After leaving the stage four years ago, Dudu Niv, once a rising star and enfant terrible of the Israeli theater, is making a comeback. The 38 year-old is playing Porfiry Petrovitch, the police investigator in “The Crime,” named after Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, at Malenky, one of the best local fringe ensembles. His acting is rich, precise and far from predictable.
Niv admits there is similarity between his personal story and the one Dostoevsky tells in his macabre novel. Unlike Raskolnikov, the novel’s central character who rebels against the society’s mores and murders an old moneylender, Niv is no killer. But “I was a lousy man,” he blatantly admits, as he treats this reporter to sweet flower tea in his cosy Tel Aviv apartment, where he lives happily with his young actress wife Shahar Hilla Mintz. “Lousy both to the others and to myself,” he repeats. “I was wild, rude and envious. I believed that there was no theater before me, and only now it starts.”
After graduating from the Sifriya (Beit Zvi’s acting school), Niv was immediately given major roles – first at Beit Lessin theater and later at the Cameri. “I was a real savage – I literally threw tables and ruined the sets. From the beginning, when I was still at the acting school, people thought, ‘he is crazy, but talented, so it’s OK, it’s interesting.’ I was ambitious, I loved theater more than anything else and I feared to fail. This was a destructive combination.”
He continued to push his limits, but began to feel that the theater managers, who at first were so eager to hire the young and gifted actor, were now tiring of him. And then something happened.
“My mother got seriously sick. I was her only child and we were very close to each other – we were the best friends.” Niv suddenly realized that there were far more important things in life than the stage.
“I left theater and for four and a half years was by my mother’s side. I made her the most important thing in my life – I have returned at least a part of what she gave me as a child. I’ve learnt to give love to those who love us.”
They spoke, they played cards, he took her to the sea side and hotels when she felt better and comforted and nursed her when her condition worsened. And he was with his mother during her final hours.
“When she passed away, I got into my car and just drove without any direction. I had no one to talk to – I had no connection with the rest of the family. I needed somebody to give me a slap on the face to wake me up. The only person I could call was Geri Bilu, the manager of Beit Zvi theater school. Geri was a gentleman and a real friend; he still was one even when he kicked me out of Beit Zvi.”
Bilu simply sent him to bed. Niv slept for two days, and a week later Geri called again and invited him to play at Sifriya.
Niv has nothing but praise for the theater now. “Most of the actors are Beit Zvi graduates. This is an exciting highly professional theater, with not a trace of routine about it.” He enjoys acting immensely, even when he appears in minor roles. “I’ve lost my fears.”
HALF A year ago the director of Malenky, Igor Berezin, offered him the role of Porfiry in The Crime. Porfiry, the police investigator, together with Sonja, a prostitute and a saint, convinces Raskolnikov to repent and to give himself up to the justice. Niv’s attitude to Raskolnikov is almost a fatherly one. How does he see his character?
“Look, I am not a man of great culture, I know everything about James Bond films, but I have no idea what Dostoevsky had in mind when creating his Porfiry. Still as a student, I played Raskolnikov, too, and I was as arrogant as he was. Now I can see him from the side. Porfiry is a lonely man of my age, he is brilliantly gifted, but what has he achieved in his life? He is just an investigator at a small police station, and when he comes back home he has nobody to talk to.
“Remember Porfiry saying ‘I am a finished man’? This is what I can say about myself, too. Once I was skipping easily from role to role, but it seems that today nobody wants me. If not for that violent Dudu Niv of my past, I might have played in front of thousands, rather than 80.”
How does he see his future?
“Of course I want to perform and I hopefully will. But if not – it’s not terrible. I still will be with the people I love. For the Dudu of today, this is far more important.”
MAXIM REIDER , THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 8, 2007
Photo: Maxim Reider