Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Actor Noah Emmerich folded his lanky body into a chair at L’Ermitage Hotel and pretended to clandestinely scan the lobby. “Those guys over there could be suspicious,” he quipped, and then added, “You don’t have a poison pen, do you?”
The affable actor was joking, of course -- riffing on the counterintelligence agent he plays on FX’s acclaimed Reagan-era spy thriller “The Americans,” for which he’s become a strong contender for an Emmy Award nomination (for best supporting role in a dramatic series) when the candidates are announced on July 18.
Emmerich has already earned critical kudos for his understated yet scene-stealing turn as FBI agent Stan Beeman, who in the series’ pilot chances to move across the street from married KBG spooks posing as typical middle class Americans (played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell). Unbeknownst to Beeman, they’re actually his arch nemeses.
As Stan, Emmerich exudes an avuncular charm but also a vague sense of underlying menace; we learn that the character has been severely traumatized by his previous three years of undercover work penetrating white supremacist terrorist groups, and the toll on his psyche threatens to compromise not only his marriage but also his moral compass. The details of his dangerous previous assignment are likely to be revealed when the series’ second season premieres this winter.
Emmerich spoke with several former undercover agents to understand his character’s psyche: “You discover the possibility that nothing may be as it seems,” he said of spy work. “Duplicity becomes the norm. “And living undercover can be very disorienting to your own sense of self, to your identity, and to your relationships with your family and friends. It’s a very private experience that you can’t share with anyone, because it could jeopardize his or her safety. So the biggest cost to Stan is his loneliness and his isolation.”
The actor can, in a way, relate to the fictional Stan’s Cold War paranoia; as a teenager, he co-founded a group called Future Generations that fought for nuclear disarmament. “I was really afraid,” he said of the prospect of nuclear war. “I remember going to bed at night and sometimes wondering, ‘Will I wake up? Will the world make it to the morning?’ That was a really visceral feeling that was alive in the 1980s.”
Emmerich’s own family is intimately familiar with the ravages of war. His father, Andre Emmerich, a renowned art dealer, fled Nazi Germany to Amsterdam at 7 with his parents and arrived in New York in 1940. Emmerich’s aunt was a classmate of Anne Frank’s and his grandfather was a prominent attorney who returned to Germany after World War II to advocate for reparations for Holocaust survivors.
The actor grew up immersed in the arts. His mother is a concert pianist who debuted with the New York Philharmonic when she was 16; his father’s artist clients –including David Hockney – frequented the family homes in Manhattan and on an old Quaker farm that the elder Emmerich had transformed into a vast sculpture garden.
As a boy, Noah played the trumpet, attended the Dalton School and later, while attending Yale University, aspired to become a Constitutional attorney. But while he was attending his first year of law school classes, a friend convinced him to take a small role in a college production of Cole Porter’s musical “Anything Goes.” He accepted despite his severe stage fright and an occasional propensity to stammer: “I just sort of faced the fear,” he said – but his turn in the chorus proved to be “a disaster. I had five or six lines, all of which I got wrong, for two nights in a row.”
Even so, “The experience proved so rich that it awakened some desire that I hadn’t even been in touch with,” Emmerich said. “ I didn’t want to stop [acting]. At first people thought I was joking because I had done only one play and I was pretty bad in it. Everyone thought I was sort of having a nervous breakdown.”
After taking a year abroad to see if the acting bug left his system (it didn’t), Emmerich returned to New York and immersed himself in the world of the theater, studying the Meisner technique, among other endeavors.
In 1996, he landed his first silver screen role in Ted Demme’s “Beautiful Girls,” opposite Natalie Portman; the following year, he played Sylvester Stallone’s deputy in James Marigold’s “Cop Land,” and in 1998 he was Jim Carrey’s duplicitous best friend in “The Truman Show.”
Over more than two decades of well-received supporting actor performances, Emmerich has also portrayed his share of police officers – not only in “Cop Land” but also as Edward Norton’s brother in Gavin O’Connor’s “Pride and Glory” (2008) as well as in films such as 2013’s “Blood Ties,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Which is part of the reason he was initially reluctant to sign on as FBI agent Beeman when “The Americans’” producers came calling a couple of years ago. “I really didn’t want to be another guy who carried and badge and a gun – I’d already done that,” said the actor, adding that he at first assumed “The Americans” was just another procedural cop drama. “The Hollywood system sometimes negates the craft of acting; people see you play a cop and they don’t think ‘What a good actor,’ they think ‘What a good cop -- let’s get him to do another one.’”
