Sex, Drugs and Breastfeeding: Israeli Actress Marina Shoif Has No Regrets

Nirit Anderman
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Nirit Anderman

There are probably those who remember Marina Shoif from the days when she would feature prominently in newspaper gossip columns, earning herself the reputation of a decadent young woman who led a wild life, uninhibited and drug-fueled. Shoif, who was then dating the actor and director Uri Hochman, undoubtedly helped cement that image when she took on the role of host for a nighttime television sex show, in which she invited viewers to share their fantasies and doubts about their relationships.

Today, in her tastefully designed and quiet Tel Aviv apartment, with her hair cut short and a beaming smile, Shoif announces proudly that she managed to get her 1-year-old son to sleep a few minutes earlier, and as the interview begins, she settles herself comfortably on a pillow she places on the living-room carpet. She radiates simplicity and pleasant honesty and a sort of relaxed moderation, restrained and convincing, that contrasts utterly with her old image.

She smiles. “Yes, there was a period like that, but now it seems to me like a totally different life. Today I have two small children, and half a glass of wine in the evening is enough,” she laughs. “My wild days are long gone. They started with the beginning of my career as an actress, when doors were just beginning to open for me, and yes, they were mixed with flickerings of one kind or another - graver or subtler - of acting out.

“I came from a very strict home, with a very rigid upbringing. From the time I was a little girl, I was always told what I would do, what I would study, what I would think, and what I would become. I guess when my life finally opened up for me and the framework I had been in for years was no longer there, and also I started to succeed and make money ... suddenly the reins came loose. It overwhelmed me.

“I enjoyed that wild period a lot. Maybe because of my basic nature and strict upbringing. There was something very constricted and extinguished in me at the time ... and this thing now allowed me a bit more confidence, freedom. Suddenly I didn’t care what people thought, and the tongue loosened, and my speech flowed more easily.”

About seven years ago, after she broke up with Hochman, Shoif also broke with that way of life. “It had come to unpleasant situations, because I suffered from bad anxiety, and I myself apparently wanted something else already,” she says. Abandoning that way of life forced her to combat herself to change habits, to get rid of addictions: “It was a gradual transition, not a sharp cut. I began doing yoga and taking an interest in other things, so they would fill me up from inside.”

Today Shoif has no regrets. “I wouldn’t change a thing. I guess back then, I had some internal need for this rebellion, and ultimately it may also have given me something, the rebellion itself or my struggle to come out of it afterward,” she explains.

About five years ago, she fell in love with Shai Koller, then a career army man ‏(he was discharged about a year ago‏) who lived in another apartment in the same building. The couple got married and a year later had a daughter, who is now 3. Two years later a son was born. When he was 3 months old, Shoif went to shoot the film “Waiting for Surkin,” directed by Jonathan Paz. She did not hesitate, took the baby and a babysitter to the set in the north, and stayed there for several days.

“It was really nice: going on the set, breast-feeding, going back,” she recalls. “The baby had a good time too, he was out of the city, in nature, lying on the grass in the sun, and it was nice for me to get away from routine.”

“Waiting for Surkin,” currently being screened in theaters, is an autobiographical comedy-drama based on the life story of Hanoch Paz, the director’s father, who was a theater director on Kibbutz Mizra. The film is about an amateur theater director ‏(played by Ami Smolarchik‏) on a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley in the 1950s, who dreams of directing at the Habima national theater in Tel Aviv. He hopes his friend, the famous actor Aharon Surkin ‏(Uri Hochman‏), will help make his dream come true; in the meantime he devotes himself absolutely to the stage and neglects his family.

Shoif plays the protagonist’s wife, a tough and energetic kibbutznik who is dedicated to farm work. “I come from that place a little bit, from the lofty ideology of believing in the collective,” she notes. “My family is like that, communism in our blood. My mother was tough - no caressing, no hugs. Today it’s very different, but she was raised that way too, so I know it first-hand.”

Shoif is also appearing in “House of Wishes,” Haim Bouzaglo’s new television series on Channel 1, in which actors enlist to dramatize or realize people’s fantasies. In both the film and the series, Shoif is acting alongside her old beau, Hochman. “We have a really good connection,” she says. “Uri is one of the only people I know who has no malice whatsoever. With him, what you see is what you get, so it’s very comfortable. After we split up, there was a long period in which we did not meet, but when we reconnected, it was an excellent connection. We meet all the time, and he and my husband Shai get along great.”

