The Wonders of Hana Laszlo

Unfazed by all the bizarre mishaps that have befallen her lately, Hana Laszlo, the funniest (and busiest) woman in Israeli entertainment, feels she's at her peak.

Mournful sighs aren't exactly Hana Laszlo's forte, being a woman who projects nothing but strength. So she was quite surprised when she was offered a part in the television series "Hanarganot," the Israeli version of the British series "Grumpy Old Men." She was very funny in this show too, of course, since "if you're going to complain, then you might as well be charming about it."

Even "Hana's Tragedies" - as the story of her life over the past few weeks might be called - hardly elicits a complaint from her. Her physical toughness is matched only by her emotional toughness. Some years ago, she underwent back surgery. "I was crawling on my belly," she recalls.

Was the operation a success?

"Some success! Can't you see I'm held together by Scotch tape?"

This was just the prologue to her travails at a Club Med in Turkey. After a period of hard work, Laszlo decided to treat herself to a rare, brief vacation planned to coincide with her 56th birthday. No sooner had she arrived, she slipped on her high heels and broke her ankle. The fracture was initially wrongly diagnosed by the Turkish medical staff. So much for the birthday celebration, so much for the vacation.

"Fortunately, I can only be miserable for 48 hours at the most. After that, I start to get bored and see if there's a way I can use the situation to my advantage. I work with what I have, not with what I don't, and I always prefer laughter to tears. I see what tools I have at my disposal, what horses I have in my stable, and then I set out to war, determined to win. This accident was the only thing that could have made me sit down for a little while in the midst of a frenzy of activity. Thanks to it, I gained the summer, I stayed in my air-conditioned home, I read all the books I never got around to before, I watched marathon sessions of 'Mad Men' on DVD and I occasionally went to the set in a wheelchair and filmed, on crutches, part of the new season of 'Revi'iat Ran' ['The Ran Quartet']."

Maybe these bizarre accidents are a sign that you need to slow down.

Katrielevka with an air force

No need for alarm; any morbid talk passes quickly. This is still Hana Laszlo, one of the funniest women the country has ever known. And even with all the recent mishaps, she still feels like she's going through one of the best times of her life. Once again, God elbows his way into the picture.

"I have to say, I am so grateful to God. I buried my parents, my children grew and flourished - may they stay healthy - and suddenly I got my life back. For years, we drag around the burdens of our lives and then suddenly we're free, in this free space where I can ask myself: So Hana, what do you feel like doing today? All of a sudden I can go to a cafe or travel abroad and there's no millstone of responsibility and commitment, only work, which has always made me happy. I don't need to please anyone, I don't need to inform anyone that I'm coming or going, I'm my own master again.

The Topaz case reminds Laszlo of the story of the flying cow. Just about everything reminds her of something, as her brain is always galloping. A busy shtetl Jew whose customers were pestering him told them there was a flying cow outside, just so they'd leave him alone. When he saw everyone rushing to see the cow, he excitedly closed his shop and ran after them. Topaz also believed in his own fairy-tale.

"In the theater, you can age with dignity," says Laszlo, "but I don't want to find myself just clinging on desperately. I'm already preparing myself for something like coaching. I want to work with actors, offer them what I can of my experience and my professional knowledge from all my years of working, because I never studied this in a formal way. Dudu could have developed in other directions, too, if he had just let himself do so. Not hang up your hat completely, but just realize that the golden age is over."

What have you learned from the Topaz case? Do the branja (media celebs) talk about it?

"What branja? What's a branja? I don't know what that is. I mostly meet colleagues at funerals or occasionally at fund-raisers. I have a dream, to open a new version of [Cafe] Cassit, a place where people can meet after plays, share experiences and professional tips, eat and drink and laugh together. That reminds me - the Israel Union of Performing Artists once held a fund-raising evening for a planned old-age home for artists. They even purchased a plot of land in Even Yehuda, I think, but I don't see any old-age home so I would like them to hurry up, because I'm well on my way there. Look, getting old is no great bargain in any case, but when it happens in front of everyone it's even harder. I look at Warren Beatty and I can't believe it. What's the meaning of this? He hasn't aged well at all, and I feel offended and betrayed."

And if he were to show up all of a sudden and beg for 10 minutes with you?

"I'd toss him out of the bed, but what I wouldn't do to him on the carpet!"

Hana's men

When Hana Laszlo, 56, enters the room, something interesting has to happen. And when she opens her mouth, you never know how, when and where the journey will end. She's always in a hurry, always chasing her own associations. Her sharp, constantly cross-referencing brain is always working at fever pitch, always engaged in mind-blowing acrobatics.

A random example: Laszlo talks about institutions that have been trying to book her prizewinning one-woman show, "More Hana than Laszlo," only "without the Holocaust part." To which she replies that she, too, would like a life without the Holocaust part. This is the show that restored her lost honor, she says, jumping right into a discussion of the film "Prizzi's Honor," which she's just watched on television again, shoving a paper napkin into her mouth to demonstrate how Jack Nicholson shaped his character in the film, so that his face and voice would resemble Marlon Brando in "The Godfather." Her imitation is hysterical.