It was Emmerich’s friend, filmmaker Gavin O’Connor, who convinced him to read the pilot more carefully, and the actor came to realize that “in fact the show wasn’t really a spy game as much as a human game,” he said. “It’s about how being a spy affects the characters’ lives, how they navigate their relationships and come to a sense of self and identity.”
Emmerich has earned a Critics Choice nomination for his turn as Beeman; and these days his performance plate is full. Just a day after completing “The Americans’" first season this past year, he flew off to Santa Fe, New Mexico to shoot “Jane Got a Gun,” working again with Natalie Portman, this time playing her ex-outlaw husband. “I’m strapping on six-shooters; I’ve got a nice, great hat, I’m busting down doors – it’s the most childlike fun I’ve had as an actor in years,” he said.
And Emmerich looks forward to reprising his complex character of Stan Beeman when “The Americans” commences shooting its second season this fall. “Some people think Stan’s a villain, some think he’s a hero – it’s really a Rashomon in terms of how people perceive him,” he said.
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June 26, 2013 | 5:34 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Evan Goldberg is the writer and director — with Seth Rogen, his longtime writing partner — of the new film “This Is the End,” which just could be the first Jewish rapture comedy.
In it, Rogen and his real-life Jewish (and half-Jewish) pals James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride, as well as Craig Robinson — all playing twisted versions of themselves — are eventually barricaded in Franco’s mansion as the Apocalypse descends, complete with New Testament imagery of seven-headed dragons and sinkholes to hell.
“There is a God? Who f------ saw that coming?” Rogen says at one point in the movie.
Based on a 2007 short film that Goldberg produced called “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse,” the film also gleefully roasts the narcissism of stars “who’ve forgotten they’re vulnerable to the same things as ‘normal’ people,” said Goldberg, 30. With Rogen, he has penned such filthy yet sweet bromances as “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.”
“All the actors essentially s--- all over their public personae,” Goldberg explained in a telephone conversation from Sydney, Australia, where he was promoting the comedy. Franco, for example, portrays himself as a pretentious artist who is coy about whether he is gay; and Rogen, who is caught between his old Canadian friend Jay and his new Hollywood posse, comes off as a good guy who can also be “a duplicitous taint,” Goldberg said.
Yet the biggest gag in the movie, at least for Members of the Tribe, is the vision of a bunch of Jews who are aghast to discover that the Christians were right after all; the sight of Jay holding up a cross patched together from two spatulas is beyond hilarious.
“Seth and I think it’s hysterical that a lot of Christians think we’re going to burn in hell forever,” Goldberg said. “To us, that’s one of the big jokes of the film.”
Goldberg still remembers his Woody Allen-like response to seeing Christian imagery as a kid: “One day I went to a Vancouver Christian boys’ college and they had, like, massive crucifixes, and it scared the living s--- out of me,” he said. “I also read this book where a woman described having nightmares about her Jewish friends having their skin flayed off in hell, because that’s what they tell you is going to happen to us.”
Then there was the conversation Goldberg and Rogen had with a good Christian friend in high school who essentially said, “I’m super bummed, but you’re going to hell.’
It eventually added up to some of the inspiration for “This Is the End.”
“Dozens of little things like that slowly led to Seth and I going, ‘We could make a joke out of this,’ ” Goldberg said. “And on the flip side, if you’re one of the people who believes this stuff, you can’t really get mad at us because we’re just showing you what you want to see.”
Not exactly, however: [spoiler alert] In the film’s version of the Apocalypse, nice Jewish boys can go to heaven. Is Goldberg, who describes himself as an agnostic, worried about offending believers? “No more than they’re concerned about insulting me by saying I’m going to hell,” he said.
Goldberg and Rogen have been friends since they met in a bar mitzvah “tallis and tefillin” class in Vancouver when they were 12.
“Specifically, we were at Julia Morinis’ bat mitzvah where we tried to dance with some girls and they wouldn’t,” Goldberg recalled. “So when me, Seth and our friend Sammy Fogell realized we weren’t going to get kissed that night, we went off and tried to steal some beers and ended up solidifying our friendship.
