone 100 percent. Suddenly, boom, my brain did a flip-flop: I have to do it exactly the opposite! As an insecure underdog! I called the casting director, which is really not done, especially with my defeatist experience, and asked if I could do another take. She said, 'Sorry, there's no time. You had a good audition, relax.' But I insisted. I got there at 11 at night. Afterward, I felt that that was it, I had done it, and I went home to sleep.

"A few days later," he continues, "at 7:25 in the morning, I had an SMS from Bruria; 'Call me urgently.' I called when I got up, at 11, and she said, 'You've made the first cut, we want you to go to L.A. in a few days.' I said, 'You see, it was worth coming back for the second take.' Bruria said, 'I didn't even send the second take to Los Angeles - it was horrible.'"

Mosseri was called for another audition in the United States, but missed it: the Cameri Theater was unable to release him on such short notice from the plays he was committed to, and the Hollywood production refused to move the date. His dream seemed to be fading. "But on Friday night they called to say that they wanted to see me, after all," he says. "I was flown out on Saturday, business class, at their expense. Someone was waiting for me at the airport with a sign with my name on it, and the next thing I know, Adam Sandler opens the door of his suite for me wearing boxer shorts and an NBA T-shirt. Straight off he gives me a hug and says I remind him of the young Al Pacino. I was asked to prepare three scenes, and after I did them they asked me to adlib another one. In the end, Adam said, 'Congratulations, you got the part.'"

Mosseri returned to Israel to arrange things with the Cameri and then went to Los Angeles for three and a half months of the six months it took to shoot the film.

Why so long?

"Because there was money. The movie was shot with a budget of almost $100 million. You can't hide your enthusiasm about the conditions there. They gave me a dream apartment, in a complex with a swimming pool in the middle. And a Jeep. And a private trailer on the set. And expenses. Every week, like clockwork, an assistant producer showed up. You don't have to chase after them because of all kinds of delays - it's cash in hand. And on weekends, Adam invited us to play golf.

"But I was scared, too," he admits. "I had never done a movie in Israel. Maybe I would be bad? And in English, too. But from the first day, I felt good. The camera is more sophisticated and there are a lot of donuts on the side, but it's the same work I have known since the age of eight, and sometimes in the middle of night shooting we went to play basketball on a court in the studio, with Adam cursing me as being half-gay because of my style of play. We also went out a few times and he said bitterly that he envies me because I can still be a swinger while he is married and his wife is pregnant."

Did you swing?

"The American girls didn't even spit in my direction. I look like an especially unattractive Middle Eastern type, and in the dating culture of Beverly Hills, money talks. There was a disparity between the glam and the working conditions, and the fact that I was alone. When I told people I was acting in an Adam Sandler film, they didn't believe me. All told, I met two girls there. The first was introduced to me by a local friend. The second was an African-American woman whom I started to hug in a vulgar and uninhibited style in a diner when I was drunker than usual and fed up with not being able to make it with the local girls. But things got upgraded from one trip to the next."

Girl problems weren't the only thing that made his stay in America tough. "The whole Hollywood thing flummoxed me for a long time. At first I was in euphoria and thought my life was about to change. The Americans I worked with told me I would be an overnight star in Hollywood, but I found out that it doesn't work like that. The possibilities open to me there as an Israeli are limited.

"The fact that I got a part in a huge movie is a one-in-a-million shot, and it happened because it was a movie about Israelis - and how many of them are there, when all is said and done? There's a language barrier and I don't have the young and hungry spirit to devote two years to intensive lessons on my accent and acting lessons in front of a camera in English. I don't feel it in my gut. My manager in Hollywood sent me to three auditions in three years, including the role of a terrorist. That's not what I want to do as an actor. So I am focusing on a career here, in Israel. To act in an interesting Israeli movie is just as alluring for me."

But that's not happening now, either.

"It will happen. I have a few auditions. Patience."

