Netflix’s limited series Unorthodox, released last month, depicts the journey of a woman named Esty, who flees her Orthodox Jewish community. Shira Haas, the actress in the lead role in the series, recently explained in an interview how Esty’s hair changes throughout Unorthodox symbolize the protagonist’s personal transformation.
[Spoiler alert: a few spoilers for Unorthodox below].
‘Unorthodox’ lead actress on Esty’s hair journey
Booksmart star Beanie Feldstein interviewed Israeli actress Shira Haas for Vogue this month. Haas, who portrays main character Esty Shapiro in Unorthodox, talked about the process she went though, hair-wise, in order to portray the Netflix series’ powerful protagonist. She told Feldstein:
With the hair, it was an emotional journey. I remember every time I looked in the mirror, I was different. I had the shaved head, I had the buzz cut, I had my ‘young’ wig, my ‘married’ wig, and the hat when I was married. Every time I looked in the mirror, it was a surprise to me. Esty has so many different phases where she is trying to figure herself out.
What was it like to shoot the scene in the Netflix where Esty’s head is shaved?
The two actors also discussed the tough-to-watch scene in which Esty’s head is shaved. Due to religious tradition in the Satmar community, married women shave their heads and wear wigs. This is so no one but their husband sees their natural hair. Refinery29 reported:
The tradition of married Orthodox Jewish women covering their hair has been around for thousands of years, with women first using a cloth or a veil. It wasn’t until the 16th century that Jewish women in Italy popularized the idea of wearing a wig as a covering, which actually ended up causing a huge debate among rabbis, who both condemned and condoned the practice of wearing them on modesty grounds.
The Unorthodox star knew the scene was coming–but she had another surprise in store.
“… I was drinking wine with the director and she said, ‘Shira, I need to tell you something,’” Haas recalled in the Vogue interview. “Then she told me that it [shaving my head] was the first shooting day.” She says she was “shocked.” But, it was a unifying experience for the whole Unorthodox team. Haas explained:
It brought the whole production together to do it and it really bonded everyone to take part in it. I’m really positive that it helped me to get into Esty and to start with that and to be committed to the role. It was one heck of a welcome. Maybe I didn’t know everyone’s names yet, but they helped me shave my head.
The experience even helped the Unorthodox star get inside the head of Esty for an entirely different scene.
“I always say it was kind of like Esty—she has mixed emotions, she wants to get married and she is happy, but she is also scared,” Haas remembered.
The costumes in ‘Unorthodox’ also helped Haas get into character
The Unorthodox lead explained that Esty’s hair transformations throughout the series helped distinguish different parts of the narrative.
“It was really important to find young Esty, like an innocent Esty, then married Esty,” Haas explained.” There is married Esty, where she is feeling like that is choking, and everything is a bit big on her and darker suddenly.”
That changes when Esty’s surroundings change:
Then obviously she goes to Berlin. It starts with the hair and then slowly [progresses] with the outfit. In real life, it might take much more time to be able to do that, but it was really more about the emotional journey of Esty through the costume.
In another recent interview with Jude Dry of IndieWire, Haas also talked about the influence of clothing on her performance in Unorthodox.
“I remember somebody putting the costumes on me and I almost felt immediately like Esty, like all the effort I put into the emotional part had a physical reaction as well,” she told the publication.
Like most things relating to the series–which is empowering, but at times painful–the costumes brought up a lot of feelings for the Unorthodox actress.
“It was a very long day of trying everything, and I remember I was really emotional,” Haas said.
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