I love interviewing people my own age. Chatting with Odeya Rush was no exception. The 17 year old, Israeli native, possesses talent for days, which she displays in this summer’s most anticipated film, The Giver. As Fiona, in the movie, Odeya’s finesse and wisdom shine though as she crafts a deep and moving performance. She is one of the only people (let alone teens!) who can say they’ve held their own in scenes with Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges…so clearly we can all learn something from her. In this interview, Odeya discusses how she made her dreams a reality and became a very giving actress.
MC: When did you catch the acting bug?
OR: I have four younger brothers: they are two sets of twins one year apart…When they were younger my mother would tell me, “Go do something with them. Occupy them, I need a break.” I would sit them on the steps and pretend to be their teacher, pretend to be a princess and I got a reaction. I liked that and then they got older and we would write plays together and I would direct them in the plays and direct them in movies on my iPad. I’d [also] do plays in school. I have always been really involved in shows at school and with directing and writing. I really love it.
Did anyone or anything inspire you to pursue acting?
I just got into it from watching a lot of movies and loving it. I think Natalie Portman in The Professional. I saw that movie when I was her age when she filmed it. I think I was eleven when I saw it. It just really struck me because…it was just amazing to see someone my age really carrying a movie…I was just so excited to see someone so young in such a dark role carrying a whole film. It really proves to you that it doesn’t matter what age you are or where you come from (she’s also from Israel), it really just inspired me.
Once you decided to make acting a career, what training did you do to work on your craft?
I first went to an agent when I was twelve and he told me I had an accent because I came from Israel and lived in New Jersey for a little bit, so I had a little bit of a Jersey accent. I worked really hard on fixing my accent. I went to a few sessions with a dialect coach and I did a lot on my own. I taped myself and perfected my “ah’s” and “A’s” and all these sounds we don’t really have in Hebrew.
I was thirteen when I came back to my agent and I started auditioning for things. I got Curb Your Enthusiasm, SVU, and Timothy Green and that was kind of the start.
What was your Curb Your Enthusiasm experience like? Are you comfortable with improv? Is it something you like to do?
Yeah, it was my first job and my audition was improvised too. My dad was waiting for me in the car and he was circling around the block…I was given a little piece of paper that said, “Pretend you are playing strip poker and you keep winning.” And I was thirteen and I didn’t know what strip poker was and I told my dad, “Abba what is strip poker?” He had to explain to me and it was okay because I was winning the whole time. It was really fun.
I hadn’t seen Curb Your Enthusiasm but I was really serious about it so when I got the job I had two weeks in between and I watched every season and every episode. I got really into it so when I met Larry David, I got really star struck because I had seen so many episodes back to back. It was so fun. I think it was a really good first thing to do.
Do you have a funny or worst audition story you like to tell from when you were first starting out?
The auditions for The Giver…I remember getting the breakdown for the role, I remember reading the synopsis for this character and I had this feeling—I don’t know why—that I was going to go out there and I was going to get this character. I had a feeling in me…Auditions are usually ten to fifteen minutes and this one was maybe an hour long and we did each scene so many times. At the end, Phil [Noyce], the director, said “Alright, good.” And I walked out feeling…[like] I didn’t know what was happening to me. I felt so down and then they called me back again and apparently they liked me. I got called back five more times. It was just very long but the director’s assistant, Warren, read with me the first time… What [I] would do [is] sometimes forget [my] lines a little bit. [But] he would keep reading even if I messed up my line. If I read my line and I had another line after it and I forgot that line, I would just stare at him because I didn’t know that line… and he would keep staring at me. Now we’re good friends, so I just make fun of him for it. It’s so weird, he was the worst reader, he didn’t keep going.
What specifically did Philip Noyce have you do during those auditions and how did it help you prep for the movie?
Towards the last meetings and auditions we actually did it with the apple and one time I even wore a dress…We acted out the scene where I walked through the door. There’s a scene where I walk through water and walk through a door. [We] really staged it out and it was a really good warm up because I got really comfortable with it. So when I got to the set they knew how I was going to do it.
Phil just takes it to a whole other place. You read a scene and you think that that’s where it’s going to go and Phil just brings out the best out of everyone. He just knows how to do it and he knows how to get what he wants and he’s so willing to try so many different things. That’s what makes it so brilliant. I’m really thankful that we had all that rehearsal time in the audition room because [I] got comfortable in a place and [it] didn’t feel stale when we actually filmed because Phil brought it to an even greater place.
Fiona, in the book, is a few years younger than the Fiona in the movie. How did you use the book and script to bring Fiona to life?
Fiona is not that complex in the book. She’s more a symbol of a crush. You can tell because she takes care of the old in the book and in the movie she takes care of babies. You can tell she has this nurturing, warm touch to her. So, I volunteered at a hospital in South Africa and spent time with babies just so I could get this natural—even though I did take care of my brothers when I was younger—I just needed some tips from the nurses and just some little things that nurses would know. I think because Fiona is older, my character is much more expanded and the love story is expanded and there’s just a much bigger arch in the film for [her].
You got to work with some incredible talent in this film. What did you learn while making this movie that you plan to incorporate into your next projects?
I learned from Jeff [Bridges] and Meryl [Streep] that you really have to be fearless and open and willing to jump in and do anything. And Jeff always says, “Don’t take life too seriously and don’t take this too seriously.” Jeff really enjoys what he is doing and I hope I never lose that.
What’s your advice for aspiring actors?
Coming from Israel from a small city and then [moving] to Alabama, I think you need to know that it’s possible. You need to try to do everything you can do. Do plays at school, direct stuff at home—it doesn’t really matter where you come from. Your dreams can come true. I’m living my dream right now and it happened kind of fast, too. With all the no’s you get, and you will get a lot of them…I came out to LA and I didn’t get The Giveruntil after six months so I had a lot of auditioning for bad parts and a lot of them said no to me. Sometimes you get down when you’re being [told] no so many times but you can’t give up or let that get to you because you will be right for something. There is a part. There’re a lot of parts that are going to be filled by you and only you are right for [them]. You need to be patient. I’m very happy that [The Giver] is the one I was right for because it will launch my career on a really good path. ♦