‘Cocaine Bear’ star Alden Ehrenreich got his big break after Steven Spielberg saw him at a bat mitzvah


(JTA) — By this point, the film’s title might only be unknown to those who have been hibernating: “Cocaine Bear,” a black comedy very loosely based on a true story from 1985, is the talk of the town in Hollywood and beyond leading up to its theatrical debut on Friday.

One of the movie’s stars, Alden Ehrenreich, got his big break in the industry under less bizarre but still noteworthy circumstances: Steven Spielberg discovered him at a friend’s bat mitzvah.

Ehrenreich, now 33, made a scrappy home movie that he and other friends showed at the bat mitzvah ceremony in 2009. Spielberg was in attendance at the Los Angeles synagogue and afterwards invited Ehrenreich, who is Jewish, to meet with fellow directing legend Francis Ford Coppola. Ehrenreich would then get his first acting credit in a Coppola drama called “Tetro.”

Ehrenreich, who grew up attending a Reconstructionist synagogue, has since appeared in several other films, including the Coen brothers’ “Hail Caesar” and Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” He reportedly beat out several other Jewish actors, including Logan Lerman and Dave Franco, to win the part of young Han Solo in the Star Wars spinoff blockbuster “Solo: A Star Wars Story” in 2018.

He is also set to play a part in “Oppenheimer,” acclaimed director Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film on the drama behind the creation of the atomic bomb — a story featuring several Jewish characters, J. Robert Oppenheimer included.

The true story behind “Cocaine Bear” involves a 175-pound bag of cocaine that fell out of an airplane over Georgia. A black bear got into the bag and overdosed on the contents.

“Hopefully the film lives up to the title,” said director Elizabeth Banks, a movie star in her own right who is married to Jewish sports writer Max Handelman.

Recommended from JTA