Welcome to our newest series, Path to the Emmy Awards, in which we’ll be featuring Emmy nominees and how they got to their current place of recognition. We’re kicking it off with Israeli actor Shira Haas, who received a nod for Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie for her work as Esty Shapiro in Netflix’s Unorthodox. Having grown up in a Brooklyn-based Hasidic community, the character runs from an arranged marriage to start a new life in Germany, where she begins to find her voice.
The role required Haas to do partial nudity and to shave her head on camera, all on the first day of production. It also called for singing, piano, English, and Yiddish skills, a tall order. Showrunner Anna Winger recalled in a Variety interview how Haas was the clear choice for the role. “We only showed one actress to Netflix for the part of Esty,” Winger noted. And Haas delivered, as evidenced by her nominated performance, as well as her commitment to the work. The actor moved to Berlin early last year to begin the process, which involved learning Yiddish and how to play the piano. Haas also took singing lessons in preparation for the role, but her audition video demonstrates that the skill came naturally.
Like most in the business, however, the 25-year-old actor and first-time Emmy nominee had a long journey that led to her breakout role. When she was a toddler, Haas was diagnosed with kidney cancer, for which she underwent treatment for a number of years. She told the LA Times that the experience gave her the ability to “go to some deep places” as an actor. The young thespian shared during the same interview how she’d planned to attend a university and study psychology, but after landing a role in the Israeli film Princess, Haas knew that acting was what she wanted to do.
From there, the actor co-starred in the Israeli drama series Shtisel, which was later picked up by Netflix. She landed a role in Natalie Portman’s 2015 biographical drama A Tale of Love and Darkness before playing Urszula in The Zookeeper’s Wife opposite Jessica Chastain. Haas was quick to state during an interview with the SAG-AFTRA Foundation that she also received a lot of nos along the way, though. And having reached this milestone in her career, the actor still has gratitude for the opportunities that got her here. “I’m so lucky,” Haas noted during the interview, “that [acting] is honestly the thing I love doing the most.”
The breakout star has also received other accolades outside of this year’s Emmy nod. Haas received an Israeli Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work in the drama feature Broken Mirrors, which can be seen in the U.S. via VOD come September 22. And her portrayal of Vika in Ruthy Pribar’s Asia won her the award for Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It remains to be seen if Haas will receive a statuette at the Emmy Awards on September 20, but regardless, she’s had quite the journey getting to them.