Helen Mirren Says Questions Over Her Casting as Golda Meir 'Utterly Legitimate'

The British star responded to the criticism over the decision to allow a non-Jewish actress to play the role of ex-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in a Hollywood biopic

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Helen Mirren as Golda Meir.
Helen Mirren as Golda Meir. Credit: Embankment Films / Bleecker Street / Jasper Wolf

British actress Helen Mirren said questions over her casting to play Israel's first female prime minister, Golda Meir, are “utterly legitimate.”

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Mirren said she had doubts before accepting the role, and she voiced them to director Guy Nativ: “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.'”

In January, British actress Maureen Lipman expressed concerns over the selection of Mirren to play the part of Golda Meir and sparked a heated debate about the phenomenon of casting non-Jewish actors as Jews.

While Jewish director Guy Nativ refuses to discuss the subject, Mirren told the Daily Mail that she does “believe it is a discussion to be had – it's utterly legitimate.”

Mirren also commented that “there is a lot of terrible unfairness in my profession. If there's an actor who's disabled, who's brilliant but has had very few opportunities, and now a wonderful role comes along that's for a disabled actor, everything being righteous, he or she should have that role,” she told the Daily Mail.

However, referring to the casting of straight people to play gay characters, Maureen asked “what happens then if you're a gay actor? Shouldn't you be able to play straight parts? Is this really a path you want to go down?”

“My only real fear,' she later added, “is if I'm really bad as Golda… in which case, I'll be toast.”

The casting of non-Jewish actress Kathryn Hahn as the Jewish comedian Joan Rivers in an upcoming series has sparked similar controversy, consequently leading to comedian Sarah Silverman's recent popularization of the term 'Jewface.'

She noted that on more than one occasion the entry of the non-Jew into the shoes of the Jewish character meant a great deal of makeup, in an effort to highlight physical attributes that are considered Jewish, such as a prominent nose, and that it at times also comes with the stereotypical adoption of a New York-Yiddish pronunciation.

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