At 17 and a half, actress Inbar Lavi left her native Israel and moved to a country of strangers, heading straight for New York in the dead of winter. Six months in, she met a group of twentysomethings and shacked up with them in Brooklyn. What followed were the best two months of her life,where she worked crap jobs, stayed up late, and woke up early. Then she moved to L.A. and became an actress. Today, she is one of the leads in MTV’s newest TV show, Underemployed, about the post-collegiate millennial generation. Here, Lavi talks about playing a 22-year-old babymama, those two happy months spent living in a Kings Highway basement, and her idol, a Professional-era Natalie Portman.
So a leading role on an MTV show—that’s huge. How did you feel when you found out you got it?
I was very, very, very excited. I actually remember I was filming in Miami, shooting an episode for Charlie’s Angels. I was in a hotel room when I got the call, and I just started jumping up and down on the couch. It was awesome.
What drew you to the role Raviva?
I liked that she was pregnant and hormonal and very upset a lot throughout the pilot, and I thought it was very charming and cute, actually. I thought it was refreshing that she did hold back and she said whatever was on her mind. I liked that she was a musician. She liked rock and roll and was just very in tune with what she liked and didn’t like.
So did you do a lot of research for the role, or was your preparation more on the emotional spectrum?
It was definitely both. I had to learn how to play guitar and learn how to sing, and I’ve never done that before, so that was a lot of work. I basically took the year that we had in between shooting the pilot and filming the rest of the season and worked on those two things a lot. Of course, I talked to many different pregnant women and many different mothers and learned a lot about childbirth and raising a kid.
Raviva and Lou have a very loving but pressured relationship because of the baby. Do you think they’ll make it?
Do you think they’ll make it?[Laughs] It’s a tricky question because I know the answer to that since we shot it, and I don’t want to give anything away. While I was reading the script, I didn’t know what was going to happen. So I can tell you that, based on the type of relationship that they do have and the history that they share, I was always rooting for them to get back together for sure. There’s a lot of love there and there’s a sense of family that they both don’t have outside of each other and outside of that world that they made for each other and Rosemary.
How long have you been acting?
I’ve been acting professionally for the last four years, I would say.
So what does unprofessionally mean then?
[Laughs] It means in front of my dad’s video camera at home, forever, for years, every day for hours just exhausting him. We have tapes going back to me at 2 years old just singing, more like mumbling, and putting on plays for whoever was willing and wasn’t tired and falling asleep. It was just constant performing.
What is it about acting that made you want to dedicate your life to it?
There’s a lot, but when I was a kid I had asthma and one of the things I was forced to do was to sit with this big inhaler thing that had steam come out of it and just sit there for usually 45 minutes, and it was every winter for several years and it was very, very boring. So we would do it in front of the TV, and I would just watch movies, and it made the time go by so much more quicker. I fell in love with cinema that way. It took something that could have easily turned into something very depressing for a kid, to have to sit and not move for 45 minutes, and it turned it into my quality time with my dad. And there’s something so wonderful about that.
What were some of the movies you watched with your dad?
Hook was one them. It’s one of my all time favorite movies. I remember watching that an thinking, “Oh my gosh. I don’t know how they do that. How do they make people fly?” And I remember the next thought immediately was, “I don’t care how they do it. I just wanna do it.” So I definitely loved that one. And I remember watching The Professional with Natalie Portman and just thinking, “Oh man. She is the coolest cat in town. I want to be just like her. She’s charming and witty and funny and so young. And if she can do that I can do that.” I just thought she was awesome.
What kind of roles did you dream about when you first got into acting? What’s your dream role?
That’s a hard one for me. You know, my dream role would be Natalie Portman in The Professional, if I could go back in time and be that kid. I don’t think I would be as charming these days doing that, but back then, as a kid, that would have been my dream role.
I know you’re a model and an actress. Would call yourself a singer?
Definitely not. I’ve never done it before. I’m just really pleasantly surprised that they let me even do that on the show, and that they actually liked what I was doing. MTV took some of the tracks that we recorded for the show, one particular song that I wrote and produced and play on, and they took everything and they put it out. People are able to download it online and enjoy the music. And people like it. I mean, I’m still confused about how this can happen, but no, no professional singing before hand.
I know you were born in Israel. How long have you been in the States?
For about seven years now. I lived in New York for about 8 months, and then I moved to LA since then.
What was that like?
[Laughs]. Scary. It was very scary at first. I was 17 and half when I did that. And I moved to NY and it was my first experience in snow. It was February when I moved, and Israel is like a desert so I was freaking out. But you know, it still is a challenge; it will continue to be just this journey that I’m going through. I’ve been very lucky and very unlucky.
You know. New York,when I moved there I was 17 and I was broke, and I didn’t know anyone and I was freezing and there were definitely some very dark moments just like anyone who tries to make it in that city. It eats you alive.
At what point did your experience in the States stop being scary?
I would have to say, when I was in New York, towards the end, I met this really cool group of friends. They were actually also Israeli, and we rented out a basement in Brooklyn and were all living together. We didn’t have any beds, because we couldn’t afford it. We literally had seven people living in one basement and we all just put in a bunch of different blankets on the carpet in the living room, and we all slept next to each other. We all had random jobs like a restaurant, or a bar, or a kiosk at the mall. We would all work all day. Come home, wouldn’t sleep ‘til four in the morning, just stay up talking drinking, eating leftovers from everyone’s restaurant, and then we would sleep for two hours, then wake up and take the train and go to work. It was the best time of my life.
How long was that for?
That was for about two months that we did that, and then I moved to LA. So my last two months in New York was probably the best time of my life, and that’s when I realized, from those dark moments, you really can have a lot of fun. It’s all about perspective. And it’s cool because Underemployed really gets to explore that.
I was going to say that sounds a lot like your show.
Yeah. [Laughs] That was definitely an Underemployed moment.
What’s next for you?
What is next for me? I’ve been auditioning for a bunch of stuff. We’re waiting to hear back on season 2 of Underemployed. I also work back home in Israel. So I always fly back and forth. There’s a bunch of projects I’m involved in there: movies, TV shows, campaigns.
And just to clarify, you moved here by yourself and you knew no one?
[Laughs] I agree.