Mixed feelings

Until it does happen, Mosseri is clinging to a modest television career, with guest parts in a funny but marginal comedy series, "Bobby and Me," in the third season of the drama series "The Arbiter" and in other series that will soon be broadcast. For stability he has the Cameri Theater, where one of his roles is Motel the tailor in the hit musical "Fiddler on the Roof." Occasionally he plays Guildenstern in the Cameri's long-running production of "Hamlet," and he had a part in the eccentric opera "To Get out of Here," which recently closed.

As of last week, he is also appearing in "Restless Night," a musical based on the songs of Shlomo Artzi. The feeble plot is about a man who leaves home, and while looking for a place to sleep encounters a few people, including his ex, who is hosting the character played by Mosseri, who is cheating on his wife with her.

Behind the scenes of the star-packed production the atmosphere in the past few weeks was largely one of panic. The opening date was postponed for three weeks, from mid-June to early July, after Shlomo Artzi came to rehearsals. According to one source, Artzi was disappointed and started to work more closely with the actors. (This is denied by the Cameri and Artzi did not want to talk about the production ). Unusually, the rehearsals were closed to the media until just before the premiere. A skeptical tone can be heard in Mosseri's voice, too, when he talks about the play: "But I don't remember any production I was involved in when I didn't say the same things," he adds.

Theater work leaves him with mixed feelings. In the past month he has been immersed in work and getting home exhausted: rehearsals for "Restless Night" until the evening and then a play to do, sometimes two. In between, he has to find time for filming. "'Fiddler on the Roof,' for example, is pure pleasure," he says. "But it's not easy to do such a demanding musical so many times. It's wearing. On the other hand, if you plunk me in any other profession today, I would certainly find it psychologically difficult, even to be a waiter."

Did you ever try?

"I have never done anything else. And that is why I am stubbornly staying with 'Fiddler' and trying to get through the difficulties. Believe me, it's hard. And yes, it's all relative."

His home library in his north Tel Aviv apartment, near Independence Park, contains the complete works of the Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin alongside Hermann Hesse and Dostoevsky, musical scores and a little kabbala (out of curiosity - he says he doesn't really believe ). The musical keyboard is balanced on two chairs (the stand broke ) and next to the computer there is accompanying musical equipment. On the floor are weights he lifts under the supervision of a personal fitness coach. He proudly shows off his new coffee machine, which he received for taking part in a publicity event. But the brew it produces is mixed with soy milk (at the coach's order ) and the result is quite repulsive. For our next meeting, he promises to have regular milk and healthful cookies.

He lives pretty well, though he notes that only lately has he begun to pay attention to economic issues. "I grew up in a well-off home and I didn't have to deal with making a living, but with fulfilling myself," he says. He enjoys a regular salary from the Cameri, plus a per-performance premium. The stability is good for him, he says. Even though he has lived the theater since childhood, he thinks that "all actors really want to be rock stars."

His album flopped, he says, in part because of his movie success. "I think the marketing approach was wrong," he explains, "and it's also a matter of timing. Without the Zohan, Ido Mosseri would not be all that famous - partly an actor people remember as a child, partly 'the brother of' - and the ground would have been more fertile for the media and an audience. The first single was released in conjunction with the movie, which totally grabbed the focus. Hed Artzi [the music company] tried to get the single played on the radio and wrote, 'Adam Sandler's pal releases a single.' So people wondered why he was suddenly singing. Isn't he supposed to be that funny guy from the Zohan? They thought I was taking advantage of the movie to put out a song. It was a boomerang: people took more of an interest in me because of the movie, but not necessarily what I wanted them to take an interest in." (A Hed Artzi spokesman: "The company was also disappointed that the album did not take off despite its efforts." )

Is it hard for people to take sensitive, contemplative texts from an actor, especially one from the comic side?

"I myself do a double take when I hear that an actor is releasing an album. It's narrow-minded, I know - it's hard to believe in a multi-talent." W