“What bonded us,” he added, “is that no girls would get with us.” That’s also what inspired Goldberg and Rogen, at 13, to write their first script, “Superbad,” which was eventually made into a 2007 film starring Hill and Michael Cera as the libidinous young Seth and Evan.
Goldberg, who attended McGill University, got his big break when he became Rogen’s writing partner on Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Da Ali G Show” about a decade ago. The duo went on to become one of the hottest comedy writing and producing teams in Hollywood.
In 2011, however, their ill-received action comedy “The Green Hornet,” starring Rogen, proved a “nightmarish experience” that taught the writers to never again make an expensive film where studios could prevent them from “doing what we do best: funny dirty movies with heart,” Goldberg said.
“This Is the End,” was made with the modest-by-Hollywood-standards budget of just over $30 million.
“The message in our movies is always the same, which is don’t be an ass----, and be good to your friends,” Goldberg said, “because more than anything, that’s the secret to a good world.”
June 26, 2013 | 11:48 am
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Gary David Goldberg, the Emmy Award-winning writer-director-producer who created the iconic 1980s sitcom “Family Ties,” which made Michael J. Fox a star, as well as the semi-autobiographical CBS series “Brooklyn Bridge” — one of the most Jewish comedies ever to grace the small screen — died of brain cancer on June 22 at his home in Montecito. He was 68.
Goldberg’s TV successes also included sitcoms such as “Spin City,” starring Fox as the deputy mayor for a bumbling New York City mayor. Among his feature films are 1989’s “Dad,” with Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson as a reconciling father and son; “Bye Bye Love” (1995); and “Must Love Dogs” (2005), a personal-ad dating saga starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. In 2008, Goldberg penned his memoir, “Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I Went From Brooklyn to Hollywood With the Same Woman, the Same Dog and a Lot Less Hair.”
“Brooklyn Bridge,” which was one of the most acclaimed series of the 1990s, paid homage to Goldberg’s years growing up in a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Bensonhurst, along with his Orthodox grandparents and meddling, if well-meaning, neighbors.
“Matchmaking was a lot of fixing up,” he recalled in a 2005 Journal interview about “Must Love Dogs.” “The whole neighborhood was like JDate without a computer, with aunts and uncles and telephones.”
As a young man, Goldberg left the ’hood to attend Brandeis University on a sports scholarship, where he was eventually expelled for ditching classes; around 1970 he set off to hitchhike around the world with his wife-to-be, Diana Meehan, along with their black Labrador, Ubu. When the couple ended up in Israel in the early 1970s, Goldberg attended an audition for an Israeli TV show on a lark and ended up as the title character in a series called “The Adventures of Scooterman.”
But he didn’t try screenwriting until — again on a lark — he chanced to attend a writing class at San Diego State University, where a professor helped him procure his first agent when he was in his early 30s. Stints followed writing for “The Bob Newhart Show” and producing “Lou Grant” before Goldberg founded his own company, Ubu Productions, named after his beloved dog, in 1980.
Two years later, he based “Family Ties” — in which Fox plays an uber-conservative student living with liberal parents — on his own experience as an ex-hippie parent raising kids of a different generation.
Goldberg intended “Brooklyn Bridge,” which aired from 1991 to 1993 and received a Golden Globe award for best comedy, to be unabashedly Jewish; in an interview for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, he said he told his writers, “People will speak Yiddish on this show, and we’re not going to use subtitles. The grandfather will be reading a Yiddish newspaper. This is not the Andersons. This is real ethnic stuff.”
“I didn’t have meanness in [my] comedy,” he said of his work. “The times that I tried to be darker or meaner or hipper didn’t work. It just wasn’t where I came from.”
Goldberg is survived by his wife, Diana; daughters Shana and Cailin; and three grandchildren.
June 19, 2013 | 3:34 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Comedian Judy Gold describes herself as a 6-foot-3, kosher-keeping Jewish lesbian and mother of two, and she’s always thought her life would be perfect fodder for a sitcom. She’s got a partner, an ex, two precocious sons, a bunch of eccentric neighbors and a “crazy-making” mom who, by the way, loves being part of her act. “And I’m a comic – hel-lo!” she said in a telephone conversation from her apartment on the Upper West Side.
But network executives just haven’t seen her life as a TV comedy. They’ve said her pitch “is too gay, or it isn’t gay enough,” Gold complained. Or they want a riff on “The L Word” with lots of lesbian nookie. “I tell them, ‘We’re married with kids; we never have f------ sex!” she said.
