Jewish Actress Proud to Be Mel Gibson's Virgin Maryhttp://www.passion-movie.com/promote/pr_maia.html
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She's Jewish, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and she says she's proud to be playing the Virgin Mary in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ."
Though some critics charge that the film is anti-Semitic, Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern insists it is anything but.
And even though one of the villains is the Jewish high priest Caiaphas, she told the Jewish Journal in the film he clearly represents the regime and not the Jewish people. "Authorities throughout history have persecuted individuals with revolutionary ideas," she said.
"The Passion of The Christ" opposes such oppression. "It is about letting people speak openly about what they think and believe," she said. "It denounces the madness of violence and cruelty, which if unchecked can spread like a disease."
And she knows about anti-Semitism firsthand. Her family members were victims of violence during World War II, she explained, recalling that her grandfather disappeared after being arrested and her father survived Nazi and Stalinist labor camps.
She herself experienced her own share of anti-Semitism while growing up in Bucharest, Romania. But today she is a devout Jew who started frequenting the Bucharest synagogue when she was 15. "I fell in love with the sound of the Hebrew language," she said.
Her role as the Virgin Mary is not her first playing a Jew who is now a Catholic saint. In Maria Meszaros' "The Seventh Room," she played St. Edith Stein, the Jew who died as a Catholic nun in Auschwitz and was canonized in 1998.
According to the Jewish Journal it was Morgenstern's performance as Stein that drew Mel Gibson's attention.
Called to Rome by Gibson, her first impression of him, she said, was "of a man who was utterly enthusiastic and confident of his artistic vision." He didn't ask Morgenstern to read from the script, which was written in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew, but rather chatted with her about another of her roles.
"We started a conversation like two actors, and we were talking and talking until the casting director interrupted and said, 'I have to know, what is your decision about Ms. Morgenstern?'" she said. "And Mel Gibson replied, 'Of course I'll take her - now please keep telling me, Maia, how was your opening?'"
She said that Gibson agreed with her interpretation of her role as "essentially the question of a mother losing a child."
Morgenstern stressed that not a single scene in "The Passion of Christ" struck her as anti-Semitic. Instead, she said, characters such as Mary and St. John are sympathetic Jews, and Gibson "allowed me to make suggestions based on my Jewish culture." In the scene in which Mary learns Jesus has been arrested, for instance, it was Morgenstern's idea to whisper "Why is this night different from all other nights?" - the question asked during Passover suppers.
When reporters asked her why a Jewish actress was portraying Jesus' mother, she replied, "I played Clytemnestra in 'Oresteia,' and it didn't mean I killed my husband. And as far as I know, Mary was a Jewish lady, so I think it is very normal."
After finishing her role, she read a New York Times article about the "Passion" controversy but remained relatively isolated from the conflict. She was unaware of charges that Gibson's father was a Holocaust denier, for example, or that Gibson told the New Yorker that "modern secular Judaism wants to blame the Holocaust on the Catholic Church."
She said she never heard Gibson make such remarks and she is worried that the media scourging of Gibson and the film amounts to a kind of "censorship" that will prevent the movie from finding a distributor. "I'm very worried about that, because I want this film to be seen by many, many people," she said. "Despite the blood and the violence, it's a beautiful film. I believe it brings an important message, a peace message."
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