Armageddon Time Director Defends Decision to Cast Non-Jewish Actors in Jewish Roles

These days, there can sometimes be a lot of scrutiny over certain casting choices in movies and TV shows. It’s something we’ve seen just recently amid some criticism from other actors over the casting of Brendan Fraser as a gay obese man in The Whale. Now, in a new interview with The New York Times, Armageddon Time director James Gray has addressed his decision to cast non-Jewish actors in Jewish roles despite any potential controversy that might come with it.

During the interview, Gray is asked about some of the criticisms leveled against the movie in different reviews. After refuting some claims, it is brought up that the movie features actors like Anthony Hopkins, who are not Jewish, playing Jewish characters. Gray strongly stands by his casting and condemns the assertion that only Jewish actors should be sought for these roles, as that would just lead to stereotyping. As Gray, a Jewish filmmaker who developed the film based on his real-life upbringing, puts it:

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“I take huge offense to that as well. Because that means what people want is [puts on a Yiddish accent] ‘Hello, I am the Jewish grandfather!’ But that’s not what my grandfather was like. And I’m Jewish — I reserve the right to cast someone like Anthony Hopkins. Does that person watch The Godfather and complain that Marlon Brando is from Omaha, Neb., and not an Italian New York guy? At some point, we have to acknowledge that our whole function as artists is to try and step into the consciousness of someone else and find compassion and find something of emotional power in doing that. The criticism, may I say, would be valid if I tried to tell the story from Johnny’s perspective. That would be asinine. But it’s my story. And you don’t have to say that my story is of value, but that’s a different criticism.”

Johnny refers to a friend of the film’s protagonist, sixth-grader Paul Graff (Banks Repata), who is based heavily on Gray. Played by Jaylin Webb, Johnny is a Black classmate who is also confronted by racism and discrimination in 1980 Queens. The film also explores Johnny’s relationship with his parents (Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong) and grandfather (Anthony Hopkins).

Armageddon Time Takes Us Back to 1980

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As for the title of the film, Gray also recently broke that down in an interview with MovieWeb. Gray told us how the title Armageddon Time has many meanings and felt like the perfect name for the film when considering all that it encompasses.

“I didn’t want the title to be only about one specific thing. With the title, it’s a personal Armageddon for the kids. It’s society, the beginning of a kind of potential Armageddon for the idea of democracy itself. I think we see that now. This is not a given, our democracy. The politicians constantly, in 1980, were talking about Armageddon because of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Then of course in the most pedestrian reading, I was a huge Clash fan and I listened to the song Armagideon Time over and over again.”

The director went on to further explain:

“So I saw it as having multiple meanings, and not really being about only one thing, but about that feeling of threat. The pressure that you feel in an unconscious and semi-conscious way as a young person growing up, when politicians talk about Armageddon, but when the bad things happen to you, when it feels like the end of the world for you. And then of course, all the dangers that we face now.”

Armageddon Time is now in theaters. You can watch the official trailer below.