Judd Hirsch Brings an Extraordinary Life—And Career—To ‘The Fabelmans’

As for the unexpected comedy of the performance, it’s in Hirsch’s deepest being. Sure, he’s made a name for himself literally making sitcoms Taxi, but he has a wiry, outraged manner with words and petty complaints that make even his darkest dramas laugh. “I tend not to believe that anyone’s life is so grumpy that there’s nothing funny about it,” he says. On the fabelmans, He saw an opportunity to be funny, having no idea if Spielberg would respond to the energy. “We hit a note once during the scene and we both kind of burst out laughing,” says Hirsch. “I was like, ‘No, no, we can’t do that,’ and he said, ‘Yes, we can.’

That’s how Hirsch has felt throughout his career. “I’m playing a part in a movie, I have no idea,” he says. “I don’t care if it’s the best movie of all time or the worst movie of all time, I just want to know if the role was okay.” He still can’t believe his first credited job, the TV movie The law, won the Emmy for Outstanding Special and gave him a chance in show business. A few years later, he snagged the late ’70s hit taxia three-time Emmy winner for Best Comedy Series, plays the level-headed lead character of the ensemble while presenting a gift of speedy delivery comparable to those of Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, and Andy Kaufman. This surprising lead led to Ordinary people, in which he plays a psychiatrist who will direct Robert Redford once described the role as “seeming to be a bit crazy myself”.

For this role, Hirsch was nominated for an Oscar in the same supporting category as the film’s breakout star (and arguably the lead), a young one Timothy Hutton. “All of a sudden I’m at the ceremony where I’m in the same category as the guy I was playing with who’s the real star of the movie and I’m like, what’s the worst that could happen here? Don’t lose – win – that was my only thought,” says Hirsch. “This little guy in me said, ‘Lose, lose, lose, lose. Don’t win this one. You do not need. He does.’ And he won.”

You can hear Hirsch getting lost in memories because yes, the Oscars are getting in his way again. A second nomination for his torrential one-scene fabelmans turn, in the vein of Judi Densch in Shakespeare in love or Viola Davis in Doubt, seems likely. A career-limiting victory is on the horizon. “I’m a little too old to take these things seriously — I’ve been at it too long to wonder if awards mean anything,” says Hirsch. “But the Academy Awards are March 12 and my birthday is March 15, three days later. I’ll be 88. I think, well, okay, if it really happens I’ll be the oldest person ever [to win].” (He’s right: Anthony Hopkins set the record last year when he won for The father at age 83.)

There’s a certain pride in him revealing the potential value; it’s almost as if the roles, the business, have finally caught up with him: “I never got used to the difference between a 29-year-old and a 59-year-old. I just never got used to it.” He adds, “I’m having a good time at that age.” And so it comes out the fabelmans, Hirsch wants more – more risk, more reward. He recently said to his agent, “Get me one better than this, alright? More risky, more like someone could say, ‘You can never play that.’ Get this.” He continues as if I were his agent: “Well, don’t get me a Western. I can’t ride. I’m dead if I fall off my horse. Do not do that.”


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Hirsch had a great time in Toronto, celebrating the film with his cast and seeing Spielberg’s emotions that way The Fabelmans embraced it so warmly that it won the festival’s coveted audience award. As Spielberg got into his car on his way out, the last time he and Hirsch saw each other for a while, Hirsch stopped him for a moment. He shouted, “Steven!” and before closing the door, Spielberg asked, “What?” Hirsch said, “Thanks for parachuting me in.” In response, an appreciative nod.

Hirsch has never played a role like this — the guy who walks in, turns the chemistry of the entire play upside down, and walks away. He had never made a film that came so close to the director’s life. Ironically, he had never received so little instruction either. “It’s called freedom for the actor,” he says. And you see Hirsch here, of course, free, alive for this man, whom he knew inside out, even if he didn’t really know anything. “It’s really about the word art– What I took away was when you take that word that represents the feeling you have inside you to make you do what you need to do, that’s the real purpose of the character in the movie.” says Hirsch. “If you ask me: what is worth playing? That’s it. That’s what it’s worth playing. Deliver the message.”

He didn’t exactly share that interpretation with Spielberg. Again they spoke very little. They just had to work. But out of the corner of his eye, midway through the performance, Hirsch saw his director getting emotional. The actor recognized that Spielberg “relived some of the things he was doing while I was there.” The house looked exactly like the Spielberg family home at the time. The family said things that were actually said.

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2022/11/judd-hirsch-the-fabelmans-exclusive-awards-insider Judd Hirsch Brings an Extraordinary Life—And Career—To ‘The Fabelmans’


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