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Interfaith Celebrities: 2012

Peet Percolates

Amanda Peet
Amanda Peet at the premiere of 2012. Photo: Reuters/Danny Moloshok

Amanda Peet, 37, one of my favorite actresses from an interfaith family background, and previously profiled in this column, is now in the biggest box-office hit of her career. She is co-starring in the mega-budget, special effects spectacular 2012. It opened on Nov. 13 and is racking up huge numbers worldwide at the box office.

The film title references an ancient Mayan prediction of great disaster in the year 2012. All life on Earth is threatened with extinction by colossal simultaneous natural disasters. John Cusack stars as a science-fiction writer who tries to escape with his ex-wife (Peet) and their children to a refuge in the Himalayas.

I suspect more people will see Peet in this role than in all of her prior movies combined. Peet has been in film comedies with fairly modest budgets that did quite well at the box office, like The Whole Nine Yards (2000) and Something’s Gotta Give (2003). But it’s a whole different ballpark with a movie like 2012, which had a whopping budget of $260 million and made that money back within the first week of its release. You can just imagine how many people have already seen it.

Start with a Danish

By coincidence, Peet’s husband, Jewish screenwriter and novelist David Benioff, has a film opening early next month. He penned the screenplay for Brothers, which opens Dec. 3. It’s an Americanized remake of a critically acclaimed 2004 Danish film of the same name that was co-written and directed by Susanne Bier, 49, a Danish Jew. (Bier is perhaps best known for co-writing and directing After the Wedding, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2006 for best foreign film.)

The original version centered on a Danish/NATO soldier serving in Afghanistan. In the remake, Tobey Maguire plays Capt. Sam Cahill, a straight-arrow Marine who is married to Grace, his high school sweetheart (played by Jewish actress Natalie Portman, 28). Sam’s brother, Tommy, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, 28, an actor from an interfaith family, is a charismatic “screw up” and drifter.

Sam is reported missing in Afghanistan and presumed dead. His brother’s loss matures Tommy–he does his best to help Grace and her children. Grace and Sam are getting close when, after a long period in captivity, a very changed Sam returns home. Mare Winningham, 50, a real-life Jew-by-choice, plays Sam and Tommy’s mother. Sam Shepard plays their father.

Brothers has a remarkable number of Jewish and interfaith connections for a film with no Jewish characters or themes. This Includes Tobey Maguire, 34.

Tobey, Too

Maguire has been married to Jennifer Meyer, 30, who is Jewish, since 2007. They met in 2003, when Maguire was filming the movie Seabiscuit at Universal Studios. Meyer had no trouble meeting the film’s star because her father, Ronald Meyer, is president and CEO of Universal Studios. Ron Meyer became head of Universal in 1995 and is the longest-serving head of any major Hollywood studio. Jennifer Meyer has a successful career as a jewelry designer, with many movie stars wearing her designs.

There’s an interesting parallel in the lives of Maquire and his father-in-law. Maguire was the son of two (non-Jewish) working-class parents, just 18 and 20 when he was born in Santa Monica, Calif. His parents divorced when he was 2, and his childhood was marked by frequent moves with his mother. Money was tight.

Maguire was an indifferent student and wanted to quit high school and pursue a career as a cook. Instead, his mother gave him some money for an acting course and, when he was 15, he landed his first film role. He then dropped out of school and pursued acting full time. He defied the odds and became a major star and, over time, landed better roles (including the title role in the Spider-Man film trilogy).

Ron Meyer’s Jewish parents fled Nazi Germany in 1938 and settled in Los Angeles. They certainly weren’t wealthy when Ron was born in 1946. He became a tough Los Angeles street kid who had brushes with the law; in his words, “fighting, vandalism, stupid things that kids do–you know, petty theft stuff.” He dropped out of high school at 15 and joined the Marine Corps. His three years in the Marines straightened him out. Returning to Los Angeles, he got a job as an errand boy in the office of Hollywood talent agent Paul Kohner. He eventually became a talent agent and, by 1995, was a top agent when he was tapped to head Universal.

Hollywood may be one of the few places where two high school drop-outs could land on top. There is no degree requirement to be an actor or an agent. I have to believe that Meyer and Maguire have discussed their parallel lives–and perhaps their life histories have helped bond them.

Ron Meyer is a practicing Jew and a generous contributor to Jewish charities and cultural events. Jennifer Meyer is his daughter with his ex-wife, Ellen Meyer. Ellen is now married to Rabbi David Baron, the chief rabbi of the star-laden Temple Shalom for the Arts in Los Angeles.

Meyer and Maguire got engaged in April 2006. Their first child, Ruby Sweetheart Maguire, was born in November 2006. In September 2007, the couple married in a “secret wedding” in Hawaii. Their second child, Otis Tobias Maguire, was born last May.

Because little was published on the wedding, I don’t know if it was a secular or Jewish wedding. Jennifer Meyer is a practicing Jew (she works Jewish symbols into a lot of her jewelry designs), and it’s very likely that the couple’s children are being raised in their mother’s faith.


Sport Short: Another Interfaith NFL Player

Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Kyle Kosier, 30, mentioned his Jewish background to the press last month. The eight-year veteran, who has also played for Detroit and San Francisco, recently spoke to a Texas paper about the Cowboys’ new defensive end, Igor Olshansky. The two discovered their mutual Jewish roots in Cowboys training camp, and Kosier said, “Kind of cool to have a teammate share the same faith that I have.” The Jewish Sports Review newsletter followed up on the quote and found out that Kosier, who is basically a secular Jew, has a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish dad.

See Your Favorite Holiday in a Funny Light

Jewish comedian Lewis Black, 61, the “Curmudgeon of Comedy,” is the star of the History Channel special Surviving the Holidays. All the major holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year’s are covered.

Along the way, Black explains why the Detroit Lions always play on Thanksgiving; interviews turkeys on a farm; plays a department-store Santa; and covers the “sport” of Major League Dreidel.

Last Hanukkah, cameras followed Black as he went to a New York club where the Major League Dreidel games are held. To quote one of his descriptions: “Drunken Jewish hipsters and hipster wannabes pit their dreidel spinning skills against one another as they vie for the coveted crystal dreidel trophy and a shot at Hanukkah immortality unseen since the days the Maccabees whupped Hellenist ass.”

You can catch encore showings of the special, which first aired yesterday, on Friday, Nov. 27, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 27, at 12 a.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 29, at 3 p.m.

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Cleveland Jewish News the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the , Detroit Jewish News and the . New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Starting April 2012, a monthly version of his column (featuring relevant “oldies but goodies”) will appear in the following Florida newspapers: the Jewish News (Sarasota and Manatee County), the Federation Star (Collier County) and L’Chayim (Lee and Charlotte counties). The author welcomes questions and celebrity “tips,” especially about people you personally know. Write him at


Author: Nate Bloom