Hulu’s ‘The Patient’ creators defend Steve Carell’s casting as Jewish therapist in latest ‘Jewface’ push

(JTA) — The flames of the “Jewface” debate have been stoked for years, but the conversation reached a new level of prominence last fall.

The cast of Kathryn Hahn as frankly Jewish comedy pioneer Joan Rivers in a TV series (which was eventually scrapped) and pictures of Bradley Cooper wears prosthetic nose to play Jewish conductor Leonard Bernstein in what should be a blockbuster film fueled debate over whether non-Jewish actors should be cast as Jewish characters.

The latest that could be caught in the crosshairs? Steve Carell.

The non-Jewish actor plays a Jewish therapist in the upcoming psychological thriller “The Patient,” which premieres Aug. 30 on Hulu. Within 10 episodes series, Carell’s therapist character, named Alan Strauss, is kidnapped by a serial killer named Sam Fortner, played by Domhnall Gleeson. Sam seeks out Strauss to cure him of his desires for violence.

The show was created by Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, the producers of the hit drama “The Americans” who both grew up in Jewish homes. During a virtual panel on Tuesday during the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, the couple defended their casting decision.

Here is what Weisberg had to say, via Variety:

When we came up with the original idea, the character wasn’t originally Jewish. And then you start, as you always do, looking for ways to add specificity and depth. And we had this idea quite quickly. But it allowed us to tap into things in our own lives… [it] just added some dimensions and it really became a lot more fun to write a certain way afterwards. I would say that was number one. And in choosing Steve, who’s not Jewish, I think our feeling has always been, as TV writers, that we’re kind of in a field where people are pretending to be other people. It’s what everyone does all the time. And that’s just our main take on it. But we understand that some people feel differently about this and that’s fine too. But that’s where we came from.

And here is what Fields, whose father was a rabbi, had to add:

Jewish themes are very personal and important to each of us. My father was a rabbi, so I grew up in this world. Joe also grew up in a Jewish family. So we were able to tap into something very personal to us. And, ultimately, I think a big part of our belief as storytellers is that what we do is trying to amplify our common humanity. And that’s something that Steve does brilliantly in this part and Domhnall does brilliantly in his part. And we hope that’s ultimately what people take away from the show’s details.

Like our friends from Kveller point out, Weisberg was raised in Chicago by Bernard Weisberg, a civil rights attorney and judge, and Lois Weisberg, the city’s first commissioner of cultural affairs — once dubbed “perhaps the most important architect (or savior) of cultural Chicago the city has ever known.” And Fields’ father, Harvey J. Fields, was a Reform rabbi who led Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto before moving to Beverly Hills as rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles until 2003.

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