She sprinkles her talk with English and Yiddish. A couple of her favorite phrases include hashbahat nekhes ("capital gains" - in reference to her more padded figure as she ages) and ad kalot ("endlessly, forever") such as in - "They laughed ad kalot," "I waited ad kalot" and so on. I love her ad kalot, I think she's a total artist and human being ad kalot, and can't fathom how anyone could think otherwise. Being against Hana Laszlo is like being against peace. Or against the sun.

"In an interview I once said that there's no need to turn sex into a rock opera, that in a marriage it's like brushing your teeth, and that I say to my spouse: 'If I'm sleeping, don't worry about it, just come on in and I'll wake up.' People make a big deal of things like that. Not long ago I was approached to take part in some book about female masturbation or something like that, and I was really taken aback. I told them: I'm no priestess of sex, I'm deep into the menopause, leave me out of it.

"I'm a cheerful person by nature, believe me, but still I know I'm hard to live with and that I need a lot of space. Like Clara, my alter ego, says: Artists are very sensitive people. To themselves. As far as we're concerned, the sun rises and sets out of our asses. It's too much for some people, this whole package. Anyone who really knows me knows that I'm a good person, a good woman, so it's nothing to be frightened of or feel threatened by.

"And I also have my quiet times, but if I had had a quiet and sheltered life I probably wouldn't have become the person I am today. Not long ago my son saw an old interview on YouTube, with Yaron London, and he said to me: 'Mom, you used to be a lot more delicate.' Well, obviously, I wasn't born this way. The roughness, the sharp tongue, the big mouth, the thick skin, I developed all these things over the years, because I had no choice."

For her, humor and comedy are vital necessities, not luxuries.

"What would we do without escapism? We have to escape. I'm constantly escaping, living in my own la-la land." A sense of humor about oneself is even more important, she says. She is not offended by her imitators, including Tal Friedman's crude caricature of her on the satire show "A Wonderful Country." "It was like taking a boil and enlarging it," she says. "And it was hilarious."

"With me, there are no secrets or lies," she says. But she refrains from talking about the "truly painful" things. That would be the "Pandora's box" of her marriage and divorce from producer Aviv Giladi, the father of her two sons, who went from being known as "Aviv who?" and "Laszlo's Giladi" early on in their relationship to becoming a media and entertainment powerhouse, and her marriage and divorce from businessman Benny Bloch, whom she once called "Benny Broch" (broch is slang for "disaster").

Zvika Pik was the big love of her youth. "His song, 'Young Lovers' is really about us. I was about 16, studying independently for my matriculation exam - youthful rebellion and all that - and he was playing in the Shokolada band at a club on Hamasger Street. I went there with a girlfriend, Zvika thought I was English and started talking to me in English. I had a short hairdo and was pretty cute, but not that aware of how attractive I was. Before long it was this great love. Instead of going to school in the morning, I would switch buses and take the number 63 to see him on Poalei Harakevet Street. His mother still lives there. I would get undressed and go to sleep with him, because he'd have just come home from a night of performing. His mother would leave us cream with strawberries, salami sandwiches and 20 liras, something like that, because all these rockers were flat broke.

So you're really quite a romantic, actually.

"I was. That all seems so far away to me now. Maybe the right person will come along and I'll be able to love again the way I did when I was a girl."

The award for interpretation

Laszlo learned from her father to stick to practical, pragmatic dreams, "close by, without going too far."

"I also like the sense of proportion I got from the award itself. In small gold letters, it says on it in French something like: 'Award for Interpretation of a Role.' Jessica Lange, Juliette Binoche and Sharon Stone were also nominated in the same category that year. It's stupid and idiotic to think I'm a better actress than them. But if the award is for the interpretation of a certain role, then it's plausible at least. I like how precise it is."

The Laszlo momentum is hard to stop. After a nice part in the Jane Austen-ish, Irit Linur-ish miniseries "What a Bachelor Needs" and a well-received appearance on a children's show about Naomi Shemer songs (both on HOT cable television), Laszlo is about to take part in the second season of the talked-about series "Hakol Dvash" and in Eran Riklis' film "The Mission of the Human Resources Manager" based on A. B. Yehoshua's novel "A Woman in Jerusalem," playing a forensic investigator.

In Moliere's "Tartuffe," at the Gesher Theater, she steals the show as the maid Dorine, in a chestnut wig, tight apron and French accent. Laszlo gushes with admiration for director and theater manager Yevgeny Arye, "who breaks down each and every scene, all the way to the temperature of the character." As usual, the description is followed by a dab of perfect mimicry: "He told me: 'Hana, don't do too much. Don't make it bigger. You're big and strong enough as it is.'"

Outside of working hours, she is very motherly, whether she's sitting across from you in a restaurant or confined to the kitchen of her neatly kept home. The crutches fall to the floor from time to time.

"A cripple's background noise, ignore it," she commands. To fans who shrieked upon spotting her in the restaurant, she says with a smile: "I'm lame, not deaf." Her huge eyes burn with zest for life and her contagious laughter can be simultaneously dirty and innocent, almost bashful.

What about dying on stage?

"I'd prefer to die laughing, if possible."