Helen Mirren has addressed the issue of “Jewface” and non-Jewish actors playing Jewish figures, saying she “can see” why some people are uncomfortable with it.
The actor plays the former prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir, in an upcoming biopic from director Guy Nattiv. As a non-Jewish actor playing a Jewish historical figure, however, Mirren’s casting was met with some criticism when it was announced.
During an appearance on Sunday With Laura Kuennssberg (October 1), Mirren was asked about actors using prosthetics to play Jewish figures, often called “Jewface”, and cited the recent backlash to Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Leonard Bernstein in Maestro.
“I think I can see, but sometimes I can’t see, because I can’t see who in this room is Jewish,” Mirren said. “We are all such an amazing mix and certainly I don’t have an issue with Kirk Douglas playing a Viking. Kirk Douglas was Jewish.
Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper in ‘Maestro’. CREDIT: Netflix
“I think the whole question of assuming a certain physiognomy because you’re playing a particular race. There is something offensive about that.
“On the other hand, if you’re playing Leonard Bernstein, and this is really what Leonard Bernstein looked like, you know, maybe it’s a good idea. As I said, it’s a very delicate balance.”
Mirren previously addressed the controversy around her casting in an interview with the Daily Mail (via the Guardian) last year. “It was certainly a question that I had, before I accepted the role,” she said. “[Meir] is a very important person in Israeli history.
“I said, ‘Look, Guy, I’m not Jewish, and if you want to think about that, and decide to go in a different direction, no hard feelings. I will absolutely understand.”
Actor Maureen Lipman, who is Jewish, was among those who criticised the decision to cast Mirren. “With that I disagree,” Lippman told the Jewish Chronicle. “Because the Jewishness of the character is so integral.
“I’m sure she [Mirren] will be marvellous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there.”
Golda follows the former Israeli prime minister’s life during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Other cast members include Camille Cottin and Liev Schreiber.
Golda is released in UK cinemas on Friday October 6.