Jewish Journal

He Mines the Mannerisms

by Naomi Pfefferman

Posted on Dec. 20, 2001 at 7:00 pm

Elliott Gould stars as Ruben Tischkoff in "Ocean's Eleven."

Elliott Gould stars as Ruben Tischkoff in "Ocean's Eleven."

Don't tell Elliott Gould his hysterically shticky "Ocean's Eleven" character Ruben Tischkoff, is a negative Jewish stereotype. Sure, Tischkoff -- wearing a gauche gold Magen David -- says "schmuck" a lot and forks out bucks to finance the con in the Las Vegas heist flick.

But then again, Gould insists his brilliantly campy character is "an honest portrayal of an ethnic connection to old Vegas." The character is the kind of schmoozy, Jewish has-been who started out in the music biz, switched to casinos and still dresses in the 1960s-style garb that was popular when he was in his heyday (his wardrobe rivals Liberace's). Of course, the ex-casino owner may just be pretending to be Jewish: "He could have taken on the name and the mannerisms to succeed in Vegas," Gould says.

The 63-year-old actor, who plays Ross and Monica's dad on "Friends," began experimenting with Tischkoff's voice and mannerisms as costume designer Jeffrey Kurland dressed him in rust-colored lamé. "By the third fitting, I was smoking a cigar, and I don't smoke," says Gould, who shot to superstardom with '60s films such as "M*A*S*H" but languished before reemerging as a tragic Jewish mobster in 1991's "Bugsy."

He steals scenes from "Ocean's" co-stars Brad Pitt and George Clooney but claims he wasn't first in line for the role. "They dug deep to get conscious of me," says Gould (née Elliott Goldstein), who committed a Tischkoff-like faux pas when he asked if director Steven Soderbergh was Jewish. "He said, 'No, I'm Swedish,' and I said, 'Well, you know, Swedish is a nationality, while Jewish is a way of life,'" Gould recalls. Soderbergh looked nonplused. "Hey, it's OK with me," the actor quickly added. "I hope I haven't blown the job."

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