‘Armageddon Time’ director defends casting non-Jewish actors

Director James Gray is defending his latest film, Armageddon Time, just days after its theatrical release.

Gray opened up about concerns about casting in his new coming-of-age movie in an interview with The New York Times published Friday. Amid the demand for more authentic portrayal in Hollywood projects, “Armageddon Time” stars a handful of non-Jewish actors, including Anthony Hopkins, who portrays members of a Jewish immigrant family. Gray, who is Jewish himself, said he’s not overly concerned about what critics have to say.

“I reserve the right to cast someone like Anthony Hopkins,” said the Ad Astra director. “Is this person watching ‘The Godfather’ and complaining that Marlon Brando is from Omaha, Nebraska and isn’t an Italian New Yorker?”

In “Armageddon Time,” Hopkins portrays Aaron Rabinowitz, a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine, a Holocaust survivor and grandfather of the film’s young protagonist, Paul Graff (Banks Repeta). The film opened in a limited edition on Friday and continues next weekend.

Gray said he took “great dismay” at the backlash, adding that casting only Jewish actors to portray Jewish characters contributed to stereotypes.

“At some point we have to acknowledge that our whole function as artists is to try to step into someone else’s consciousness and find compassion and find something of emotional power in the process,” he said.

Inspired by Gray’s own upbringing, Armageddon Time is set in Queens, NY in 1980 and follows the friendship between Paul and his black classmate Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb). As “Armageddon Time” follows Paul’s transition from public to private school, it is also about assimilation, the American dream and privilege.

Gray said the criticism would be “valid” if he tried to tell the story through the eyes of his black character, Johnny, rather than his own perspective as a white Jewish man.

“But it’s my story,” he said. “And you don’t have to say my story has value, but that’s a different criticism.”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gray said that for him, “Armageddon Time” is so close to home that it’s not a documentary.

An elderly man in a hat is seated on a bench with his arm around a young boy's shoulders.

Banks Repeta, left, and Anthony Hopkins in “Armageddon Time.”

(Anne Joyce / Focus Features)

“I wanted it to be personal, which is far more important,” he said. “What is autobiographical is that I state the facts of the case. And personal means your emotional life and what is emotionally important to you is at work.”

Also starring Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway, Tovah Feldshuh and Ryan Sell is Armageddon Time, which hits theaters amid mounting anti-Semitic hatred.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-10-31/armageddon-time-james-gray-non-jewish-actor-jewish-characters ‘Armageddon Time’ director defends casting non-Jewish actors

Sarah Ridley

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