HOLLYWOOD – To be a strong woman, one has to know how to kick butt with the high kick of a Vegas dancer, wisecrack menacingly and wriggle seductively with the look-at-me panache of a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
That would be the wisdom espoused by Hollywood blockbusters.
Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer subscribes to a more complicated, multidimensional vision of female strength – one that she brings to her first Hollywood could-be blockbuster, Ron Howards Angels & Demons, now in theaters.
The 39-year-old, sometimes referred to as the Julia Roberts of Israel, burst into American consciousness four years ago as the pregnant wife of the Israeli terrorist-hunter portrayed by Eric Bana in Steven Spielbergs Munich, then turned around to play a seductive terrorist herself in Vantage Point.
Now Zurer steps up as Tom Hanks brainy cohort in the follow-up to Howards The Da Vinci Code. Again Hanks dons the role of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon.
Zurer takes on the role of truth-seeking Italian physicist Vittoria Vetra. The plot revolves around a secret society of vengeful intellectuals, the Illuminati, who want to get back at the science-scorning Catholic Church of history by killing cardinals every hour on the hour and planting under Vatican City an explosive canister of antimatter, which Langdon must find and dispose of within 24 hours with Vetras help.
According to Howard, Zurer beat out eight actresses who screen-tested with Hanks.
Theres something very un-self-conscious and honest and earthy about Ayelet, Howard says, and yet she has the capacity to deal with the scientific jargon in a way that felt honest, and she felt comfortable with it.
Zurer, who now lives in the United States, read extensively about antimatter and even spent two days trolling the hallways of CERN to prepare for the role. She also interviewed the head of the astronomy department at the University of California, Los Angeles, a female scientist.
I knew from Ron, he wanted a very realistic sense of the character rather than that brave superhero from the book with long legs, great skin and great intelligence, but at the same time, I dont know how real shed feel if you saw her on-screen running in shorts. He said the realer, the better.
Despite her lighthearted demeanor, Zurer seems to possess a subtle stoic quality, which might be genetic or simply the product of growing up in the Middle East. She did her required army stint – singing for the troops as part of a special arts division.
At 21, she went to Japan to try modeling, a stint that lasted only a month because she hated sushi and ate only hamburgers and grew two dress sizes.
She went on to study acting in New York before returning to Israel, where she won the 2003 Israeli equivalent of an Oscar for her performance in Ninas Tragedies. She later starred in the TV series BeTipul, the original Israeli version of HBOs In Treatment, a sensation in her homeland. She played a troubled, highly sexualized woman who believes she is in love with her therapist.