Born in Tel Aviv, Israel and raised in London, England, actress Shelly Skandrani describes herself as having a “crazy mixture of Israeli passion and British refinement.” After starting her acting career on London stages, she made her film debut in the 1999 Holocaust film The Devil’s Arithmetic. Despite Shelly being the “newbie” in a cast with some pretty big names, Shelly’s performance sure didn’t go unnoticed, as was evident by the favorable reviews she received.
After her appearance in The Devil’s Arithmetic, Shelly returned to Israel for three years of intense study at the performing arts school, Beit-Zvi. Shelly reflects on the experience; “It was probably a bit drastic, but I wanted to elevate my skills and return to the industry as a professional.” After subsequently making the move to LA, Shelly landed roles in TV shows and film shorts and doors began opening up. Some of her most recent work includes the 2016 TV action mini-series Lies, the 2017 comedy film Coffee & Cabbage, and the soon upcoming horror compilation 9 Ways to Hell, in which Shelly plays the lead in one of the segments.
Also a very adventuresome lady, Shelly has traveled throughout South America, India, the US, and Europe, and she does have stories to tell, as those journeys were far from being uneventful. Learn what some of those stories are along with other interesting facts about Shelly in the following exclusive interview she recently gave to Idol Features. Above photo of Shelly in Jaffa, Israel taken by Ronnie Ganot.
SHELLY SKANDRANI: Most of my family is in Israel now. I used to visit quite regularly, about once every eight months for four to six weeks. It’s amazing to spend time with my friends and family. It’s always bittersweet though, because I have such a great time and then I have to leave and I miss them all like crazy. It’s what all my European friends go through. It’s the price we pay for pursuing our dreams in America. In the last few years, I’ve been really busy and I haven’t visited as much, so that I don’t have the heartache when coming back, and can concentrate on building my life here. My mom and stepdad have come, though. It’s a blast to share my life with them. We even met in New York one time and it was great to discover new things together!
CHRIS: You spoke both Hebrew and English growing up?
SHELLY: I spoke only Hebrew until I was seven, and when I moved to London, I took English lessons. At school, I used to play marbles under the table in the classroom because I didn’t understand what was being said, but I caught up quickly. One day my English was better than my Hebrew. Now I’m fluent in both, but I can’t type in Hebrew, which is funny when messaging my friends in Israel. I write in English, they reply in Hebrew.
CHRIS: I understand you started acting on stage when you were a child, growing up in London. Do you remember your very first performance?
CHRIS: You were in the 1999 film The Devil’s Arithmetic, which starred Kirsten Dunst and the late Brittany Murphy. It was produced by Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers. Those are some pretty big names and that would be a pretty big springboard to more prominent film projects. However, you returned to Israel after that to attend performing arts school for three years. Did you pass up any roles during that time you were in school?
SHELLY: I’ve always been an idealist, and I always wanted to bring my best to the profession. I felt that I needed to learn more. The performing arts school Beit-Zvi was incredibly intense and required all of my energies and focus. We worked six or seven days a week for over sixteen hours a day. I was devoted to perfecting my craft, so when I left London, I thanked my agent and told her I was starting a new life. It was probably a bit drastic, but I wanted to elevate my skills and return to the industry as a professional. So yes, I missed out on roles, but I never wanted to know what those roles were. I didn’t want to look back. During my third year, I was able to work, and I worked on a couple of films and a TV show, as well as some commercial work. However, now my connections were in Israel, and for a while, the doors to the international arena were closed, so I worked hard, moved to Los Angeles and opened them up again.
SHELLY: I traveled after college. A play I was supposed to perform in was pushed back a few months and I decided it was a sign from the universe to discover the world and see my capabilities within it. It was the best year of my life! It was an incredible growing experience too! I would never have had the courage to come to the USA otherwise.
CHRIS: Did you have any terrifying experiences to speak of?
