Helen Mirren has doubled down on her decision to play the former prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir, in upcoming biopic Golda.
The actress, 78, faced backlash for taking on the role because she is not Jewish but in a new interview with Radio Times she pointed out that it’s not the first time she’s played a Jew and revealed she is convinced that she has Jewish heritage somewhere down the line.
Discussing the controversial casting, she mused: ‘The whole issue of casting has exploded out of the water fairly recently.
‘I’ve had other Jewish roles [in Woman in Gold and The Debt], but not an uber-Jewish role like Golda Meir.
‘I did tell [Guy Nattiv, the Israeli Jewish director] that I’m not Jewish, in case he thought I was. I said, “If that’s an issue, I’ll step away, no problem.” But he said, “No, it’s not an issue. I want you to play Golda.” And off we went.’
Hitting back: Helen Mirren has doubled down on her decision to play the former prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir, in upcoming biopic Golda after she was criticised for playing a Jew
Writer Nicholas Martin also waded into the row, saying: ‘I don’t feel like all this discussion about Gentiles playing Jews is helpful.
‘Helen’s job was to portray Golda authentically, which Golda’s family would say she has. A leading Israeli historian said that Helen is “more Golda than Golda”.
‘I find it very worrying that there is a creeping authoritarianism in entertainment saying you cannot do this or that. Am I just supposed to write about middle-aged men living in south London?’
Asked if she shared Nicholas’ fear of ‘creeping authoritarianism’ in the arts, Helen mused: ‘I think, in a way, that it’s more frightening for a writer to be told they are not allowed to write about subjects with which they don’t have an immediate DNA connection.
‘I imagine it must be very alarming. And ridiculous.’
The British actress, was born in London to a Russian immigrant father and an English mother, went on to reveal that she thinks she has Jewish ancestry and considered taking a DNA test to check.
She believes she has Jewish antecedents, ‘especially on my London side’ because she feels an affinity with Jewish people, with the magazine noting that not only did she work in Israel shortly after the Six Day War and ‘shells were falling on our kibbutz’, but also because she was born in July 1945, months before the Second World War ended.
Dame Helen mused: ‘The realities of the Holocaust were being revealed as I was gaining consciousness of the world. I do think that the profound, earth-shattering trauma of the Holocaust does enter the DNA.
‘Maybe it’s hocus pocus, but I think only a Jewish person really carries that profoundly with them.
‘The other issue is that within the Jewish race there are other races – Ashkenazi and Sephardic – who are racially very different. It’s all a sort of swirling fog at the moment that I can’t quite unpick.’
Resemblance: Dame Helen (left, in character) portrays Golda Meir (right, in 1970) also known as the Iron Lady of Israel, and the decisions she had to make during the Yom Kippur War
Golda focuses on the responsibilities and decisions that Meir, also known as the Iron Lady of Israel, had to make during the Yom Kippur War, an armed conflict fought between Israel and a coalition of Arab states that was launched in 1973.
Director Guy Nattiv’s film takes place during the 19-day Yom Kippur War of 1973, when Arab forces, led by Egypt, attacked Israel during its holiest time of the year.
The film chronicles the controversial decisions that the politician made during the height of the war, which went on to see her country suffer huge losses in a battle with multiple Arab States.
Dame Helen’s comments come after she defended Bradley Cooper wearing a prosthetic nose in the Leonard Bernstein biopic.
Out now: Read the full interview in this week’s edition of Radio Times
Hollywood actor Bradley, 48, who is not Jewish, has been heavily criticised for wearing a prosthetic to amplify his nose, which some have branded as playing to offensive Jewish stereotypes.
Dame Helen said there is a ‘very delicate balance’ to portraying people with a different heritage but noted that it could be ‘good idea’ to use prosthetics if that is what the historical figure actually ‘looked like’.
However, she acknowledged that there is ‘something offensive’ about ‘assuming a certain physiognomy’ to play a particular race.
Speaking on the BBC One programme Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg about whether she can see why people are uncomfortable with what some term ‘Jew face’, Dame Helen said: ‘I think I can see, but sometimes I can’t see, because, I can’t see who in this room is Jewish.
‘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.
‘I think the whole question of assuming a certain physiognomy because you’re playing a particular race. There is something offensive about that.’
But the actress added: ‘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. It’s as I said it’s a very delicate balance.’
The American composer’s family has said they were ‘perfectly fine’ with Cooper’s depiction of Bernstein.
As for the use of prosthetics in Golda, Helen said on Tuesday’s episode of Lorraine: ‘I had a wonderful makeup team, they just started their own company doing prosthetics.
‘It was fun really, I loved the process. It could take me hours to just physically enter into her, but also psychologically.’
Addressing the backlash over the use of prosthetics, she continued: ‘Even the most Jewish person would have to wear prosthetics to look like her because nobody looks like Golda!
‘I love re-examining what drama can be in terms of the people telling the stories. It is a tricky one.’
Prosthetics: Dame Helen’s comments come after she defended Bradley Cooper (pictured) wearing a prosthetic nose in the Leonard Bernstein biopic