Lucky to be Hunting Elephants

There is a word heard frequently on film sets in Israel.

"Yalla!" means "Let's go!" or "Carry on!" and directors are fond of shouting it, says actor Gil Blank, 17.

The word embodies the high-speed, can-do spirit of film-making in his home country, he adds.

When British actor Patrick Stewart travelled to Israel to join the cast of caper comedy Hunting Elephants (2013), he became familiar with writer-director Reshef Levi's frequent use of "yalla, yalla".

Stewart had never been on an Israeli film set before, but he settled in quickly and was soon working at the same rapid pace as everyone else, Blank says in an interview with Life! on the telephone from Israel.

"He was very amused to see how we worked. On the set, we do things fast - we are always filming and moving fast," he adds in halting English.

In the film, which will be screened at the Israel Film Festival, Blank plays Yonathan, the teen caught in the middle of a heist planned by his grandfather Eliyahu (Sasson Gabai) and his elderly cronies. Stewart plays an English granduncle, Lord Simpson, an impoverished, hopelessly hammy stage actor hoping to milk his Israeli relatives.

Most of the dialogue is in Hebrew, with English used in the scenes involving Lord Simpson.

An acting newcomer making his first feature, Blank says he could not believe his luck when he was picked to join the ensemble comprising veterans who are legends in Israel, including Gabai and Moni Moshonov, who plays Eliyahu's cranky friend Nick.

"I have admired these actors for years and suddenly they are next to me and I am speaking lines to them," he says.

Although filming wrapped up two years ago, he still sounds audibly excited to have been part of the cast.

After one more year of high school, Blank will need to serve in the military for three years, after which he says he will decide if he wants to stay in showbusiness. Instead of acting, he might want to try directing films, he adds.

While on set, the older actors had a piece of acting advice for the newcomer: To keep nerves at bay, "don't look at the big lights and cameras, act like your friend is filming you with a $12 camera".

Blank believes he was cast as the bullied, somewhat autistic Yonathan because he and the character share some traits. The young actor speaks with a stutter in English, a trait that is still present, but less pronounced, when he speaks his native Hebrew.

"Like Yonathan, I don't speak fluently. The words get stuck," he says.

He found it inspiring that even after winning worldwide fame, stars such as Stewart maintain a professional attitude, never throwing their weight around or behaving as if they are experts in acting.

"It's amazing. He acted as if this was his first film," says Blank.

Hunting Elephants will be screened here as part of the 22nd Israel Film Festival held at The Cathay Cineplex. After the July 30 screening at 7pm, Blank will discuss the film with the audience. The film will be screened again on Aug 2 at 5.15pm, but without a post-screening discussion.

This article was first published on July 23, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.