By LYNN BARKER
Front Row Features
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—In prep for the USA Network premiere of the mystery/conspiracy theory event series “Dig,” select press were invited to the set last December here where we spoke with Israeli actor Ori Pfeffer (“Munich,” “World War Z”). The series premieres Thursday, March 5 at 10 p.m.ET/9C.
When an American archeologist on a dig in Jerusalem is murdered, both FBI and local police are on the case. Pfeffer plays Jerusalem police detective Golan Cohen.
Pfeffer has a different viewpoint on searching for ancient relics in Jerusalem. He’s been digging them out of his backyard since he was a kid growing up there, and he is fascinated by the city’s mystic history.
As fate would have it, Pfeffer’s older brother was a childhood buddy of “Dig” co-creator/producer/director Gideon “Giddy” Raff. Years later, Raff hired Ori as an actor on his much-lauded Israeli TV series, “Prisoners of War,” on which the American TV series “Homeland” is based. For “Dig,” Raff decided Pfeffer’s special brand of wit and bravado was a perfect match to play the dedicated but thorny local cop joining Jason Isaacs’ FBI character Peter Connelly in solving a murder, delving through myths and unearthing an ancient, earth-shaking conspiracy that will rock our world.
Pfeffer spoke about the series on a break at the I-25 Studios, where part of the series is being shot.
Q: With all the conspiracies and secrets in the show, does it reflect real life?
Pfeffer: It baffles me how—since we started working on the show in May (2014) and now with what’s going on in the Middle East—reality is catching up faster than you can imagine to these things that are happening on the show. If people make that connection it will be like, “Oh my God.” They’ll ask what is the place of religion in our lives and what is it that drives those (extremists)? Or just with regular people asking what would you do for faith and what would you not tolerate in the name of faith? All these questions will pop up. Everything they are looking for in the show is based on a true life relic. How deep does the show go in reality? Growing up in Jerusalem you always find things just in the dirt that are relics.
Q: You grew up down the street from co-creator Gideon Raff. He hung out with your older brother. Do you remember him?
Pfeffer: A little bit but I was the troublemaker in that neighborhood. He always brings that up. I got to know him a little more later in life before he made “Prisoners of War” in Israel. He asked me to do a part on that. It’s so weird. The first shot we did was literally in the backyard of where I grew up. It was amazing.
Q: How would you describe your character?
Pfeffer: He’s a maverick. He does things his way and doesn’t give a **** about anything else. He doesn’t like to have partners or be told what to do but he has a keen sense of his job and he’s pretty good at it. I like the humor that he has. I can bring a lot of my playfulness into it. He’s been around. He is demystified.
When there’s talk about Jerusalem and these spiritual places, to him it’s just another place. He’s seen it all. Into this plot Peter (Isaacs) comes in. He’s the last person in the world Golan wants to deal with. They are forced to team up. I’m really happy about the opportunity to introduce to the audience an Israeli actor and an Israeli character we haven’t seen before. I’m happy to be that voice. I’m from Jerusalem and feel very connected to this character.
Q: Does your character and Jason Isaacs’ character ever become friendly toward each other? It seems you are at each other’s throats in the early episodes.
Pfeffer: We go through the seven stages of relationships; like break-up, make-up so definitely. It’s exciting to see how we grow on one another. We find out our secrets.
Q: Even if you grew up there, did you have to do some research with the police in Jerusalem?
Pfeffer: I spent a little while with the local police with a detective unit. I went out on busts and was just feeling out their world. It’s a lot less cool in reality than it is on TV. One of the things that always stood out to me is the fact that they have to be fit to be out there but they also need a secretary skill. Everything has to be written down and if you don’t write it precisely, it goes to court and the case is gone. It’s that balance of being an action hero fighting the bad guys and a guy with details. All of a sudden you see a place that you know well through different eyes. You can’t believe it’s the same place.
Q: Did you have to train for the rooftop chases and other action?
Pfeffer: I had to bulk up a little bit just to be in shape. The cops in Israel are all doing triathlons so I got into that for a little bit.
Q: What’s it like to see how Jerusalem is represented in the film and also in all the sets here in Albuquerque?
Pfeffer: The illusion of TV and film just is beyond my conception. The police station we have here is an exact replica—even the floor is exactly the same. I’ll do a double take “Where am I?” There is a scene where I go into an apartment in Jerusalem. We shoot the interior of the conversation in New Mexico and I come out of the apartment in Croatia.
Q: What was the craziest moment so far on set?
Pfeffer: It’s just piecing it together. You’ve got to maintain where you are on three different continents. Also, Jason has got this boom box and is playing music all day long. I asked him what is up with the music. He plays all classic Marvyn Gaye, great music. He said “We, as actors, need to maintain that childlike environment where you are loose and kind of fluid and a set can be a stressful place.” When he plays the music, it doesn’t really get to us. We dance and have fun. I think that’s something I’ll take with me. I was working on the movie “Munich” and Spielberg does that too. He plays music all the time. Now I really get how it works and keeps you in a nice zone.
Q: What do you like most about acting?
Pfeffer: I can be whatever I want from a rugged bum to a bonafide mathematician and I can’t do math for ****. (He laughs.) But you can fake it. And you get to fall in love (with the process) almost every time you work and you get to be afraid or be dangerous. There are all these emotions. It’s a roller coaster then you go back to your life.
Q: It’s a serious story you are telling but who is the big jokester on set?
Pfeffer: We pass that hat. Giddy (Gideon Raff) is hilarious. He makes jokes all the time. He’ll just grab the mic and start having a karaoke competition while they’re setting up the shot. I’ll be a prankster on Instagram though.
Q: What do you wish the creators would write for your character?
Pfeffer: A sex scene.
Q: Jason gets all those.
Pfeffer: Yeah, I know.