Director of Golda Meir Film Defends Decision to Cast Non-Jewish Actress Helen Mirren in Lead Role
by Shiryn Ghermezian
Israeli Oscar-winning director Guy Nattiv explained his decision to cast non-Jewish actress Helen Mirren to play the lead role in his new film about former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir ahead of its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on Monday.
At the Berlin Film Festival’s press conference for Golda on Monday, Nattiv said that from their first meeting, he knew Mirren was right for the part.
“I can tell it from my point of view as a director. When I met Helen in my house, I felt like I was meeting a family member, like an aunt. I felt that I’m meeting someone like a Jewish person because for me she’s got the Jewish chops to portray Golda,” he said. “We spoke for four hours. She totally got everything, every nook and cranny, everything in this character.”
Mirren was at the center of controversy when it was first announced in 2021 that she was cast to play Israel’s late prime minister in the film Golda, which focuses on Meir’s leadership and the decisions she made during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. British Jewish actress Maureen Lipman argued that casting directors should have first considered hiring someone Jewish to take on the character before deciding on the Academy Award-winning actress because Meir’s “Jewishness” was “so integral” to who she was. Mirren later said Lipman’s complaint is “utterly legitimate.”
Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi, who plays Israeli Defense Forces chief David “Dado” Elazar in Golda, jokingly asked Monday: “Let’s say tomorrow there is a movie about Jesus Christ. Who’s gonna play him a Jew, or another Jew?” His comment made the audience laugh and Mirren responded saying, “Well, it won’t be me,” which elicited more laughter from the crowd.
Mirren also said at the press conference that by the time filming was done for Golda she had developed a “deep admiration” and “kind of love” for Meir.
“She was an incredible person to end into and experience from within,” Mirren said. “She was extraordinarily brave and with a commitment to Israel that was total,” she said. “In a weird way, it was a bit like playing Elizabeth the First of England… not because she had regality or anything but for her commitment to her country and to her nation. The absolute total dedication of her life to that.”