Helen Mirren defends Bradley Cooper wearing 'Jewface' nose in Leonard Bernstein biopic

Mirren, 78, said there was a 'very delicate balance' to portraying people with a different heritage


Helen Mirren has defended Bradley Cooper wearing a prosthetic nose whilst portraying Leonard Bernstein in the biopic Maestro.

A trailer for the upcoming Netflix biopic about the late composer provoked disagreement across the Jewish community after shots showed Cooper donning the nose. 

Many, including Bernstein's children, defended the Hollywood actors decision to don the nose, and said it accurately portrayed their father's "nice big nose." However, other antisemitism groups said the nose perpetuated historic antisemitic stereotypes of Jews with hook noses or was deliberately contrived to make Bernstein seem "more Jewish" than he actually was.

Dame Helen, 78, plays the former prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir, in upcoming biopic Golda and was asked if she understood the recent backlash and whether she can see why people are uncomfortable with what some term "Jewface".

Speaking on BBC Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, the actress said: "I think I can see, but sometimes I can't see, because, I can't see who in this room is Jewish.

"We are all such an amazing mix and certainly I don't have an issue with Kirk Douglas playing a Viking. Kirk Douglas was Jewish.

"I think the whole question of assuming a certain physiognomy because you're playing a particular race. There is something offensive about that.

"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."

Dame Helen also addressed Meir’s character. Asked if some of her words and actions were unacceptable - she once said there was "no such thing as Palestinians", Dame Helen added: "I think that's true in the context of today's world, absolutely.

"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. So yes, absolutely. That's true."

Speaking on whether she had had to reconcile with that, Dame Helen added: "I don't need to be reconciled to that.

"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 rationalising her or reappraising her. I'm just playing a woman of that age, dealing with that situation."

The new film focuses on the responsibilities and decisions that Meir, also known as the Iron Lady of Israel, had to make during the Yom Kippur War, an armed conflict fought between Israel and a coalition of Arab states that was launched in 1973.

Cooper's nose-based controversy comes just weeks after questions were raised about Cillian Murphy's casting as the Jewish nuclear scientist J Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer.

Maestro will debut on Netflix on December 20.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive