Dame Maureen Lipman has clarified her criticism of Dame Helen Mirren playing the role of a former Israeli prime minister, saying if the “religion fires the character” then actors from that religious group should be considered first.
The actress, 75, made headlines this week after asking if Dame Helen was the right choice to play Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister, in the upcoming biopic Golda, as she is not Jewish.
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain (GMB), Dame Maureen agreed that the challenge of acting was to become the character you are playing regardless of background, but added that she felt actors who shared the background of their character should be looked at first.
She said: “Because as globalisation gets bigger, casting gets smaller, and we’re getting more and more tribal.
“If the religion fires the character, then I honestly think you should look at that group, that gender.
“If the character is gay, I think you should definitely see the gay actors first. See the Jewish actors first and if it doesn’t work out, fire ahead, go ahead.”
Dame Maureen previously questioned if Dame Helen is right to play the part of Meir, telling The Jewish Chronicle: “The Jewishness of the character is so integral.”
Clarifying her remarks, she told GMB: “My feeling is, firstly, that Helen Mirren is a fine actress, and will be brilliant in the role and will green-light the film and be very good because she’s sexy and Golda Meir, believe it or not, was very sexy.
“I’ve seen shows about her before so I have nothing against Helen playing it.”
However, she questioned if actresses with Jewish heritage had been considered, adding: “My query is, should the casting directors have looked first, and maybe they did, at Bette Midler or (Barbra) Streisand or Jennifer Connelly or Scarlett Johansson?
“Probably I would have gone for Tracey Ullman, who is a brilliant actress.
“But maybe they wouldn’t green-light a film and maybe they considered that Helen has Russian in her background and therefore she could play this Jewish woman from Milwaukee.
“Now it’s a complicated argument and I will end up contradicting myself but say, for example, that you wanted to cast a film about Indira Gandhi, would it be all right, would there be a fuss, if you cast Salma Hayek, a Mexican, probably Catholic? Is it all right?
“Once I played an Irish Catholic and Milton Schumann wrote in his review, ‘Maureen Lipman playing an Irish Catholic is like Barbra Streisand playing Mother Teresa’.
“Now, you might say, ‘why not?'”