Yali Topol Margalith: The FRONTRUNNER Interview

People may recognise her for being Topol’s (Fiddler on the Roof) granddaughter, but Yali Topol Margalith is, in fact, much more than her grandfather’s legacy. She’d hardly finished drama school, and jumped straight into deep water with two shows coming out this year, while being busy working on the next one. Topol Margalith is currently most recognisable from the Sky series The Tattooist of Auschwitz. She plays Cilka, a woman who became the Nazi soldiers’ sex slave in the death camp, and was thus allowed to keep her long hair. Her character was sentenced to over a decade in a Siberian gulag for working with the enemy, and became a symbol of strength and fearlessness in many Holocaust survivors’ eyes.

On a lighter note and role, she will also appear in A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, where the audience will love to hate her character.

FRONTRUNNER sat down with Topol Margalith to talk about how the best acting advice was given by her Oscar-nominated grandfather (Chaim) Topol, how she needed to remind herself to stop staring at the camera, the challenges of being on a film set resembling Auschwitz and why comedic roles are within her comfort zone.

Yali Topol Marghalith as ‘Cilka’
The Tattooist of Auschwitz (dir. Tali Shalom-Ezer), 2024
Photo courtesy of Synchronicity Films/Peacock/SKY Studios


You have two new shows coming out, The Tattooist of Auschwitz and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. It seems you are just getting started in the world of acting. Tell me more about how it is going and how you came across these projects?

It’s very cool. I trained as a musical theatre performer. I left school, did two stage productions, and after some auditions came through for The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I sent tapes across, and suddenly, I received a phone call where I got told I have a week until I start and will be flown to Bratislava. I couldn’t believe it. I was so nervous because I thought I didn’t know how to do any of this. First of all, I have only mostly done comedy, and this is very different. It could not be further away from comedy. If I’m not doing a comedy, then I’m doing the comical character in the show, just like in A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. When that came around, I thought, this is a little closer to my comfort zone. I finally got to be goofy, which was so much fun.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is not something you can practice for in school and drama projects.

It was scary being on set. When you are an actor on stage, 90% of the job is just being good at convincing yourself that what’s happening is happening for real and to exist in the moment. Coming with that approach to The Tattooist of Auschwitz was wrong, but I learned a lot from it. I had a great team around me, and Jonah Hauer-King, who plays the Young Lale Sokolov is the loveliest man in the world. It was brilliant to have him in the room because he has such a comforting aura. As I learned more about how set works and not to stare at the camera, I eventually started enjoying the role.

Your character, Cilka, is amongst the few who could keep her hair in the camp. It’s sickening when the viewer works out why. She eventually gets her story told in the follow-up book, Cilka’s Journey. How did you prepare for the role?

I am Jewish, and my grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. I grew up in Jewish schools and around the stories of my family. Since I can remember, I have been very aware. Of course, when I got this role, I did more research and worked with the book and the script. We had a historical consultant on set as well. They were very involved, which made my life easier in terms of research, but I did join with a lot of knowledge already.

The set of the show seems such a close replica of Auschwitz, as it’s such a heartbreaking and difficult show to watch. How was the general atmosphere of the set? Did the cast and crew find ways to lighten the mood and enjoy the work, despite the heavy content?

The production had green rooms to relax in that didn’t look anything like the set. Whenever there was a break, that’s where we hung out, had snacks, or chatted with people who were not dressed in costumes. We were given space to breathe. We had a screening of the show, and the story often takes your breath away. As hard as it was being on set sometimes, it was still worth it because you felt the importance of telling the story. I work better staying in character even if the cameras stop rolling, but breaking the environment was beneficial. It was mentally draining to stay in character on this show, but Cilka is so strong, much more than I am. Having her with me was much better than if I was switching her off and being myself.

Yali Topol Margalith
Photography: David Reiss
Makeup: Amanda Grossman
Hair: Chad Maxwell
Styling: Freda Monro Morrison


Her story is incredible. The fact that she was sexually abused by the Nazis then sent to a Siberian gulag for 10 years for “collaborating with the enemy” is beyond comprehension. Women are just so strong.

She is remarkable. She’s done a lot of cruel things, but she lived in a brutal world. She found a way to survive, and it’s hard to judge her because of the circumstances that she was in. Also, she was only just a child.

Surely you have been asked this many times before, but has your grandfather – who went by the name Topol – had an influence on you to choose acting as a profession?

Of course. I must have been around 4 years old when he would say, and my parents told me, he would often say, You, you are an actor. I was a weird kid and always put on shows at home or on the street, pulled faces in the mirror, talked to strangers… All the signs were there. He knew that. He always took me so seriously as an actor, even as a child. He made me feel valued and gave me advice all the time. I remember that I played a villain when I was about 14, and he sat me down and explained to me that you can never judge a character and you must find a way to connect to them within yourself. He gave me some of the best advice. I still apply it to this day. Seeing him interact with people was beautiful, and he was such a magical, loving, and generous man. He influenced me so much in becoming who I am.

Now you are carrying on his legacy. 

No pressure.

He made a name for himself in Hollywood as the lead character, Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof and as Colombo in For Your Eyes Only. He was the first Israeli actor nominated for an Oscar. I imagine this is still such a valuable achievement and motivation for up-and-coming actors from Israel. Has this influenced the film scene and Jewish actors dreaming bigger?

That always happens when somebody from a small country or town gets recognised for what they do. Everybody who connects to the community around that person always feels seen and hopeful.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a very different role for you, but equally not a light story. Can you share a little more about that experience and your character?

It was a totally different experience. This show is also dark, but my role is to counter that. The story is about Pip (Emma Myers), who is my best friend. She uncovers a dark world, and the motive of my character is to highlight the instincts, natural needs and wants of a teenager. Pip matured in a very different way whereas, Lauren, my character, is the opposite. I had a wonderful time in this role. I was partying, swimming, dancing, and flirting with boys and had the best time getting rejected by all of them. The audience will love to hate her.

What sort of roles are you drawn to?

Everything that I have done so far, I never thought I would ever do. I welcome all the opportunities like a miracle. I am very excited by all of it. I think, if I have some specific goal that I’m working towards, then I’m going to miss out on all these wonderful things. Right now, everything that comes my way feels amazing. It’s difficult to say exactly one thing when I have such little experience. There’s so much out there. My next project is very different and something I have never done before.

If you could choose any director and co-stars to work with, who would be your first picks?

What a question. I am currently obsessed with Yorgos Lanthimos, but I feel like everyone is. I also love Quentin Dupieux. He just made a film called Yannick, which is phenomenal. I’m telling everyone about it. Co-stars… My boyfriend? We worked together a lot in school and now not so much anymore. Great chemistry tho. I love Kristen Wiig, Steve Carell, and Emma Stone. I have a soft spot for all the legendary comedy actors. It would be amazing to work with them one day.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is out on Sky on 2 May

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is out on BBC Three & iPlayer in June

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *