“Look, to be honest, I’ve never read a character like this,” says Jeff Wilbusch.
The actor stars in “The Calling,” a crime drama series created by David E. Kelley for Peacock. Wilbusch leads the show as Avraham Avraham, a detective who brings an unconventional approach to his investigations, relying heavily on religion and spirituality to guide his process.
“I thought to myself, ‘wow, what a character: going to the precinct in the morning and then in the afternoon reading the Stoics.’ It shows you the complexity and how many colors this character has,” says Wilbusch.
The series marks his first English-language leading role, although American audiences may recognize the Israeli actor from his prominent role in the 2020 hit Netflix series “Unorthodox.”
Wilbusch wasn’t steeped in Kelley’s canon of television hits growing up, nor was he overly familiar with the legal-detective genre when he came onboard “The Calling.” While preparing for the role, the actor studied real interrogation footage and met with detectives to ask them questions about their line of work. “What it means to be a detective, what it looks like, what they do to offload and distance from their work, what keeps them sane,” says Wilbusch. “You know, they wanted to put me on the case because I had so many questions, and apparently the right questions,” he adds. “I’m a big believer in research and education. I think it’s more important than talent.”
Kelley earned a law degree before breaking into the entertainment industry as a writer — and Wilbusch similarly pursued an academic path before changing course. The 34-year-old actor grew up in a Hasidic community in Israel and moved to Holland to study economics at the University of Amsterdam. Raised without television or movies, he didn’t discover acting until he was a young adult.
“I didn’t know you could become an actor. I didn’t know you have acting schools. It wasn’t in my vocabulary. It wasn’t in my surroundings,” he says. “I started watching television when I was in my teenage years. Before that, I didn’t have a television, and I had never watched a movie in my life before. Literally didn’t see a screen.”
While deep into his economics studies, Wilbusch was still searching out his own true calling. He dabbled in music, and was invited to perform music onstage for a choreographed dance performance; the experience opened the door to the possibility of a career in the performing arts. He applied to theater school in Munich while finishing up his master’s degree in economics, and got accepted to the Otto Falckenberg School of the Performing Arts.
“I suddenly found everything I was looking for,” says Wilbusch of his circumvented career path. “Now everything makes sense that I wanted to be an actor. I don’t know if I believe in fate, but when you look at the picture of life…every step and every experience brings you to and prepares you for something.”
Wilbush moved to Los Angeles a year and a half ago, but has had little downtime to explore his new surroundings. Since then, he’s shot “The Calling,” the recent Netflix series “Keep Breathing” and the German-language film “Schächten,” which is screening at the Austin Jewish Film Festival and in Vienna later this month.
“My problem is I speak five languages, so I’m drawn to everything,” says Wilbusch, asked about the sorts of projects he finds himself interested in at this point in his career.
“My dream is to get a role where I don’t speak the language and I have to study for it. Something in me wants to continue to study,” he adds. “I’m drawn to very beautiful stories and characters that I can have fun playing, and learn from.”