Matt Gottlieb: From Israel to Hollywood
Although he doesn’t feel like he’s received his “big break” yet, you may already recognize Matt Gottlieb’s face—or his voice. An Israeli-born actor, Gottlieb, is part of surge of Israeli programming hitting English-language platforms. Last year, he performed a lead voice-over role on the acclaimed series Fauda, and he is part of the ensemble cast of When Heroes Fly, now playing on Netflix.
A 29-year-old native of Haifa, Matt Gottlieb is the child of a father born in Romania and a Sabra mother of Iraqi descent. He decided to pursue acting in his early teens. “I was very shy and reserved growing up and acting forced me to come out of my shell and grow as a person. I met ‘my people’ in the acting world, as I had had a hard time connecting with people growing up. And I found a sense of purpose in acting that I could only find in few other things in life.”
Eventually, he arrived in New York. While studying acting, he was cast as a homeless Russian Jew in a play called The Ryan Case: 1873. “The play was nominated for a Drama Desk Award, which in turn opened up a lot of opportunities for me.” It also helped him receive an O-1 artist visa, which allowed him to head to L.A. and work in Hollywood for the next three years.
Gottlieb’s career got another boost last May, when he was cast in a lead voice-over role on the Netflix show, Fauda. “I got to work with people who’d been on major TV shows and movies and be a part of the production for the entire second season. That also created some big opportunities for me and elevated my ‘status’ in the industry.” His success in that role helped him score the role in When Heroes Fly.
When Heroes Fly follows the challenges of soldiers during and after the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon. On the show, Gottlieb plays multiple supporting roles, most notably Alon. “Alon is a soldier and serves as a control room operator. He is seen in flashbacks as he guides the field soldiers during their mission.”
Unlike U.S. programs, it is no longer rare to find Orthodox characters on Israeli shows. One of the more minor characters Gottlieb portrays in When Heroes Fly (as well as a major role played by another actor) is shomer Torah u’mitzvos, and he has played additional frum characters at other points in his career. “Though I’m not shomer Shabbos, my grandparents on both sides were observant, so I grew up with Jewish tradition having a strong presence in my life…along with the responsibility I feel to represent these characters and shomrei Shabbos accurately, I am also thrilled for the opportunity to do justice with their stories. It’s important to me to have these roles be played by actors who have a connection to and feel strongly about the subject matter.”
Currently, there is a variety of Israeli shows available for Americans to stream, including Srugim, The Baker and the Beauty, Hostages, Mossad 101, and Shtisel in addition to Fauda and When Heroes Fly. I asked Gottlieb why U.S. audiences are suddenly more interested in programs that originate in Israel and which reflect the Israeli experience. “I think it’s because the world is more connected than ever, largely thanks to social media and all the new platforms that create their own content, so the U.S market is more open to ideas from outside. In addition, the Israeli shows that I got to watch and work on have just been excellent, and the industry there certainly deserves credit for producing such high-quality content on an international scale.”
Many Israeli actors work in U.S. based productions, as well. “There is a small but strong Israeli community of actors in LA, where everyone knows everyone. During my first few years here, I purposely wanted to try and blend into the American culture and [the] entertainment industry.” Eventually, he recognized his error and sought out more of his compatriots. “I was welcomed with open arms and got to meet some wonderful people in the process. The same can be said for the Jewish community that exists here. It has done so much for me, and I hope to be able to give back to both moving forward.”
Gottlieb finds Jewish life in the U.S. differs from that in Israel. “[In Israel, v]ery few businesses are open on Shabbat, and even though there are many secular homes (including the one I grew up in), the Jewish holidays are observed by most families and important dates on the Jewish calendar are at least acknowledged, both at home and in school. In L.A., one has to make an effort to stay connected to their Jewish roots. It’s easy to get lost in the environment, and Jewish holidays can feel like regular days, unless one makes an effort to be a part of the community.
“I think there are advantages to this as well. I see value in having to work to stay connected to my roots. I think it strengthens the connection and validates it as part of my identity, as opposed to being a byproduct of living in Israel. In other words, it’s a choice I made and not just something I was born into.”
Although he is now on the small screen, Gottlieb remains engaged with the theater world. He’s part of Slauson R.C. (pronounced “Rec”) a theater program created by Shia LeBeouf which operates in South L.A. and strives to include local residents. In the spring, he plans to put on the first play at Slauson R.C.
Gottlieb also expects to record voice-overs for Season 3 of Fauda. However, “it is now the busy season for actors in L.A., and auditions are ongoing, so any job bookings can alter these plans in an instant.”
What advice does Gottlieb have for aspiring actors? “The competition here is fierce, talented, and hard working. I believe the only way to get ahead is to outwork it and constantly grow as an artist, which means stepping out of one’s comfort zone. That being said, we all have our beliefs and moral standards, and those shouldn’t be compromised, as they define who we are, and at the end of the day the best thing we can bring to any role is ourselves.”