Oscar-winning actor Helen Mirren refused to address the controversy around her casting as Israel’s iconic Prime Minister Golda Meir in Guy Nattiv’s biopic during the movie’s press conference at the Berlinale.
When asked to comment on the backlash and the issue of authentic casting, Mirren left it to Nattiv and her co-star Lior Ashkenazi (“Footnote”) to take a stand for her while she smiled shyly.
Mirren is neither Israeli nor Jewish, and critics have argued that she shouldn’t have been given the part of Israel’s most important female figure.
Nattiv’ said that he met Helen, he instantly felt like was in the presence of a “family member,” an “aunt,” who had the “Jewish chops to portray Golda.”
“We spoke about that for hours. She totally got everything, every nook and cranny, everything in his character,” he continued. Surrounding Mirren with an Israeli cast was then a crucial step, he said, to make him feel like he was “making an Israeli film.”
“Helen said something very smart. She said, ‘Okay, so let’s say only Jews can portray Jews, but what about Jews? So it’s like limiting us in such a way. I think that Israeli and Jewish actors have no limitations and they have no problems to portray (characters) around the world (…) in the international shows,” the director argued.
Ashkenazi made the best joke of the presser, when he asked the crowd of journalists, “Let’s say that we’re making a movie about Jesus Christ, who’s going to play him?
Mirren, who is known for her razor-sharp sense of humor, said ‘It won’t be me!” and spurred a laugher in the room.
The actor, meanwhile, drew a parallel between the British monarch Elizabeth I of England and Meir, who was dubbed the Iron grandmother of Israel.
“In a weird way, it was a bit like playing Elizabeth I of England in the sense of (…) her utter commitment to her country into her nation,” said Mirren, who won an Oscar for her part as the British monarch Elizabeth II in “The Queen.” “The absolute total dedication of her life to that and what she achieved without being the sort of mad dictator type character at all. She was very maternal,” Mirren continued.
Earlier this year, Mirren had compared the backlash she faced to that around casting gay characters. “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?” Mirren told the Daily Mail.
Mirren also said the controversy was part of a wider debate over authentic casting that’s created a “lot of terrible unfairness in (her) 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.”
Based on a screenplay by Nicholas Martin (“Florence Foster Jenkins“), the movie is set against the backdrop of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Nattiv said Mirren reminded him of his own grandmother and Meir.
“Golda” is produced by BAFTA-winner Michael Kuhn (Florence Foster Jenkins). Embankment handles international sales. Bleecker Street and ShivHans Pictures pre-acquired U.S. rights in 2021 in a deal negotiated by ICM Partners and CAA Media Finance.