Helen Mirren: Starring in ‘Golda’ like playing British monarch

By Miranda Murray

BERLIN (Reuters) – For Helen Mirren, playing Israel’s only female prime minister, Golda Meir, was not unlike a role as a British monarch.

“In a weird way, it was a bit like playing Elizabeth I of England, in the sense of – not because she had that regality or anything – but her utter commitment to her country,” said the English actor, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the 2006 film “The Queen.”

“Golda,” which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Monday, focuses on Meir’s leadership during the Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states in October 1973.

“It’s not a biopic, it’s not her whole life, it’s just a little section where she’s most challenged,” said Mirren.

That year, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 6, during the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, threatening to overwhelm the country. Israel launched a massive counter-offensive before a ceasefire took hold.

Mirren is nearly unrecognizable as Meir thanks to prosthetics and a make-up regimen that took hours, re-creating the Israeli leader’s nicotine-stained fingers and swollen ankles.

Over the course of the movie, the chain-smoking leader, who is also secretly being treated for lymphoma, is increasingly laden with grief as the gravity of Israel’s losses weighs on her, something that director Guy Nattiv had wanted to highlight.

“As an Israeli, I grew up with this knowledge that Golda is a complicated character,” said Nattiv, adding that he hoped his movie would help Israelis see Meir as a real flesh and blood person.

Nattiv also explained his decision to cast Mirren even though she is not Jewish, saying that besides being an excellent actor, she felt like a family member. “For me, other than the fact that I adore Helen … I just found her very authentic.”

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(Reporting by Miranda Murray; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)