Helen Mirren's Jewish casting controversy reignited with release of Golda Meir biopic

Is she guilty of "Jewface," as Bradley Cooper was accused of for wearing a fake nose to play Leonard Bernstein?

By Hanh Nguyen

Senior Editor

Published August 24, 2023 9:43AM (EDT)

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in "Golda" (Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures)
Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in "Golda" (Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures)

Helen Mirren – who is not Jewish – is in the news again, this time for playing a Jewish icon. 

The release of the Oscar winner's latest film "Golda," in which she plays Israel's only female Prime Minster Golda Meir, has reignited the casting controversy, which she already last year. The Guy Nattiv-directed biopic is hitting theaters on Friday, Aug. 25.

For the record, Mirren initially had questioned Nattiv's desire to cast her.

"[Meir] is a very important person in Israeli history," Mirren initially told Daily Mail's showbiz columnist Baz Bamigboye in early 2022. "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.' But he very much wanted me to play the role, and off we went."

Therefore, she acknowledges that the controversy is "utterly legitimate." The sentiment might be a balm to those who decried Bradley Cooper's "Jewface" for wearing a prosthetic nose to play Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein in Netflix's upcoming biopic "Maestro." 

In an interview with Dujour, Mirren revealed that she spends upwards of three hours in the chair for the makeup and prosthetics needed to transform into Meir. "I got so used to being that person in the daytime that when the makeup all came off and I saw myself as I am, I'd forgotten that was what I looked like," she confessed.

The latest controversy is all part of the bigger conversation about who gets to play Jewish people, especially when the ethnicity of the character drives the role, which should be taken into account writes actor Maureen Lipman in an op-ed letter in The Guardian.

"Golda" opens in theaters Aug. 25. Watch a trailer via YouTube below.

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