'Unorthodox' Star Shira Haas on Her 'Overwhelming' Emmy Nomination and Possible Season 2 (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
Does Emmy recognition for Unorthodox mean Esty's journey will continue? According to star Shira Haas, it's unlikely -- but still a possibility.
The four-episode Netflix series debuted in March, starring Haas as Esty, a 19-year-old Jewish woman who escapes her unhappy arranged marriage in an ultra-Orthodox community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, to find her mom -- and herself -- in Berlin. The show is inspired by Deborah Feldman's 2012 autobiography, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. On Tuesday, Unorthodox earned Emmy nominations for Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series, for Haas.
"I’m still processing it, to be honest," the 25-year-old Israeli actress told ET over the phone, shortly after the news broke. "I'm very excited and grateful."
From the costumes to the customs to shaving her head and learning Yiddish, taking on the role of Esty was a challenge for Haas -- but extremely rewarding.
"One of the most challenging things for me [was crafting] the complexity of Esty, because I feel like she’s really meek, but at the same time she very tough and she’s stubborn and she knows what she wants. She’s very fragile and vulnerable, she wants to please and you need to bring this tension in every scene and also every sentence," Haas explained. "If we’re talking [the biggest] challenge for me, it would be bringing these conflicted emotions at the same time. But also, practically, learning a language and accent that you didn’t know, it was also very challenging in a beautiful way."
The actress thinks Unorthodox's nominations speak to the show's ability to connect with audiences, and encourage a new type of storytelling.
"The fact that this show managed to touch so many people's hearts and to get to so many people with the fact that 50 percent is in Yiddish, it just shows that it [transcends boundaries]. For example, when I read the script, I felt attached. It's a different culture, and a very different person than me, and I still see myself in this character. And people, maybe they're getting tired of seeing only themselves. I think people want to see someone that looks different from them and still manage to see themselves," she shared.
Haas' ultimate goal is to be able to "connect people through art." "Even though we’re different, we’re all human beings. Being attached to the accent or other kids, the other characters, even though they are so different from you and wear different clothes and talk a different language, you still feel for them," she said.
Though Feldman wrote a follow-up memoir, Exodus, centering on her life as a single mother outside the Hasidic community, the creative team behind Unorthodox has said that the series was envisioned as -- and will stay -- a mini-series.
"As far as I know, [there won't be season 2], but you know, who knows? It's always a who knows," she optimistically shared. "It was always meant to be one season... But I love Esty from the bottom of my heart, so of course I'd be happy to get back to her. But as far as I know, it’s one season and that’s it."
So, where does Haas think Esty ended up? Season 1 concluded with her decision to stay in Berlin, and seemingly have her baby -- but fans still aren't sure if her audition was enough to get her into the conservatory, or what the future holds for her possible romance with Robert (Aaron Altaras) as her husband, Yanky (Amit Rahav), returns to the U.S.
"I guess a lot of people are interested in her romance life, and my answer always is, she will be with Esty, OK guys? That’s the thing," Haas said, adding that she wants to believe Esty's audition was enough to get her into the conservatory, and that she'd be focusing on that, her baby, and then romance.
"She still has a whole life to build. We don’t know exactly what will happen, but while working on the last scene, my thought was, 'I don't know what will happen, but I know that I have me.' Esty has herself. She is strong and come what may, she will get through it. She finds her strength and this is what it is about, even in general. I’m sure she’ll face lots of challenges, but I’m positively sure she’ll be fine."
Haas' reaction to the series' Emmy nomination went viral, as her co-star and good friend, Rahav, shared an adorable video on Instagram.
"I have also [a video] of my nomination. I was so shocked," she said, gushing over being able to experience the special moment with Rahav. "We talked a few days before. We were both very excited. We're also neighbors, we live really nearby, and he said, 'Let's do it together.' He came, and it was so meaningful and powerful to see it live and to see it together. He's a partner but he’s also a good friend of mine and we were so excited."
Haas is up against Cate Blanchett (Mrs. America), Regina King (Watchmen), Octavia Spencer (Self Made) and Kerry Washington (Little Fires Everywhere) at this year's Emmys.
"It's really unbelievable, really crazy. Those are actresses that I really admire, that I'm a fan of," Haas told ET. "It's a dream to me to work with them, to meet and to be on the same list with them. I mean, the Emmys -- just to be nominated is kind of like winning to me in a way among these huge names."
"I feel like I’m still really processing it -- and I'm not just saying that because it’s a standard thing to say. I honestly feel that," she continued. "It’s overwhelming and beautiful and I’m very grateful, really. Really, I’m taken away."
And in addition to Emmy recognition, Unorthodox has also earned praise from some celeb fans. Kelly Osbourne previously changed her Instagram bio to "future wife of @Amitrahav8," and other stars have reached out to Haas directly to express their admiration of her work.
"Barry Jenkins, the director, wrote on Twitter, and I freaked out. And Jodie Comer, who I really love -- she’s also nominated and she’s great -- we texted each other. There were so many [people who reached out], and it really, it was really amazing," Haas excitedly revealed. "There are people that are supporting [the show], and it’s amazing to get that support from people that I admire and look up to. I’m very grateful for it."
The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards will be handed out Sunday, Sept. 20 during a live broadcast hosted by Jimmy Kimmel on ABC.