Fed up, but not willing to give up on her quest to join the ranks of the Bunkers and the Barones, Gold did the next best thing: She co-wrote and also stars in her monologue “The Judy Show — My Life as a Sitcom,” a memoir seen through the lens of her favorite shows from the 1960s through the 1990s, opening at the Geffen Playhouse on June 18.
In it, the New Jersey native recounts how as a kid in a family where communication meant yelling, she longed to run away and live with the cheerful Brady Bunch. She imagined summer camp would be “like ‘M*A*S*H’ without the Korean War,” only to discover that it resembled “ ‘The Facts of Life’ meets ‘Lord of the Flies.’ ” Her first serious relationship was like a lesbian version of “Laverne & Shirley.”
Plenty of laughs are also mined from the comic’s complex relationship with her 90-year-old mother, Ruth Gold, who gave her a love for Judaism but also is hilariously “obsessed,” Gold says, with being Jewish.
While watching the TV news about the serial killer Sam Berkowitz in the 1970s, Gold’s mother was appalled to learn that the “Son of Sam” was a member of the tribe. “Three days later, she triumphantly announced at the dinner table: ‘Myrna called. The Son of Sam — adopted!” Gold said in an interview.
“We had a kosher home, and if we accidentally used the meat knife to cut butter, my mother would bury [the utensil] in the earth to ritually purify it. Then in wintertime, when it was freezing, she’d have some houseplant with a fork sticking out of it, and I’d be like, ‘Don’t even ask.’ ”
To escape her family’s meshugas, Gold immersed herself in the fantasy world of sitcoms, flopping on her belly on the shag carpeting to watch “The Partridge Family,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” and anything else by Norman Lear. “I was beyond addicted,” said Gold, adding that when she moved to Los Angeles she would go to Studio City and gaze for long periods of time at the home that had served as the Brady house exterior.
High school wasn’t much like “Welcome Back, Kotter”: “I was 6 feet tall by the time I was 13, and the minute I walked in the door, it was constantly, ‘Hey, Bigfoot! Sasquatch! Orca!’ ” Gold said. “But that gave me a very thick skin.”
The aspiring performer felt like the fictional Mary Richards, the single career woman of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” when she moved to New York to make it in comedy, even though her manager “tried to turn me into a short, straight [non-Jew],” she recalled.
Even so, she began incorporating her Judaism (and her Jewish mother) into her act and even her gay identity, in earnest, once her first child was born.
She got her big break on an A&E comedy special in the 1990s and went on to earn two Emmy Awards for writing and producing “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” as well as appearing on TV programs like “The View” and playing a rabbi on the 2013 season finale on Showtime’s “The Big C” — all between stand-up gigs. When Gold wearied of performing solo only in nightclubs, she turned to the theater about a decade ago.
Her 2006 monologue, “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother,” was born after she set off across the country to interview 50 diverse moms; among other topics, the piece examines why Jewish mothers can be overprotective. “We’ve been kicked out of every country from the beginning of time, so of course we always need to know where the children are,” Gold said. The piece also explores how some of her own mother’s issues hail from a family tragedy, when Ruth’s younger brother died in a freak accident when Ruth was 17.
“I now understand my mother, and I’m a lot like her; it’s l’dor v’dor [from generation to generation],” Gold said.
These days, the elder Gold has mellowed, and even told her daughter “mazel tov” when gay marriage was legalized in New York in 2011. “I talk to her every day,” Gold said. “I tell her she can’t die, because then I’d run out of material.”
For tickets and more information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit geffenplayhouse.com.
June 19, 2013 | 9:34 am
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
“People are always so quick to point out the Christ allegory in “The Man of Steel” but Superman has always struck me as a combination of Old Testament and New Testament; he’s a sort of fusion between these two figures, both Moses and Christ,” screenwriter David S. Goyer said. So what’s Jewish about the new Superman reboot, “The Man of Steel,” which soared at the box office with $125 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend, the largest June opening in history? I caught up with Goyer (also the scribe behind Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster “The Dark Knight” trilogy”) to find out.
Q: What did you take from Jewish texts to depict The Man of Steel?
A: I read the Old Testament again, especially the book of Exodus and the story of Moses. I also read the New Testament, as well as a couple of different translations of the “Gilgamesh” epic poem and Beowulf – any sort of original texts I could find that related either to a savior or a god-like figure who has one foot in the mundane world and one foot in the land of the gods.
