Most 30-something mothers-to-be I know do not even get past the first few seconds; there’s the blood and the moaning and then the appearance of the slicked hair on the crowning head; and the fact that it looks like a screaming mouse and all the gunk that comes out afterward. Watching a video of a live birth is kinda gross. But 15-year-old actress Odeya Rush, who stars as Mary in the upcoming film, Mary, Mother of Christ, doesn’t mind. It’s part of her research. After all, Mary gave birth to Jesus IRL and Rush is going to have to pretend to give birth to JC as though it’s IRL and to do that, she concedes, she can’t let it gross her out. She has to know, you know?
Well. Maybe. It does. A little—kinda gross her out—but Rush is a determined, ambitious young actress and isn’t scared of the enormous weight that comes with playing the most famous of mothers. Soon she’ll be acting with Hollywood heavyweights Julia Ormond and Peter O’Toole, which is something she’s been ready for her whole life. From the time she and her brothers were play-acting in pajamas, Rush knew, “[she] wanted to be an actor. It was intuitive. When I hear ‘action’, I feel fearless.”
The role of Mary could not be more perfect. Alister Grierson, who directed Sanctum and has been tapped to direct Mary, Mother of Christ, recognized Rush’s unique gifts matched those that Mary writer Barbara Nicolosi imagined. Nicolosi was the other half of the screenwriting team responsible for The Passion of Christ script, along with its director Mel Gibson. Gibson isn’t involved in this one, but producers of Mary are billing the film as the prequel to Passion. “I am so excited [Grierson] approached me,” Rush says. “I practically auditioned for the role over Skype and sent in a test tape. The character is mature and it’s a big responsibility. I don’t think there’s been an in-depth portrayal of Mary. There will be a lot of menial preparation [ed. note—like watching birth footage]. Mary was 13 when she gave birth to Jesus. You were considered to be a woman then.”
As she’s telling me this, I’m noting an innocence about Rush that makes me think of the brutality of the past; and that I’m glad I’m not living in it. But it almost makes me ashamed to recognize, on the other hand, she’s actually quite beautiful. This is an effect—as Nabokov would have it—that is both in and out of her control. She clearly lacks the world experience to truly appreciate what it means to be beautiful, but she isn’t naïve about it either. She tells me with a smirk that her dad, and manager, will not allow her to date until she is 37. And then there are her six brothers, who are just as protective. “Whenever I have friends who are boys over to the house, my brothers continuously come in and out with trays of food and drinks. I know they have been sent to check up on me. It’s like I have seven fathers.”
Rush speaks without any trace of an accent, so it comes as some surprise to learn she emigrated from Haifa, Israel, where she was born and raised, only a few years ago. But like Fievel, Eddie Murphy and Elian Gonzalez before her, she wasn’t daunted by the prospect of moving so far from home. She made the trip to America with stars in her eyes, but kept this from her father, who took a job as a security consultant at a firm in Alabama. It was not until the family moved to New Jersey that she told them her dreams of being an actress—dreams so insistent, she finally convinced her family to shuffle between New Jersey and New York where Rush knew she had to be to start her career.
Though it all seems nice, it sometimes wasn’t. Having had imagined New York as a vast city of glamour and shopping, great buildings and great rooms, and great entertainment, New York turned out to be a bit of a cramp. “I opened the hotel door and it hit like the bed,” she laughs. The rooms where the family first stayed were like sardine cans. With the door only open a crack, they had to file in sideways, one at a time. “We were all so crammed in, I hated it,” Rush recalls. But suffering is part of what makes a person strong, and Rush was able to get used to the lack of space. She went to Time Square and Central Park, finding herself amongst the massive crowds. It was then that she realized New York’s bigness wasn’t so much about space, but actually came from the density of its crowds. “At that point, I understood the possibilities and what awaits you,” Rush tells me.
Soon she began commercial gigs and bit parts in TV shows. But it was an appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm that changed things for her. Rush is mesmerizing as the focal point of Larry David’s childhood memory of a game of strip poker in the back of an ice cream van gone horribly awry. According to David, Rush has a bright future, indeed. But for would be suitors, that future is a long way off. You’re going to have to wait until she’s 37. Daddy’s orders.
Written by Tahirah Conliffe
Photographed by ioulex
Stylist: Masayo Kishi
Hair: Yoichi Tomizawa
Makeup: Yuko Mizuno
Beauty Notes: Treatment Oil and Hydrating styling cream by Moroccanoil.