SHELLY: Oh, tons! That was part of the journey. Some were by choice and some, unfortunately, were not. For instance, it was my choice to jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet and free fall in Argentina, and it was my choice to go to a three day white water rafting excursion with class 5+ rapids, which is really intense and in hindsight, super dangerous. There are things you do when you’re young! (Laughs) It definitely wasn’t my choice, however, to find myself being chased down the dark streets of Bolivia by drug addicts holding broken glass bottles trying to get my money. Thank god my friend thought to throw some cash on the floor to slow them down. And it wasn’t my idea, when I almost fell off a snowy cliff when climbing the snow ridden volcano Villarrica in Pucon, Chile. I was hanging by my snow pick, screaming for help when a guide came and tried to negotiate a date in return for saving me! Funny thing was, I was so outspoken back then, I refused and shouted at him and made him help me anyway! I was crazy .…but today, those experiences make for incredible stories.
SHELLY: Hmmm. Apart from South America, I’d say Alaska, Italy, and India were pretty incredible. I particularly loved Varanasi, a city on the Ganga River in India. It’s where people burn the bodies of the dead, and also where people get married. It’s a very holy city. I remember stepping off the train onto the platform and it hit me, this energy that the city had, there was all this chaos of children and animals, food vendors, passengers, rickshaws, and motorcycles. All this noise, but they were all moving to the same beat. The city has a heart! And after the sun sets, it becomes so peaceful and spiritual, with the Puja ceremony, the incense, the candles floating on the river, the holy men chanting their prayers, it’s breathtaking. I couldn’t help but get caught up in it. I’d love to act in a movie there one day.
CHRIS: You’ve appeared in several short films. Do you have any favorites or particularly memorable shorts you’ve been in?
SHELLY: Oh yes, they all have their different merits, let’s see .…The C-Gate was a great one! It’s an anti-war film, I play one of the two leads, Eva, an Israeli girl who just finished the army and suffers from PTSD who meets Louise, an American peace activist at an airport and they share their experiences. We went to Cannes with that film! A feature film script has been written based on the short. One day the world will be ready and we’ll film it.
CHRIS: You’re in a not-yet-released short film entitled Accent about man who dates women with different accents. What is your character’s accent?
SHELLY: I play an Israeli woman. I was drawn to the film because I’ve often found that people are more interested in my accent than what I’m saying. That’s one of the main reasons I hide my British accent and speak with an American one. I felt it was an interesting comment on society.
CHRIS: How many accents can you do well?
CHRIS: I saw you as a character called “Crazy 8” in a pilot for TV series called Kink. Whatever became of that project?
SHELLY: Oh, Kink was such a great show! There have been some “almosts” in my career, that’s the way it is in the industry, Kink was one of those. It was ahead of it’s time, it was pitched to the networks but was too “edgy” for them and by the time people figured out how fantastic it was, something similar was being made. I was heartbroken. I loved the character.
CHRIS: Did you draw from anyone to play Crazy 8?
SHELLY: Actually, I did! When growing up in the theaters of London, there was a woman who was the bar manager at one of the theaters I performed in. She was quite masculine in energy and a very warm person. She was like an older sister for a short while. I was 12, she must have been 30, and I would go to her for all the life advice I needed. She was awesome! I’ve wondered where she is these days. In my line of work you meet incredible people and have really deep connections for a while and then you move on to the next project and sometimes you never see them again. The role (of Crazy 8) was not written as a British woman. Originally, she was American. The writer and director were in the room and were skeptical when I offered to make her British, but once I performed her that way they loved it. I just knew exactly who she was. They said later that they suddenly couldn’t picture her as American at all.
CHRIS: What can you tell me about your role in the recent horror compilation 9 Ways to Hell?
CHRIS: How about your character in the comedy Get a Life?
SHELLY: Stacy is a British fashion designer, she’s best friends to the lead character and the person she comes to for sound advice. She’s an exciting character, I get to be incredibly outgoing, and free thinking. It’s a very liberating and lighthearted role and was a lot of fun to film.
CHRIS: Would you say Stacey is anything at all like you?
SHELLY: Yes of course! All of my characters have my essence, they have to. Each time I choose different aspects of my personality that I want to highlight, and that’s how I shape my character. Stacy is who I am when I’m with my friends and I’m filled with energy! She’s vivacious and funny and very confident, and every time I hang out with British people and my British accent comes out, a little bit of Stacey can be seen.
CHRIS: You have experience doing improv comedy. Has that helped you portray any of your characters?
CHRIS: If you were offered a good role, but it included a nude scene, would you still consider it?
