The Hollywood star who still teaches at cheder
When she isn’t filming with acting royalty in Barcelona and Budapest for the new TV series Emerald City, Roxy Sternberg is teaching cheder classes.
The 27-year-old has been chosen to star in an American TV prequel to The Wizard of Oz, also featuring Joely Richardson and Jurassic World actor Vincent D’Onofrio.
After four years of countless auditions and small parts in Law and Order: UK and crime drama The Tunnel, Roxy landed what she calls “the biggest thing I’ve done”.
Born in West London, Ms Sternberg formed a strong connection with her synagogue during a childhood in which she “struggled” as a minority within a minority.
Her Jewish mother moved to the UK from Uganda as a 15-year-old. She later met and married a British Jewish man.
“There weren’t a lot of black Jews,” Ms Sternberg says. “A lot of people said ‘Are you Jewish?’ A lot of people questioned it, asking what colour my parents were. Even nowadays, I get asked if I’m Jewish.
“But it’s never been a problem at West London Synagogue – we were always welcomed.”
Nowadays, she adds, “I see a lot of mixed-race Jews there, which is wonderful, because I didn’t see that when I was younger. It’s not a nice feeling when you’re standing out, day in, day out. But at West London it’s not an issue, and with me around it must be really good for them, to see me and to have someone to look up to.”
Standing out has become a positive for Ms Sternberg, who urges those who want to replicate her journey to “know your craft, work hard, and never give up.
“And always make bold decisions. Don’t think you can just get away with delivering the script alone; you’ve got to make decisions which aren’t in the script. They’ll be wrong or right, but don’t be scared to be different. Don’t do what everyone else is doing.”
Roxy heard about her successful audition in the middle of Shoreditch High Street. “I got off the tube and listened to the message. I met up with my sister and we cried and screamed. When I phoned my agent, I asked my sister: ‘How do I talk to him? What do I say?’ and she said: ‘You don’t need to be nervous, you’ve got the role!'”
She says she was daunted before the five-month-long shoot in Budapest and Barcelona. “I’ve never acted alongside actors whose work I know and admire, but Vincent was so reassuring and complimentary, and I took inspiration from Joely Richardson.
“I’ve noticed that my auditions have changed since watching Joely. She has this discipline and stillness. Plus I’ve got to know her, and we ended up just giggling with each other all the time on set.”
Besides, once Ms Sternberg put the finished costume on, all her initial anxieties dropped away.
“They said: ‘Walk like Elizabeth.’ I hadn’t even considered how Elizabeth walks, but I’d done all my homework and it was instant. I was like: ‘I’m ready. Get me to the set.'”
Despite having secured her big break, she still teaches at West London Synagogue whenever she comes home.
The actress, who can read and write Hebrew, has taught at the shul since her batmitzvah. “I love it,” she explains. “Even if I make it as a Hollywood actress, I’ll come back. It gives me life. I feel so happy being in that space, partly because all my childhood memories are in that building.
“I just wanted to give children the same experience I had. There are a few who say they want to be actors and ask if I can teach them, but I just want them to have fun and enjoy cheder.”
There are downsides to her double life, though. “A few of the children know I’m an actor, even though I prefer not to talk about it.
“One saw me in an advert and they never let me live it down,” she says, laughing. “It was a terrible advert. They actually took off the internet,” she adds, relieved.