''Prisoners of War' Is the Most Amazing Thing That Has Ever Happened to Me'

With a starring role in the second season of ‘Prisoners of War,’ this could be the breakthrough year for Hadar Ratzon-Rotem. However, success is going to her knees, not her head.

A week after completing her studies at the Yoram Levinstein Acting Studio, young actress Hadar Ratzon (now Ratzon-Rotem) successfully auditioned for a role in the Hollywood film "Rendition." Struggling to take it all in, Ratzon - who was 28 at the time - suddenly found herself on a plane to Morocco, to act alongside Jake Gyllenhaal. She played Safiya, an American CIA operative of Moroccan descent, in the film, which was released in 2007. It also starred Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep.

This week Channel 2 has started screening the second season of "Prisoners of War" ("Hatufim" in Hebrew, and the basis for the U.S. remake "Homeland"). She appears, alongside Assi Cohen (who plays an Israeli prisoner who was missing, presumed dead, in the first series), in a major role, which she performs entirely in Arabic.

"This is a role that requires entering into a different culture, a completely different world altogether," Ratzon-Rotem says. "The first season of the show succeeded in shaking me up as a viewer. And then I was hired and when the scripts arrived - I couldn't put them down. I was excited by the writing and the fact that 'Prisoners of War' is the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me. Everything is very sensitive and delicate, and revolves around relationships."

Ratzon-Rotem, 34, was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Hod Hasharon. In the army she served in the Intelligence Corps.

Three years after completing her studies, Ratzon-Rotem landed a role in the musical "Sigal," about the life of the late Greek singer Aris San, who helped to popularize Greek music in Israel. It was directed by Tzedi Tzarfati. Ratzon-Rotem played the part of San's partner, Israeli singer Aliza Azikri. "Singing was never one of my strong points," she recalls, "and I worked very hard on this for half a year with voice training, but it was totally worth it. Thanks to the fact that Tzedi Tzarfati was directing, a lot of casting people and industry people came to see the show."

After the school production finished, Habima decided to stage it as well. The production closed about a year ago, after more than 100 performances. At the same time, Ratzon-Rotem started appearing in another Habima production, "Lo Bayom Velo Balayla" ("Day or Night"), alongside veteran actress Lia Koenig ("The fulfillment of a dream," says Ratzon-Rotem ) and her partner from "Sigal," Erez Regev.

She also took her first hesitant steps in the field of television, and it seems that they are now coming to fruition. About two years ago, she acted in a pilot for the series "Hatel Aviviot" - inspired by "Sex and the City." The pilot did not initially receive a green light to progress to series stage. However, it was screened recently on Channel 10 and the pilot's ratings will determine the series' fate.

When the first season of "Prisoners of War" began (in spring 2010 ), it was severely criticized for exploiting the history of prisoners of war after their return home. The first season was broadcast before Gilad Shalit's release and, along with the criticism, it also chalked up impressive ratings and was among the highest-rated Israeli dramas of all time.

The American version, "Homeland," recently won Emmy awards for outstanding drama, best screenplay (the creator and director of the original version, Gideon Raff, was also one of the creators of the American series and one of the winners ), and best leading actor (Damian Lewis ) and actress (Claire Danes ). The American version - whose second season is currently being broadcast both in the U.S. and Israel - also won a Golden Globe for best drama.

Ratzon-Rotem says that the character she plays in the series "took over my personal life. I loved her and the writing and the directing, and I loved working alongside Assi [Cohen]. He is so talented - the only person who can make me cry from laughing so hard - and he is a wonderful work partner with phenomenal skills."

Did you think you would wait six years for your first big role?

"When I was cast in the film ['Rendition'], there was a lot of flattery directed at me. An American production is a big thing, and there's no Israeli actor who doesn't dream of it. I, in the most naive way, was sure I was set for life and from then on was going to be working. I had an amazing experience, but the film wasn't such a great success. And although I had realized a dream, I had started so high and no one, in fact, knew me. You could say that even though I was exposed at a very high level, I didn't remain in people's minds."

What did you feel?

"It was hard for me. I had to seek odd jobs on the side. I worked at anything and I believed it would happen. I know a lot of people in the profession, also people who studied with me, who have given up and I can understand their despair - it's very hard. I believed something big would come along for me, but there's no doubt that you wait and thirst for this and it takes time. An actor who gets a taste like that wants it all the time."

Is this your breakthrough year?

"That's very nice and flattering, but it makes my knees weak and scares me. I am always industrious and dedicated to the work and the filming. This season is excellent; the whole story has taken a new turn and I also have been given a great character. She is an extraordinary woman, even though her main wish is to live a normal life, in a normal relationship."

Ronen Akerman