Q: What’s the link to Moses in your film?
A: Obviously the idea of Kal-El’s [Superman’s] parents casting him off into the stars is a blatant reference to Moses in the bulrushes. And while Superman’s adoptive earth parents are not pharaohs, Superman is a [being] from one race raised by members of another race; he has to come to grips with his own heritage just as Moses did. If you follow the biblical story, Moses is raised in an Egyptian household, but ultimately embraces Judaism and the fact that he comes from a different lineage.
Q: Of course Superman was created in the late 1930s by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who were Jewish.
A: Yes, and as Jews they were both well versed in the immigrant experience; a lot of people have said Superman is the ultimate immigrant story. He is viewed as an alien on earth; he’s the “other” and people tend not to trust the “other.” We draw on this a lot in the film.
Superman is also very much a story of assimilation; Siegel and Shuster wanted to get into legitimate publishing but because of their Jewish background some doors were closed to them. That’s why a lot of Jewish creators ended up falling into comic books initially, and why so many of the major comic book characters, including Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Ironman and The Fantastic Four were all created by Jews.
And many Jews in the 1930s were obviously feeling elements of persecution or having relatives who were persecuted in Nazi Europe, so I think there’s a certain amount of wish fulfillment as well in creating these heroic figures who had the ability to stand up to injustice.
Q: Superman’s nemesis, General Zod, not only wants to annihilate the human race; he is a proponent of genetic engineering to create the Kryptonian ubermensch. Is he in any way a stand in for the Nazis in your film?
A: Without hitting the nail too much on the head, we were aware of these elements. I wasn’t the first person to suggest there might have been some genetic engineering going on on Kyrpton; I believe it was John Byrne in the 1980s who described Kryptonians as being born in these birth matrices. But we thought we could take it one step further and we depicted a kind of “Brave New World” culture on Kypton in which each person is genetically bred to fulfill a predetermined role in society, and that definitely hearkens back to the notion of eugenics.
[Director] Zack Snyder and I talked a lot about how we couldn’t ignore the Nietzschean ubermensch aspects of Zod. He is a racial purist and he does want to define which bloodlines should rule; he doesn’t want to share the earth, and he makes that explicitly clear in the film. He feels that humans are an inferior race. If he could he would have exterminated all of humanity, so we deliberately use the word “genocide” to describe his intentions in the film.
Q: Did you try to make Zod empathetic in any way – to avoid making him a cardboard cutout villain?
A: I don’t think any villains think of themselves as a villain; I mean Hitler didn’t think of himself as a villain. So to a certain extent the less cartoonish you can make these antagonists the better. From Zod’s perspective, he’s doing what he was genetically bred to do, which is to protect the Kryptonian race at the expense of other races. He thinks what he’s doing is heroic.
Q: Why is the Superman story important to you, as someone who happens to be Jewish?
A: I’d like to believe that we live in a world that can be tolerant of all races and all religions and don’t demonize people because they are different. So if people get that message from seeing the film, that’s a very good thing.
June 12, 2013 | 4:42 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Around the time that British playwright Diane Samuels was pregnant with her second child in the early 1990s, she was intrigued by a television documentary on the Kindertransport, the evacuation of 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to foster homes in Britain, where most would never see their parents again.
“In the film there was one survivor, who, after years of remaking her life in England, found herself in a situation where her children were grown, her marriage had ended, and she was left alone in this difficult place,” Samuels said by phone from her home in North London. “After a psychotherapy session one night, the sudden fury she felt was so huge, she had to get out of the car. She found herself sobbing to her dead parents, ‘Why did you send me away? Why did you get yourselves killed?’ And that rage really touched me. If your parents saved your life, how can you say you’re furious at them for sending you away? How do you deal with those feelings, or even admit to them?”
Those questions led Samuels to write “Kindertransport,” which had its premiere with London’s Soho Theatre Company in 1993 and in the United States at the Manhattan Theatre Club the following year, and then went on to be staged in myriad productions throughout the world. The play is widely credited with raising awareness about the Kindertransport and its aftermath in Britain, where it is now on every high school syllabus.
