'Game of Thrones' Was Only a Springboard for Israeli Actress and Singer Ania Bukstein

The last three years have been the best in Bukstein's career. She tells Haaretz about the similarities between her and her character in the new film 'A Quiet Heart' and why she wanted to get married through the Rabbinate.

Ania Bukstein.
Alex Lipkin

On New Year’s Eve Ania Bukstein stepped onto the giant stage at the Tel Aviv Convention Center in a leopard-print dress and performed her new song “Dancing” to thousands of fervid dancers. The D.J. was Ofer Nissim, who also does record mixing for Madonna and Pet Shop Boys. Bukstein owned the stage, letting the artificial wind blow through her hair, and seemed to enjoy every minute.

The song’s video clip was released at about the same time. Her provocative poses in scant attire and pole dance shattered Bukstein’s cool, calculated image.

“I’ve never done anything as intense as this song,” she says with surprising candor, especially since the last three years have been the best in her career. She appeared in a few scenes of “Game of Thrones,” was praised for her role in the TV series False Flag and a few songs from her 2013 debut album made it into Galgalatz’s coveted playlist.

The small part she played in “Game of Thrones” opened doors for her and she says she will soon be able to tell us about an international project she is involved with. She is also to appear in a National Geographic drama series alongside Geoffrey Rush, who plays the role of Albert Einstein.

The character of Naomi, protagonist of the film “A Quiet Heart” – to be aired on Thursday - couldn’t be farther away from the strip club and provocative clothes in the clip. Bukstein, 34, plays a young woman who flees her destiny as a promising pianist. She wants to withdraw from the world and wipe out the hopes of her parents and milieu. She finds a ghost apartment in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood, only to discover that there, too, she would feel alienated and threatened.

Bukstein, whose musical career was cut short at the age of 16, found quite a few similarities between herself and Naomi. “My character undergoes a crisis and stops playing, both because she loses the passion for it and because she feels she’s not good enough. I, in contrast, was never a good pianist. I was a girl who played with passion but I didn’t have really good technical control. I stopped playing the minute I felt I couldn’t be good at it and love it and get excited by it. Still, it was a very big crisis,” she says.

“I studied it from the ages of five to 16 but then entered the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts and realized that I must put an effort either into acting or into music. I chose acting and singing. I knew I was letting my teacher and father down. Although he always worked 12 hours a day my father always made sure to hear me play one hour a day,” she says.

When Bukstein wanted to marry her partner, Dotan Weiner, about a year and a half ago, the Rabbinate started looking into her family tree, claiming it wasn’t certain that she was Jewish. Bukstein launched a struggle that led her to a headline-making meeting in the Knesset, at which she told MKs of the hurtful situation she was in.

Ania Bukstein.
Asher Fremot

How similar is the movie heroine’s struggle to her own? “Actually I see the connection between the stories. There are people here who want to take over things that aren’t theirs. It can be an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood or a place to pray in. It can be a physical place people try to invade or something more emotional, to do with your identity, that they try to define for you,” she says.

She recalls that during the shooting, some six months after she was married, she received a phone call from former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who wanted an appointment to see her.

“He wanted to hear how he could improve things. I agreed and went to see him. He made great efforts to show me he was attentive. He even listened to my songs, right before me, on YouTube, to get closer to me. I told him I didn’t envy him for having to represent an archaic, bullying organization and that I deeply hoped for his sake that he would be able to bring change,” she says.

“And then, while we were still shooting, someone from the Rabbinate was interviewed about my story and said that I ‘got my Judaism back.’ I remember how angry I was. It was adding insult to injury. Ultimately, nothing has changed. Until we separate state from religion, we’ll be stuck in the same spot,” she says.

Why was it so important to you to be married in a religious ceremony with a rabbi? Why did you need the approval of those who won’t recognize you?

“I don’t need them to take me into account, I just need them not to stand in my way. It was important to my mother that I get married through the Rabbinate. You have to understand, I wasn’t born here. My parents came to Israel for Zionism, something I appreciate a lot. They came to Israel with 700 shekels in their pockets and nothing else. Without a family or anyone. Two 32-year-olds with a seven-year-old girl. They did it because they wanted to live here. And now, when you come to marry off your only child and hear those things – it’s offensive. I didn’t insist on getting their approval. Who are they, anyway? It’s just that their decision to interfere in something related to my identity is awful. I fought against it not because we’re religious but because we’re Jews and we value that and have survived many hardships. And I’m proud of it.”

So you’re a real fighter.

“In the end we got married and it was great but the fact that gays and lesbians can’t get married yet is a disgrace to all of us,” Bukstein says.