Hollywood, writes John Podhoretz, has a long history of assigning overtly Jewish roles to gentile actors. The most recent instance is Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, based loosely on the story of the shady American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky, whose dealings with the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert resulted in the latter’s serving time in prison. In his review, Podhoretz points to the problem of casting Richard Gere in the title role:
Norman is a brilliant piece of work, as sophisticated and knowing a satire of contemporary politics as I’ve seen. . . . But there’s something about Norman that doesn’t work, and that something is Richard Gere. He tries. He tries very hard. He does his best to look Jewish and to sound Jewish and to act Jewish. But—and this is the tricky part—Norman is a complicated and devious character, and it is likely Gere did not feel comfortable making Norman as unattractive as he needs to be at certain points in the film.
[The writer and director, Joseph] Cedar is open to playing on Jewish stereotypes throughout Norman, in part to undermine them. It’s a very tricky business Cedar is up to in this picture, and there’s just no way Gere could truly be in on it.
Cedar surely didn’t cast Richard Gere because he wanted this nice Buddhist matinee idol to deracinate his movie’s central character and distract from Norman’s Jewishness, [as Jewish directors of yesteryear might have done]. That Jewishness is central to Norman’s character and to the movie itself. Cedar probably just thought he was getting a relatively big star for his relatively low-budget movie. But the effect is the same, and it robs the film of some of its power. For Norman to have been the movie it should have been, only a Jew could have played this Jew.