SHELLY: Probably not. I’ve turned a ton of those down already, I get offered those all the time, because, well, naked women sell movies and more often than not, those roles didn’t have much depth to them. It felt like selling out. Also, I don’t feel like women constantly have to expose themselves. What are we saying to little girls around the world? Women are constantly being oversexualized. Men hardly get asked to do nudity, it’s usually the women. So I’m not into it. If I ever got offered an incredible role, where I felt that the story is really important, and the nudity vital to that, and the script is amazing, and the director is incredibly talented and, and, and ….then I might reconsider. As a rule I don’t. Let’s see if something ever makes me break that rule.
CHRIS: What’s been your most physically challenging role so far?
CHRIS: Who have been some of your favorite actresses to work with?
SHELLY: Well I really enjoyed working with Brittany Murphy, I was actually quite shattered when she passed away. She was such a sweet soul, full of light! She was really playful and down to earth and pulled quite a few American pranks on my very stiff, British self. I’m more savvy these days, but back then ….oh boy, I was an easy target (laughs). We would crack up about it! We worked together for a month on The Devil’s Arithmetic. Brittany, Kirsten Dunst, and I hung out quite a lot. We were the same age group, in relation to the rest, and we were all in the same hotel in Lithuania, and we just clicked. One of our days off, Brittany and Kirsten came into my room and changed into my clothes. I was quite the Emo kid back then, and we walked around town all day. They put on a fake British accent and used all my favorite sayings and called it “Shelly Day.” It was hilarious! We would sing to Madonna and dance around in the hotel room. It was good times. I get nostalgic.
SHELLY: I met Alex Helisek, the founder of Breezeway Productions, at a Sundance Party years ago, and we had a three hour conversation about life and about the industry in Los Angeles. That’s the best way to meet a person! Once Alex saw that I had a lot of experience interviewing on the red carpet for outlets like Gosh! TV and for Israel’s E! channel news. He offered me a job interviewing for him. It’s a lot about meeting the right people and feeling a good vibe. People want to know that you can do a great job but they also want to know it will be fun!
CHRIS: What are some events you’ve covered for them?
SHELLY: I’ve covered the SOC awards, for cinematographers, a lot of celebrity charity events and awards shows. It’s fun and great for networking!
CHRIS: Who have been a few of your favorite people to interview?
SHELLY: I really enjoyed interviewing Michael Keaton, he was really upbeat and funny. Vera Farmiga was really warm and open. Carol Burnett was a blast! She’s an inspiration to female comedians everywhere!
CHRIS: Ever had any “difficult” interviewees?
SHELLY: I interviewed Tom Green once, he was a tough cookie, I asked him a question and he just froze still in a funny position for thirty seconds, just to see how I’d handle it! I used some of my improv skills and called him back from “out of space.” I counted down to zero and clicked my fingers and he “came back to life” thank god! (Laughs) It ended up being one of my favorite interviews because of that. Sometimes hilarious moments happen when you keep your cool and go with the flow!
CHRIS: You reported from the Playboy Mansion several years ago for an online magazine. What was that experience like for you?
CHRIS: It is, to say the least. So, do you have any hobbies or skills that most people don’t know about?
SHELLY: I love to dance, all kinds. I did a ton of musical theater back in the day and really enjoyed the self expression of the movement on the stage. The choreography was phenomenal, especially when dancing with others, like synchronized swimmers, minus the pool. I also dance hip-hop, salsa, Kathak, and some swing and tango. I love arts and crafts, making jewelry, painting, cooking, making furniture. I find it very relaxing! And I really love traveling, obsessed actually, but you already know that (said with a smile).
CHRIS: With that, I’ll thank you again for doing this Shelly. In closing, any shout-outs to anyone?
SHELLY: I’d love to give a shout out to Joe Shapiro, Natalie Marciano, and David Raynor with whom I have projects coming up this year! Projects that I’m really excited about because they further and help expand the female voice! And also to my friends and family back home, whom I try to make proud, every single day.
CHRIS: Oh, just one last question: Do you still have a crush on Brandon Boyd?
SHELLY: (Laughs) No, I don’t really crush on guys these days. I’m a grown up.
Shelly’s most recent comedy reel. The first character you see is “Crazy 8,” a gem from
the “almost” TV series Kink. See more videos at Shelly’s Youtube channel.
Thank you to Josh Mitchell of Wickid Pissa Publicity.