Jewish Movie Roles Played by Non-Jewish Actors

By | Aug 01, 2017
2017 July-August, Arts & Culture

Charlie Chaplin as the Jewish Barber

The Great Dictator (1940)

Film icon Charlie Chaplin starred as the Jewish barber in The Great Dictator, a 1940 political satire that Chaplin wrote, produced and directed. The film, including Chaplin’s parody of Hitler, was a direct response to the Nazi Party’s false assertion that Chaplin was Jewish—and the banning of all of his films.

Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca

Ivanhoe (1952)

Superstar Elizabeth Taylor was the brilliant raven-haired beauty Rebecca in the 1952 movie adaptation of Ivanhoe, a 19th-century novel by Sir Walter Scott set in medieval England. Rebecca, a Jew, falls in love with the Christian knight Ivanhoe, a social taboo at the time. Taylor later converted to Judaism in 1959.

Robert De Niro as David Aaronson

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

In 1984, famed Italian-American actor, producer and director Robert De Niro took on the role of New York Jewish gangster David “Noodles” Aaronson in Sergio Leone’s film Once Upon a Time in America. De Niro extensively researched Jewish gangsters and, at 41, convinced Leone to let him play the role of Aaronson in both his 30s and 60s.

Lorraine Bracco as Karen Friedman Hill

Goodfellas (1990)

Italian-American Lorraine Bracco’s portrayal of Karen, the Jewish wife of a mob member Henry Hill in the 1990 film Goodfellas, led to an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The real Karen Hill entered the Witness Protection Program with her family after her husband became an FBI informant.

Felicity Huffman as Bree

Transamerica (2005)

Felicity Huffman, great-granddaughter of a prominent Baptist minister, played the Jewish transgender woman Sabrina “Bree” Osbourne in Transamerica. In the movie, Bree and her newfound son go on a road trip just a week before her scheduled vaginoplasty. Huffman’s performance earned her a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Tom Cruise as Les Grossman

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Tom Cruise, a staunch Scientologist, became the pompous and foul-mouthed Jewish studio executive and producer Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder. Cruise is unrecognizable in the film under thick makeup and costume presenting an out-of-shape, balding and hairy man—a creative choice some claim is anti-Semitic.

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