"We probably had seen 40, 50 different actresses and all of a sudden there she was. I remember I almost had a physical reaction to it because it got me so excited," said Maria Schrader

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Unorthodox director Maria Schrader is recalling the "magical moment" she knew Shira Haas was meant to star in the series.

During Sunday evening's 72nd Annual Emmy Awards, Schrader took home the golden statuette for outstanding directing for a limited series, movie or dramatic special for the four-part Netflix series, which was released in March. 

Speaking with PeopleTV after her win, Schrader said that 40 or 50 actresses from around the world had auditioned for the part of Esther "Esty" Shapiro. But the second she came across Haas, Schrader "immediately" knew there was something special about the actress.

"I saw her on my laptop, actually. We were searching for the right actress all over. We had casting directors in New York, in London, in Tel Aviv, all over Europe. And we received a lot of audition tapes. And we probably had seen 40, 50 different actresses and all of a sudden there she was. I remember I almost had a physical reaction to it because it got me so excited. And I thought, this is Esty," Schrader said about Haas, who was nominated for the outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie Emmy Award.

| Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

She then began to write an email to the series' showrunner about the 25-year-old Israeli actress. By the time she "wanted to send it," Schrader received an email from the showrunner, who said, "look at Shira Haas."

"It was really almost magical," Schrader recalled. "We had the exact same reaction."

The series is inspired by author Deborah Feldman's 2012 memoir of the same title and created by two of her close friends. It traces young Esty's coming of age in Brooklyn, New York's Williamsburg community of Hasidic Jews and her eventual rejection of the ultraorthodox group.

Schrader admits she was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to the show.

"Not that the creators, writers and I didn't think that it's a relevant story and a universal story, but we didn't expect something like this," she said. "We were supposed to present it at a festival in France just when it got canceled, when we all went into lockdown. We were kind of devastated because we thought, 'This is a rather small German show. Maybe we will not have any international voice. Maybe no one will watch it,' " Schrader told PeopleTV.

| Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

She said of the show, "Maybe we spread warmth in a time where it was needed. Maybe it's the sum of everything. Maybe it's just the beautiful Shira Haas."

The 72nd Emmy Awards are airing live on ABC from 8-11 p.m. ET.

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