Alona Tal began her acting career as a child in her native Israel, during a time without cable channels or any Israeli Disney platform to jump off of. After four years in art school and two in the Israeli Army, the actress packed her bags and headed for the States, landing first in New York, before fate pointed her in Hollywood’s direction. Now 29, she’s wrapping up her most exciting professional year so far. Earlier this year, she shot the noir thriller Broken City, sharing screen time with some dudes named Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg. She also scored a lead in The CW’s newest young-people soap, Cult, a meta look at the making of a TV show that will air early next year. We caught up with the actress while on break from filming Cult in Vancouver to talk about sponginess, working with Marky Mark, and her dip into the rap world.
How old were you when you realized you wanted to be an actress?
It was around six years old, I think. I mean, I’m following what my mother told me. I remember it being really early on. It was kind of like, “This is for me.” I don’t think I understood the concept of what I wanted exactly. It just kind of hit me.
What was your first acting role?
Shortly thereafter–it’s kind of funny how these things sort of happen–my mother, who is a lawyer by trade, decided she wanted to take two years off and went into being an assistant director for a while. I did a role in a movie she was working on that was looking for a young 6 or 7 year old. I was like “Me, me, me, me, me. I want to do it.” So I did it. It was the Israeli movie, The Cage, and I loved it. It’s one of my strongest memories.
I understand you were an Israeli soldier. Was that a life changing experience?
Absolutely. Serving in a system like that at such a young age—I was three weeks out of high school—having to put aside everything else and realize there’s a purpose greater than acting and applause at the end of it, which was kind of what my life was about until then. It’s a very maturing experience. Like everything good thing in life, in retrospect you can look back and appreciate it. I appreciate it now more than when I was in it. I do take from those experiences into everything that I do, especially in this business that requires a lot of discipline and a lot of patience.
Tell me about your character Katy in Broken City.
Yes. I’d love to tell you about my character [laughs]. Sorry I’m all giddy about it, I just saw it last night. I loved it. I started crying. That’s what happened. The movie is rather dark. It’s heavy in the sense of the political aspects of it, the betrayal aspects of it. You don’t trust a lot of people. My character in this movie, she’s kind of like the the light of Mark Wahlberg’s character, Billy’s world. She’s his right hand girl. She’s always there. She’s the trusted one. She’s the dame in the office, if you will, from the old noir movie genre. She’s the one under his nose the whole time.
What kind of preparation did you have to do to play the part?
Other than jumping up and down, you mean? Which happened by the way. I watched a few noir movies, but that wasn’t really what I was doing. I researched a private eye in contemporary times. Are there limitations in what they can or can’t do, because Mark plays a private eye, and I’m pretty much his assistant. What are the qualifications? How can they obtain information?
You sound like you have a Boston accent in the trailer? Am I right?
I don’t know. I’m kind of like a sponge. I’ve noticed this. Seeing as this is not my first language, wherever I am, when I’m in Los Angeles this is how I speak, and when I’m in Canada I find myself saying “aboot” a lot more. And when I’m in Louisiana [in a southern drawl], it kind of starts going in a different directions. Wherever I am, and people around me however they speak, it’s very difficult for me not to do that. Mark has a very particular way of speaking especially in the movie, and people all around me in the movie were kind of heavy on accents. Sometimes these things just come out. It worked for the movie. Sometimes you’re inner Queens or your inner Brooklyn comes out.
What was it like working with all those big names?
Oh my god. I think I was on a natural high for about three weeks, which was amazing because I don’t do drugs, so when I’m naturally high it’s amazing. I went into the production office and everybody was really nice, because I had a constant smile on my face when I’m there. So I walk in and I see the cast wall and my photo was up there. I went up to it and snuck a photo of it and sent it to my family. It was pretty surreal, is how I can sum that bit up. These people are game changers in our field. Do you know what I mean? That’s why I started crying when I saw the movie, because these are the type of people that you dream about having your name alongside on a project.
How was it working with director Allen Hughes, one half of Hughes brothers directing team that brought us Menace II Society and Dead Presidents?
When you come into this town, he’s the kind of director that you dream about meeting. Other than being so aware of the work of the actor and appreciative of the work of the actor, he is so raw and unafraid of taking chances. He’s just a dream, especially for me, because he fights for the things he believes in for his vision. He’s friendly, light, and funny, at the same time. I think it was the best experience I could have possibly had with a director.
You also have a role in the new CW TV show Cult. What’s it like playing an LAPD detective?
This is a funny one. It’s a high concept show, so we have a show within a show. I’m actually playing an actress playing an LAPD detective on the inside show. So I get to have a kind of split personality. It’s interesting because everything on the inside show of Cult is a little heightened. It’s a little bigger than the outside show, because you have to differentiate between the two. The fact that I can walk around with a weapon on my belt is hilarious and amazing at the same time, because I’m Alona walking around. I have curls in my hair and I’m walking around with a weapon. I find that my whole demeanor changes while playing a detective. This is exactly the type of role that makes me remember what I did in the army, and I take from that, because what I do pretty much puts me in the state that I was in when I was in the army.
What would your dream role be?
I really should think about the question more for my interviews, because it comes up. I’m kind of a greedy individual. I want not one dream role but a few, because there are so many different types of women in our world and in our society that I potentially want to play. Each role is fun and each role is different. I want to play the girl working in the office as a lawyer, and I want to play the mom, and I want to play the hooker. I’m greedy. What can I say?
I also know that you recorded several songs with Israeli rapper Subliminal. Did you rap on these songs?
No. Well, he rapped, but you know how there’s always the hook? I did a couple of those. It was just fun. That whole world of hip hop was just emerging in Israel and I happened to know a few of those people. I loved hip hop, and I loved R&B. I loved all that music.
I was kind of hoping for a story about how you rap battled Mark Wahlberg on set, but that’s ok.
Oh my god. I almost just choked on my coffee . Give me a second. I gotta wrap my head around that. I did not, however, I think that would be an awesome thing to do next time I see him.