Tamsin Greig clarifies Friday Night Dinner comment about playing Jewish mother

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Tamsin Greig clarifies Friday Night Dinner comment about playing Jewish mother
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Tamsin Greig has clarified recent comments she made about her casting in the Channel 4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner.

In a recent interview, the actor had said she “probably shouldn’t” have played a Jewish matriarch In the show.

Greig, who is a practising Christian with Jewish ancestry, played the part of Jackie Goodman in the comedy, which follows a Jewish family living in north London.

“I think, given our sensitivity today about these issues, I probably shouldn’t have been in that show,” the actor told The Telegraph.

In a new interview on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Tuesday morning (14 December), Greig has now clarified her comments.

“I think it was taken slightly out of context,” she said. “What I meant by it was, if we were casting it now, we’d have had very, very different conversations about the necessity of casting me in it and whether the casting should have been wider.”

She added: “Ten years ago, who knew those conversations were coming? We do things thinking, ‘Oh, that looks like a really interesting role and actually it’s about a woman trying to survive in a wild family that seems to be falling apart.’ I think at that time that was a very resonant part of people’s lives.”

Paul Ritter, Tom Rosenthal, Simon Bird and Tamsin Greig in ‘Friday Night Dinner’ (Channel 4)
Paul Ritter, Tom Rosenthal, Simon Bird and Tamsin Greig in ‘Friday Night Dinner’ (Channel 4)

When host Emma Barnett clarified that the discussion was over Greig playing a Jewish role as a non-Jewish actor, Greig said: “That’s the conversation at the moment… We all make very different choices depending on the weather that surrounds us culturally, right?”

Friday Night Dinner ended after six seasons in 2020 following the death of one of its stars, Paul Ritter, of a brain tumour. Ritter had played the husband of Greig’s character.

The show was created by Jewish screenwriter Robert Popper but none of the cast – except Tracy-Ann Oberman, who played Auntie Val – was Jewish.

There are many examples of non-Jewish actors playing Jewish roles, from Rachel Brosnahan as Midge in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex to Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem in Mrs America.

Rachel Brosnahan in ‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ (Nicole Rivelli/Amazon via AP)
Rachel Brosnahan in ‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ (Nicole Rivelli/Amazon via AP)

There has been a rise in campaigning for Jewish representation on screen in recent years, with stars such as Maureen Lipman and Miriam Margolyes signing a letter in 2019 accusing the musical Falsettos of “jewface”.

US comic Sarah Silverman also recently said on her podcast: “Lately it’s been happening – if that role is a Jewish woman, but she is courageous, or she deserves love, or has bravery, or is altruistic in any way, she’s played by a non-Jew.”

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