In HAND OF GOD, which premiered its entire ten-episode first season on Amazon Prime September 4, Ron Perlman stars as Judge Pernell Harris. When Harris’ son PJ (played by Johnny Ferro) is declared brain-dead after a failed suicide attempt, Harris has a mental breakdown and becomes convinced that God is speaking to him directly and commanding him to exact vengeance. It’s open to interpretation whether we’re witnessing a supernatural event, a man’s descent into madness, or both, but there’s no question that Harris is dangerous.
Alona Tal plays Harris’ daughter-in-law Jocelyn, a lawyer who has been raped, the incident that preceded PJ shooting himself. Jocelyn is trying to get on with her life, but she’s drawn into her father-in-law’s situation.
Tal, originally from Israel, starred in the series PYJAMAS in her native country. She has worked extensively in U.S. movies and TV, with roles and arcs on VERONICA MARS, CULT, BURN NOTICE and the film BROKEN CITY. SUPERNATURAL fans know Tal as the monster-hunting Jo Harvelle, dead but not always gone.
ASSIGNMENT X: What can you tell us about your HAND OF GOD character Jocelyn?
ALONA TAL: I can tell you when [series creator] Ben [Watkins] and [director] Marc [Forster] spoke to me about her, they mentioned that she was a philanthropist, a young, smart girl out to conquer the world, not a victim by any means, which is also why when this happens to her, it was important not to portray her as a victim, even though you can be the strongest woman and things happen to you. I wanted her to fight. She’s fighting tooth and nail, even though she’s had insult added to injury, basically, with her husband attempting suicide and now everything in the world is just caving, so what would a strong, young, vibrant, independent, smart woman do? She’s just grasping at straws every single day.
AX: Do you look for strength in the character when you’re deciding whether or not you want a role?
TAL: I believe that there are many different walks in life, and us women are not two-dimensional by any means, even though some people may argue that or write them very superficial. I like roles that have layers, much as we do as women. So [whether] she is an aspiring lawyer or a prostitute on the street, we are all those things combined into one, and any woman can be anything at any given point, depending on the circumstances life presents her. So if that role has that, or has the potential for me to bring that, I would love it. Much like there are a lot of sweet girl-next-door roles that are really women. It’s not a cookie-cutter kind of thing. I want it to be realistic as much as possible. But yes, I’m always cognizant of trying to make it realistic. If the character’s not realistic or – let’s say, a lot of male directors sadly don’t always know [what is realistic for a woman]. There are experiences that I have had in my past where I go in and I play something and they say, “Oh, you’re very strong.” Just because a character’s in a predicament and I’m not playing her victim-y or helpless, they consider it as strong. I’m like, “No, we have very different ways of approaching stressful situations, not only as the damsel in distress.”
AX: In the first episode, we see Jocelyn fighting to have P.J. taken off life support and clashing with her father in law. Will she continue to be that proactive throughout the season?
TAL: Yes. Part of the major thing that happens to her is that there is a court battle. She doesn’t back down. She realizes that it’s not so much wanting her husband to be off of life support as it’s just not wanting him to suffer. I had to ask myself the question – with my husband, as we were discussing the character, because we work on it together, and I said, “I don’t know what I would do.” You always have to put yourself in that situation. “What would I do if everybody told me you were brain-dead? Not in a coma, but brain-dead. I did the research and I read the studies, and I wouldn’t want you cooped up [in a non-functioning body].”
AX: What does Jocelyn think is happening to Harris? Is she like, “Okay, he’s always been a hard-ass and he’s just become harder-assed,” or does she think he’s going bonkers?
TAL: The funny thing is, I hope you’ll pick up on it down the line, they actually got along very well. He was never a hard-ass on her, he was always a hard-ass on his son. And as the bystander, as the daughter-in-law, you wish that hadn’t happened. But he wasn’t difficult with her. That’s why it’s so shocking in the pilot episode, where all of a sudden – all I knew is that he had a mental breakdown and I hadn’t seen him in a few days, and that was very shortly after [his son] attempted suicide, so she’s kind of taken aback by his new self. So it’s a discovery that he’s being this way, and it’s hard – harder.
AX: Yael Grobglas, who plays Petra on JANE THE VIRGIN, is also Israeli. She says the two of you have become good friends, that there’s sort of an Israeli actors’ community in L.A.?
TAL: I think that it’s a supportive environment. She came here and she didn’t know anybody and I knew what that was like and we had a lot of mutual friends – it’s still a very small industry in Israel – so we got to be friends and I actually liked her, which is a plus [laughs]. And thankfully, she’s doing really, really well.
AX: Do you feel there’s a difference in the way Israeli culture and American culture depict rape?
TAL: I don’t think there’s an appropriate way of depicting rape, period. I think there are many different heads to this hydra and it’s a monster and it doesn’t just begin or end with the way it’s portrayed on television, it’s the way people perceive it in their own lives and they just don’t understand it, so no, sadly, there isn’t a very different [attitude between the countries], because it’s a man versus woman view of the world. There was a book that somebody told me that they read – I forget the name of it, but it’s basically how women live a very, very different life in this world once the sun goes down. Our world is a completely different world than that of a man, the things we have to look out for. I don’t want to go too deep into it, but I think each and every one of us has had an experience, a brush with a monster.
AX: Speaking of monsters, any possibility you may return to SUPERNATURAL for Season 11?
TAL: You know, I always say it – if they ask me back, I’ll be more than happy to go back. They killed me, I think twice now [laughs]. I think Jensen [Ackles, who plays Dean Winchester] has died three hundred times. I don’t know – they counted them. Everybody dies. But the women on that show tend to stay dead. I never say no, not to that show. It’s one of the funnest sets to be on and the character is always a kickass, smart – again – and shit happened to her. I would always love to go back to that show. Call me [laughs].
AX: How is working for Amazon Prime on HAND OF GOD? Is it different than working with a regular network?
TAL: They’re groundbreaking. Here’s the difference. They have such a strong [viewer] base – they would love viewers, but they can call the shots. That’s how I look at it. It’s very different, because you actually get hands-on response [because viewers can vote on the pilots posted online]. I think it’s the most brilliant thing, because it’s not a like a group of people in a room deciding what people want to see, they’re actually asking the people who come to watch, “What do you want to see?” It’s brilliant. It’s like food – you’re actually asking people, “Do you like this food?” You wouldn’t just make, “Hey, here’s this, eat it.” You get to see what people buy. You get to see it, you get to experience it immediately, and that’s the brilliance of it. And they’re presenting things – I use this word a lot, but it’s not cookie-cutter in any way. They’re creating masterpieces and presenting them to you like artwork and saying, “Do you like it? Here’s the rest of it,” and I just think it’s fearless. Again, because it’s a new experience. A lot of people are afraid in this industry and want [projects] to do well because there’s a lot of money at stake. These guys just go for it.
AX: What would you most like people to know about HAND OF GOD?
TAL: It’s not black and white and it leads you with the room to make the choice for yourself.
This interview was conducted during Amazon’s portion of the Television Critics Association summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
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Article: Interview with HAND OF GOD actress Alona Tal