Marina Shoif was born in 1974 in a small town in Russia’s Ural mountains; at 16 immigrated to Israel with her parents and brother. The family settled in Kiryat Yam, and after she graduated from high school Shoif enrolled in biotechnology studies. Before graduating, she went to visit relatives in Berlin. There she happened to meet the director Menachem Golan, who was casting for a film he was preparing to shoot, in which he offered her a tiny role. That was enough for her to catch the acting bug. When she returned to Israel, Shoif did not want to work in biotechnology, and switched to studying acting at Beit Zvi, in Tel Aviv.

It took three or four years before she began working, but once the dam broke, the offers came pouring in. Among other things, Shoif had roles in several TV series: “Take Away,” “Zinzana,” “Case Closed,” and “Pick Up.” On the large screen, she has appeared in, among other films, “Colombian Love,” “A Weekend in the Galilee” and “Still Walking,” as well as Eyal Halfon’s 2005 “What a Wonderful Place” ‏(which earned her a nomination for an Ophir Award for best supporting actress‏).
On stage, Shoif has appeared in “Dvorah Baron” and “Oil Town,” at the Cameri, and in “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Enchanted April” at the Be’er Sheva Theater.

‘Never on a payroll’

Fifteen years ago, when she was starting out in her career, Shoif did not consider following in the footsteps of many actresses of Russian origin at the time: joining the Gesher Theater, for example. “Gesher was a lot more closed back then than it is now,” she says. “Yevgeny Arye [the founding and current director] was there and it was kind of a pressure cooker - at least that’s how it looked to me then, from the outside - and I really didn’t want then to become fixed in a particular place.

That is also why I’ve never been on a payroll at any theater. I’ve always moved freely from role to role. Obviously I also paid a high price for that, in that there were periods when I had no work, periods of stress.”

In the early days, when she was struggling to break out, Shoif actually tried to get rid of her Russian accent, “but it only got worse,” she admits, grinning. “That was after studying at Beit Zvi, when things weren’t moving and my agent kept going on about how things wouldn’t happen because I came from Russia. Back then there were hardly any Russian actresses, aside from those at Gesher. I worked on my accent with opera singer Rema Samsonov and speech therapist Dafna Mercer. We did exercises and I gargled a whole lot of this ‘reish’ to get it to come from inside, from the pharynx,” she tilts her head back, demonstrates and laughs.

“We also worked on the vowels, because in Hebrew there are five vowels and in Russian many more. But the harder I tried to work on it, the worse it got. And really, today as well, my accent is less noticeable the less I pay attention to it, and the more self-confident I am.”

Shoif’s Russian accent channeled her into various parts over the years, but she says she landed her more interesting roles despite rather than because of it. “That is how it was, for example, with the series ‘Case Closed,’ which launched Channel 10 back in the day,” she explains. “I got to that audition pretty much by accident, but it worked, and they took me to play a character called Rona Halfon. And then there was actually a debate about whether to change her name, or justify it somehow. I think that in one of the episodes Reshef had already put in something about the character’s Russian roots.

“A similar thing happened with Uri Barabash, when we did ‘Reserve Duty.’ At first when they suggested me to him, he was very opposed, didn’t even want to meet me, but finally, after he didn’t find anyone suitable for the character of Tamara, he agreed. It was a great experience for both of us. I even think it opened up something for him, because by his next series, Evgenia Dodina [a principal actress at Gesher] was playing the lead, even though her character was not Russian.

“I think the audience is usually open to accepting such casting,” Shoif continues. “In my eyes, the concern of certain creators that something won’t go over well, and therefore the desire to put it into some familiar mold, to be on the safe side, is wrong. I believe that in creative work, the moment you have introduced something different, it can be accepted immediately as is. So, if there is a possibility of opening people’s minds and getting them to give up stigmas - that is wonderful added value in my eyes.”

Shoif is currently appearing in the Be’er Sheva Theater production “Why Didn’t You Come Before the War,” as well as in an independent production, “Hagvul” ‏(“The Limit”‏). “It’s a play about sexual harassment, and I view it as a mission of sorts,” Shoif notes. Her dream is to strike out on her own someday ‏(“I want not to be dependent: to be a creator-actor - that’s what I wanna be,” she says, smiling‏), but she realizes that at present, as the mother of two small children, there is no chance of squeezing that challenge into the routine of her daily life.

Shoif enjoys acting in front of the camera, devoting herself to the meticulous precision the craft demands of her, but the theater gives her a special thrill. “I love theater very much, and when I don’t have it, I really miss it. I guess there is something in the substances the body excretes when you’re on stage. It’s a bit like how I felt in my wild period, right?” she laughs. “There is something uplifting about being onstage, the energy, the openness it requires. But only if it’s a good play, of course. Because if it’s a bad one, you emerge with your whole body in knots.”

Marina Shoif in the Be’er Sheva Theater’s "Enchanted April."Credit: Yossi Zwecker

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