A 43-Year Best Picture Journey For Judd Hirsch

Mar 1, 2023

Judd Hirsch has to be on the verge of making history. The Emmy and Tony Award winner is an ensemble member of Steven Spielberg’s “The Fablemans,” a movie that is almost guaranteed to earn a Best Picture nomination next month. But it’s not his first Best Picture nominated film. In 1980 he played the therapist in Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People,” which won Oscar’s coveted prize in March, 1981. Now, 42 years later, he’s headed toward another Best Picture nominated film on his resume.
READ MORE: “The Fabelmans”: Steven Spielberg eventually told Gabriel LaBelle to “Figure It Out” [Interview]
Compartively, that would be one year longer than the divide between Katharine Hepburn‘s first Best Picture nominee, “The Philadelphia Story,” and her last, “On Golden Pond.” When asked about his likely longevity in the awards season game, Hirsch noted, “My reaction is, you got to know there are a lot of movies around. There’s too many, I haven’t seen them. I’m going to try since I’m a member of the Academy and I’m a voter. So I’m going to see everything. I’m going to try to see as many as possible, so I’d let you know after I see them all. And no comparison can be made when you haven’t seen anything. And I’m a realist. One time when I won a Tony, I said, ‘Any one of you could have won this.’ There were five, and I won. There were four wonderful performances. There was nothing else for me to say.”
The 87-year-old legend has a small role in “The Fablemans,” but it’s a memorable one. As Boris Schildkraut, Hirsch plays the great uncle of the film’s protagonist, Sammy, portrayed by relative newcomer Gabriel LaBelle. Boris is an immigrant who made a career for himself in vaudeville and Hollywood and he has some important advice for Sammy who may someday grow up to be a legendary filmmaker just like Spielberg.
Hirsch recalls the pitch. “Steven Spielberg called me, and he said, actually, ‘Hello, Judd.’ And I said, ‘O.K, what else?’ ‘There is a part in it about a guy who made me become a director.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, and sort of like, ‘I thought of you.’ I said, ‘O.K, but how come?’ He said, ‘Well, read the script.’ So that’s all. They sent me the script, and I went, ‘Why? Why Me’?’”
Spielberg told the “Independce Day” star to come up with his own take on Boris, but that was complicated by a stark realization.
“An actor has choices, and he hopes they’re the best ones for the director,” Hirsch says. “The other thought was, ‘It’s his story. My God, you’re going to be working with a man whose story it is.’ And that’s a different whole thing for any actor. I knew nothing about the character, nothing about who he really was, and [Spielberg] couldn’t describe it to me. So I had to just think about the effect of the character. It’s almost like writing someone, regardless of who he really was, his effect on the movie.”
While many actors might have found this scenario freeing, Hirsch wish he’d known more of the real Uncle Boris Spielberg met as a teenager.
“It’s kind of unique because I’m not in a Spielberg movie that’s anything like any Spielberg movie,” Hirsch says. “I always think that he’s really trying to make you aware that this is going to be told to children. He has a tremendous affection for children, and that if he can make it this real to children, let’s say teenagers or kids who were growing up, I think that would satisfy him. I think that’s one of his great satisfactions. He loves children. I mean, even on the set, he would talk to all the little kids. It was game time.”
“The Fablemans” is currently in limited release and now available for digital download.

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