British actress Dame Helen Mirren has defended Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic, elongated nose in the “Maestro” biopic against accusations it is antisemitic, saying sometimes props are needed to achieve accuracy in how a character really looked.
Cooper, who isn’t Jewish, has been accused on social media of fueling antisemitic stereotypes by wearing an exaggerated nose that appears even larger than that of the real Leonard Bernstein, whom he plays in the movie.
Mirren, 78, spoke to the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, saying there is a “very delicate balance” in portraying people of a different heritage and that it can be a “good idea” to use prosthetics.
“I think the whole question of assuming a certain physiognomy because you’re playing a particular race. There is something offensive about that,” she said. “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.”
Mirren said that there should be discussion on the topic: “It’s utterly legitimate.” But, she added, “if someone who’s not Jewish can’t play Jewish, [can] someone who’s Jewish play someone who’s not Jewish?”
The Anti-Defamation League has agreed with Leonard Bernstein’s family that Cooper’s prosthetic nose is not an antisemitic portrayal of the celebrated Jewish conductor.
Mirren was also asked about her leading role in “Golda” depicting Israel’s first and only female prime minister, Golda Meir, during the period of the fateful 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The veteran actress also required prosthetics to look the part, with the Daily Mail reporting it took two to three hours a day to prepare her for filming.
She said she has also faced “utterly legitimate” criticism by those who believe the role of Meir should have been played by a Jewish actress rather than Mirren, who isn’t.
“It was certainly a question that I had, before I accepted the role,” she said and that she had told director Guy Nattiv, “Look Guy, I’m not Jewish, and if you want to think about that, and decide to go in a different direction… I will absolutely understand.”
Kuenssberg challenged Mirren as to whether she felt some of the remarks made by Meir are “unacceptable” — such as when the late prime minister said there is “no such thing as Palestinians.”
“I think that’s true in the context of today’s world, absolutely,” Mirren responded but added, “I don’t need to be reconciled to that.”
“We are all the product of the society that we grew up in and the world around us and our education and all the rest of it,” she said. “All I’m doing is playing Golda during the period of the Yom Kippur War. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m not explaining her or rationalizing her or reappraising her. I’m just playing a woman of that age, dealing with that situation.”
Mirren attended the “Golda” premiere at Picturehouse Central in London on Thursday evening.