Back to IndieWire

Helen Mirren Breaks Silence About ‘Unfairness’ Surrounding Golda Meir Casting Controversy

"If someone who’s not Jewish can’t play Jewish, does someone who’s Jewish play someone who’s not Jewish?," Mirren asked Hollywood.

Helen Mirren arrives at the Oscars, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles90th Academy Awards - Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Mar 2018

Helen Mirren

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

One month after “The Pianist” actress Maureen Lippman criticized the casting around upcoming biopic “Golda,” lead star Helen Mirren is addressing the controversy.

Lippman wrote an op-ed letter to The Guardian on January 12 to clarify her comments surrounding Mirren taking on the role of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, despite not being Jewish herself.

“Helen will be great. Good actress, sexy and intelligent. Looks the part. [But] my opinion, and that’s what it is, a mere opinion, is that if the character’s race, creed or gender drives or defines the portrayal then the correct — for want of an umbrella [term] — ethnicity should be a priority,” Lippman said. “The Jewishness of the character is so integral. I’m sure she will be marvelous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there.”

Mirren responded on February 7 during an interview with The Daily Mail, explaining the casting decision along with “Golda” director Guy Nattiv, who is both Jewish and Israeli.

“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,'” Mirren said. “But he very much wanted me to play the role, and off we went.”

“Golda” is set during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, during the invasion of Israel by a coalition of Arab states on the holy holiday, as reported by Variety.

“I do believe it is a discussion that has to be had, it’s utterly legitimate,” Mirren said of the controversy over a non-Jewish actress portraying Meir. “You know, if someone who’s not Jewish can’t play Jewish, does someone who’s Jewish play someone who’s not Jewish? There’s a lot of terrible unfairness in my profession.”

The film is also written by British screenwriter Nicholas Martin, who previously worked with the U.K. Jewish Film organization.

As for Lippman’s comments, Mirren added, “I very much respect Maureen, and I love her as an actress, absolutely. I’d love to bump into her and sit and have a cup of tea and talk about it.”

Mirren quipped, “My only real fear is if I’m really bad as Golda…in which case, I’ll be toast.”

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Film and tagged

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox