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Helen Mirren Defends Playing Golda Meir After Receiving Backlash: I Told the Director 'I'm Not Jewish'

"I said, 'If that’s an issue, I’ll step away, no problem,' " Mirren said of how she told director Guy Nattiv she wasn't Jewish

<p>Bleecker Street Media /Courtesy Everett Collection; Tristar Media/WireImage</p> Helen Mirren in <em>Golda</em> (L) and at the movie

Bleecker Street Media /Courtesy Everett Collection; Tristar Media/WireImage

Helen Mirren in Golda (L) and at the movie's premiere in Berlin on Feb. 20, 2023

Helen Mirren is addressing the controversy surrounding her casting as real-life former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, despite not being Jewish like Meir.

Speaking with Radio Times magazine, the 78-year-old actress defended herself against "the whole issue of casting" that has "exploded out of the water fairly recently," over her taking on the role for the new film Golda.

"I did tell [director Guy Nattiv] that I’m not Jewish, in case he thought I was," said Mirren, whose makeup transformation in the film renders her unrecognizable.

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But Nattiv — who is Jewish and from Israel, and whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors, according to Variety — didn't have a problem with it, according to Mirren.

"I said, 'If that’s an issue, I’ll step away, no problem,' " the Oscar winner recalled. "But he said, 'No, it’s not an issue. I want you to play Golda.' And off we went."

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<p>Alan Chapman/Dave Benett/WireImage</p> Helen Mirren attends a special screening of <em>Golda</em> on Sept. 28, 2023, in London

Alan Chapman/Dave Benett/WireImage

Helen Mirren attends a special screening of Golda on Sept. 28, 2023, in London

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It's not the first time Mirren has commented on the criticism that came with portraying Meir. As she told the Daily Mail in February 2022, "It was certainly a question that I had before I accepted the role."

Her statement was a response to Dame Maureen Lipman's argument that "ethnicity should be prioritized" in roles like this.

"I do believe it is a discussion that has to be had – it's utterly legitimate," Mirren said in response, before posing the question, "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 actress added.

In the film, Mirren portrays Meir, who died in 1978 at age 80, as she led the country through 1973's Yom Kippur War, in which Egypt, Syria and a number of other Middle Eastern countries launched a surprise attack on Israel.

<p>Jasper Wolf/Bleecker Street Media</p> Helen Mirren in <em>Golda</em> (2023)

Jasper Wolf/Bleecker Street Media

Helen Mirren in Golda (2023)

Related: Helen Mirren Shines at Golda Special Screening — See the Look!

Mirren's physical transformation for the part was a new experience for the actress, who previously told DuJour magazine the film's makeup department "went through various manifestations" to get her look right.

“Eventually we got to a point where we felt it was sufficient but hopefully not too much. With that sort of makeup, you’re wandering into dangerous territory," she said. "Obviously, it’s there and you can’t say it’s not there. But on the other hand, the audience knows I’m not an Irish woman living in Montana.”

Mirren added that she felt closely entwined with Meir during filming, noting she would think about "that acting thing: Am I becoming her or is she becoming me?"

“I’ve never done anything like that before. It was an adventure," the actress continued. "I got so used to being that person in the daytime that when the makeup all came off and I saw myself as I am, I’d forgotten that was what I looked like."

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