From learning lines in a new language to shaving her head, there’s not much Shira Haas isn’t prepared to do for a story worth telling. Taking on both in her captivating performance in Netflix’s Unorthodox as Esty Shapiro, it’s clear her dedication to the role held no limits.
Inspired by Deborah Feldman’s 2012 memoir, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, Haas plays Esty Shapiro, a 19-year- old woman who leaves behind an arranged marriage and sacrifices all she has ever known to find a life outside of the Williamsburg Hasidic Jewish community she grew up in. Though the four-part series is split between Yiddish and English, there is one thing the native Hebrew speaker is quick to point out. “A lot of people keep asking me, ‘So, you know Yiddish now, right?’ And I’m like, no!’” She says, unable to contain her laughter as she imitates the optimism she hears in their voices. “I tried really hard to know the lines, but I don’t know all Yiddish.”
Despite the patchy phone connection, the 24-year-old’s gratitude for the response to the show speaks clearly. “It’s amazing… It’s really only been four or five days since it’s been out, which is not a lot, but there is such a big amount of love all over the world,” she beams, her voice radiating warmth through the line. It was the first day on set when Haas was met with the prospect of filming a powerful, emotive scene where her head is shaved on her wedding day — a tradition amongst Orthodox Jewish communities, where married women often wear wigs, hats or scarves to ensure their hair is covered and not seen by anyone else. “It was a very powerful thing to start with,” Haas asserts. Listening to her speak of the moment as though completely unfazed, I start to feel a little ashamed of my own vanity. “I was able to really dive into the character,” she adds, admitting that “of course, I had a moment where I didn’t think this was the best idea, right?” Her own conflicting emotions about the physical transformation channel into her performance, infusing the scene with a raw fusion of anxiety and anticipation.