To mark the 75th anniversary of the child rescue this year, L.A. Theatre Works is producing a radio theater production that will be recorded live in performances at UCLA’s James Bridges Theater on June 20-23 and that will be broadcast at a later date on public radio stations, as well as streamed on demand at latw.org.
The play tells the story of Eva, a 9-year-old girl from a well-to-do Hamburg family whose mother, Helga (Jane Kaczmarek), sends her off to Britain on the eve of World War II. In Manchester, Eva is taken in by the kindly but no-nonsense Lil, who can’t understand why the Jewish girl declines to eat ham or pray in a church.
Juxtaposed against scenes of Eva’s journey is the story of Evelyn (Susan Sullivan), who is actually Eva in middle age, and who has repressed her childhood loss (and her fears of anti-Semitism) by becoming a perfect, stiff-upper-lipped Englishwoman. Evelyn has converted to the Anglican Church and even changed her birthday to the date Lil picked her up at the train station. For Evelyn, survival has meant an acute form of assimilation — until her own daughter, Faith, discovers some old letters in an attic and forces Evelyn to come to terms with her past.
Kaczmarek — who is perhaps best known for playing a harried mom in the hit TV comedy “Malcolm in the Middle” — said she’s reprising her role from the New York production and a 1996 staging at the now-closed Tiffany Theater in West Hollywood (for which she won an Ovation Award), because the piece is one of the most significant she has ever tackled. Since learning about the Shoah as a child in a devout Polish-Catholic family in Milwaukee, she said, “I’ve always had a tremendous affinity for the Jewish people. I’ve visited Israel, lit [Shabbat] candles and played many Jewish roles in my life.”
“Kindertransport” stands out for the actress, in part, because it allows viewers to regard Holocaust victims as more than just a statistic: “When you think of the 6 million, you can’t comprehend that number, but when you break it down to one story people can begin to understand the unfathomable loss.
“What ‘Kindertransport’ really is about is separation, especially between mothers and daughters, as well as secrets and denial within families,” said Samuels, who interviewed a number of survivors to write the play.
Samuels, who was raised in an Orthodox community in Liverpool, knows about the cost of childhood trauma: “My grandmother lost a previous child, and my mum couldn’t replace the son who had died,” she said. “She suffered all her life with that, but she could never talk about it.” Samuels said she participated in “loads of therapy” to explore her own response to the tragedy.
“ ‘Kindertransport’ explores the healing of wounds passed down from one generation to another,” said Samuels, who is making tweaks to her script to adapt it for Los Angeles Theatre Works.
In a telephone conversation from her home in New York, the production’s director, Jeanie Hackett, described the challenges inherent in staging a play that traverses back and forth in time for radio. To clarify the action for audiences at the recordings, she will place the actors who portray characters in the past on one side of the stage and performers who play present-day characters on the other, with Eva and Evelyn sharing the same mic in the middle. Hackett will also project slides of Kindertransport-era photographs to enhance the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, Kaczmarek was preparing to reprise her role by listening to classical music that evoked emotions of the period. During a thoughtful interview at her Pasadena home, she said she has been obsessed with the Shoah since reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” in fifth grade. Kaczmarek added that she was shocked when Arab countries attacked Israel during the Six-Day War, because “after the Holocaust, in my naiveté, I assumed that everyone loved and admired the Jewish people.”
To play Helga, Kaczmarek pored over books on the Holocaust at the New York Public Library, studying everything from Nazi medical experiments on Jewish children to the number of calories Auschwitz inmates ingested per day. “I wanted to know what kinds of things Helga would have done to try to stay alive,” she said.
Before every performance, she would sit quietly backstage “and make an entreaty to someone who had died in the Holocaust to just fill me with an element of truth.”
But after Kaczmarek had her first child in 1997, the actress thought it would be “too devastating” to ever return to the play. Helga’s anguish stayed with her when she would have to leave her children for a time and they would beg for her to stay; when she visited the pediatrician their cries were so painful that she actually had to walk out of the examining room, while her husband remained.
“There was a time when I really considered being hypnotized to have all the research I did on the camps taken out of my head,” she said.
These days, however, Kaczmarek feels ready to reimmerse herself in the world of “Kindertransport.” “I’m coming out the other side of it again, in terms of going into this as an actress, focusing on technique, and not just being Jane out there sticking knives into my heart,” she said.
For tickets and information, call (310) 827-0889 or visit this story at visit tft.ucla.edu/facilities/james-bridges-theater.