I recently got the chance tot talk to Yaniv Rokah about his role in Brad Pitt’s new movie, ‘World War Z’. Here, Yaniv talks about how he got involved in the project and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
‘World War Z’ is based on Max Brooks’ novel about a zombie apocalypse that takes over the entire world. In the movie Gerry Lane, played by Brad Pitt, is a former UN special agent who is asked to return to work to help find the source and possible cure to this global zombie pandemic. To save his family by placing them in a safe zone he agrees to travel the world in search of clues how to battle and survive this zombie war.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
In the movie, Israel is one of the few places left on earth which the zombies have not yet conquered. I play an Israeli soldier in Jerusalem who helps protect both Israeli citizens as well as Arab refugees against the threat of zombie invasion when Brad Pitt’s character comes to visit to learn more about the local situation.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I had worked with a director on another film and she then recommended me to ‘World War Z’‘s casting office. I was asked to mail in an audition tape and five months later I received the call that I had gotten the part.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
‘World War Z’ is the first film about a zombie apocalypse that shows its global impact around the world rather than in just one location. As such, it is the most ambitious and international zombie film ever made. ‘World War Z’ is also the first film that portrays zombies as being able to swarm, run and jump together as a collective organism that completely overwhelms human resistance. The visuals of these zombie attacks are equally groundbreaking and terrifying.
Finally, ‘World War Z’ is different from earlier zombie films by choosing suspense over gore. Surprisingly, this makes the film more gripping from beginning to end. These unique factors have already made ‘World War Z’ not only the most successful zombie film ever, but the number one worldwide blockbuster this past weekend.
The film stars Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, Matthew Fox and Fana Mokoena – with Marc Forster onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
‘World War Z’ was a gigantic production. When we were shooting in Malta, which stood in for Israel, there were more than one thousand people on set. In many ways, the production of ‘World War Z’ was a war itself: with so many people on set you must operate like military, following instructions, working hard and being disciplined to get the job done. I have a lot of respect for the crew who were literally working around the clock to make sure everything ran smoothly. It was thrilling to be surrounded by hundreds of zombie actors, many of whom were professional dancers from London, who were all in very realistic zombie make-up and so sometimes between scenes I had to run away from them thinking to myself what if they’re real, that’s how realistic they were. I found it brilliant working with director Marc Forster and seeing first hand how he was able to elegantly orchestrate this huge production with such ease despite being under so much pressure. And yes, Brad Pitt is as cool in real life as he is on the big screen.
On a personal note, the film’s portrayal of Jews and Arabs uniting against the zombie threat came through on set as well. As an Israeli, I became friends with several Palestinian actors with whom I would never have otherwise connected because of the political situation in the Middle East. Despite our disagreements, it was great to realize how similar we truly are.
Let’s talk a bit about you Yaniv. What made you want to get into the acting industry in the first place?
From a young age I have always been a creative artist and very curious about other people. I grew up as the youngest of ten children in a large extended family, so I had huge exposure to different characters as a child. I think that this is why I love acting so much, because you can legally assume another person’s identity and become that person until you’re ready to move on to a different character. It is the most positive kind of identity theft.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
The first step is to have the right attitude: because you must take a lot of rejection, you really must have passion for an acting career no matter what happens and have the resilience to try again and to try harder. The second part is to keep educating yourself: not only to keep taking acting classes, but also to keep learning about people, history, cultures and behaviors. The final part is to plan to be in it for the long run. My manager Jerry Silverhardt told me many years ago that if you want to make it in Hollywood you make sure to get a good day job in between acting work. I got very lucky with my first job in Los Angeles at a local cafe in Santa Monica called Caffe Luxxe. This job not only made earn a living in between acting jobs but it also allowed me to meet wonderful people who helped me tremendously with my acting career.
You’ve been in a number of different films and TV series – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with so far and why? Any good stories?
I loved working with Jason Isaacs on ‘Kendra’ because he’s extremely funny and he makes you feel part of the family the minute you walk on set. It was also very moving to work with Patrick Swayze on ‘The Beast’ because it was incredible to witness how he was such a professional who worked so hard every single day despite being in the last months of his life.
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
I don’t have an iPod but on my iPad I currently have ‘Searching For Sugar Man’, both the soundtrack and the film which I have already watched three times. If you have not already seen and heard it, by all means check it out. Highly recommended.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
I would choose Steven Spielberg, Albert Einstein and my grandma – because Spielberg would provide the entertainment and movie anecdotes, Einstein the knowledge and wisdom, and my grandma the best meal that you have ever had and great laughs. It would make for a very fulfilling evening.
Which film was your favourite of 2012 and why?
Because I already mentioned ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ I would pick ‘Amour’ as my favourite film of 2012. The Europeans still know how to make such powerful films with a remarkable simplicity.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
For the past five years, I’ve been working on a documentary called ‘Queen Mimi’ and after a highly successful Kickstarter campaign that went viral on the web. I’m getting ready to edit and finish the film. ‘Queen Mimi’ is the real story of Mimi, a 88-year-old homeless lady who gets her own apartment thanks to the generosity of her good friend, actor-comedian Zach Galifianakis. ‘Queen Mimi’ shows the strength, survival and redemption of one remarkable woman.
Thanks for the interview!