Sarah Silverman, ‘Jewface’ critic, joins non-Jewish actor Bradley Cooper in Netflix’s Leonard Bernstein movie


(JTA) – She popularized the term “Jewface” to describe non-Jewish actors playing Jewish roles, and kicked off a heated cultural conversation in the process.

Now, Jewish actor and comedian Sarah Silverman is joining the cast of a movie that casts non-Jew Bradley Cooper as widely influential Jewish conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein — with a prosthetic nose, to boot.

Deadline reported that Silverman has joined “Maestro,” an upcoming Netflix biopic of Bernstein starring, written by and directed by Cooper (and co-written by Jewish screenwriter Josh Singer). The movie will span multiple decades of Bernstein’s storied career and tumultuous personal life, and also stars Carey Mulligan, Jeremy Strong and Maya Hawke; Steven Spielberg is a producer.

Deadline speculates that Silverman will play Bernstein’s sister. 

The film, which is filming now in preparation for a likely 2023 release, is being developed in cooperation with Bernstein’s family. But it still attracted controversy after recently released set photos showed Cooper donning the nose to play Bernstein as an older man. Critics on social media said the film’s choice to use the nose plays into antisemitic stereotypes, even if it does cause Cooper to look more like Bernstein.

Silverman has made herself into the most prominent voice on Jewish casting issues after angrily opposing a planned miniseries about Jewish comedian Joan Rivers which would have starred non-Jewish actor Kathryn Hahn.

“There’s this long tradition of non-Jews playing Jews, and not just playing people who happen to be Jewish, but people whose Jewishness is their whole being,” Silverman stated on her podcast last year. “One could argue, for instance, that a gentile playing Joan Rivers correctly would be doing what is actually called ‘Jewface.’”

Silverman, whose autobiographical musical “The Bedwetter” based on her 2010 memoir just premiered off Broadway, has not yet shared her “Maestro” news in any of her social media channels.

Recommended from JTA