One look at the photograph Esquire used to declare actress Shirly Brener one of five Israeli women they love, and you want to wish the rest of her persona good luck in catching up. Picture it: She’s thigh-deep in a pool, clad in a lacy white bikini that leaves little to the imagination, with a body that an artist could have cut from a stone. It’s the kind of photo that needs no caption, one you’ve seen before: the “look at me, notice me” photo that plenty of actresses take. Before they become serious.
The photo tells you that Brener is hot; that she has a great (and I mean great) body — but it doesn’t tell you why you should love her.
When we meet for lunch at a popular Los Angeles haunt for Israeli expats, Brener is sitting outside at a corner table. She is unmissable: Her blonde hair and blue eyes radiate an all-American look that always seems to turn heads — plus she’s wearing a zebra sweater. She waves me over with a huge, gleaming smile like a doll that comes to life.
"I’ve gotten to play a lot of drug addicts and hookers this year," muses actress Shirly Brener. The Bardot-esque blonde, who possesses a paradoxical mix of girl-next-door charm and femme fatale-worthy dark sensuality, revels in her distinctiveness. She’s as comfortable portraying the bubbly love interest in a romantic comedy as a depraved addict in an indie flick. "Once you really get to know me you see that I am actually pretty edgy," she purrs over the phone. "There is a darkness, an edge, in me, and I really like to go against what is first expected."
The Israel-born and L.A.-by-way-of-London-bred actress got her start in the business at age 2 when she was photographed with her thespian mother in an ad campaign. She has since worked alongside accomplished actors such as Harvey Keitel, Val Kilmer, and James Spader and reached full-fledged celeb status in her home country, where she costarred in an O.C.-like prime time soap opera. Brener recalls her most recent cinematic accomplishment, Righteous Kill, the gritty cop drama staring film titans Al Pacino and Robert De Niro: "It was definitely an experience of a lifetime," she says. "It’s funny because I wasn’t nervous when I booked the job. The audition process was far more nerve-racking."
When asked to discuss her ink-a rotund cherub at her chiseled hip and a glowing sun on her back that she got as a teen in Israel-she dives into a careful explanation of the sun. It’s an homage to her maternal grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, who saw her potential as a performer early on. "My grandmother always used to say, ‘You are like the sun-you come in and light up the room.’ She was a huge inspiration for me and I decided to get this as a tribute to her."