Jews in the News: Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Rapaport and J.J. Abrams

At the Movies

Back in 2008, JESSE EISENBERG, now 31, and Kristen Stewart had definite on-screen chemistry in the highly praised “Adventureland”, a coming-of-age film in which they played recent high school grads who eventually get romantic. (Ironically, her character was Jewish and his was not). Stewart commented on that chemistry in a recent “Today” show interview about the duo’s new film, “American Ultra,” a comedy/drama which opens on Friday, August 21. They are both sort of nerds in real life, the actress said, but somehow together on screen they mesh and make one complete, pretty cool person.

In “Ultra,” Eisenberg plays Mike, a seemingly hapless small-town stoner who lives with his girlfriend (Stewart). Mike doesn’t remember that he was secretly trained by the government to be a deadly agent---he’s a “sleeper” who doesn’t know he’s a sleeper. The action takes off when Mike is targeted by the government for extermination and, in a flash of an eye, his agent training comes back to him and he fights to survive with the help of his girlfriend. The bad CIA guy after Mike is played by Topher Grace, whose paternal grandma was Jewish.

In a recent column, I wrote: “Diary of a Teenage Girl” opens in some theaters on August 7. There are great advance reviews for this film about the sexual coming-of-age of Minnie , a girl raised in a loose, “hippie-esque” 1970s San Francisco household. MARGARITA LEVIEVA, 35, a talent who needs a star role, has a large supporting role as a wild lesbian friend of Minnie’s.

Well, the film opened to incredibly good reviews, like this one in the “Chicago Tribune”: “Movies concerned with the life, the mind, the body and the dawning self-respect of a 15-year-old girl running every sort of risk — these are rare. ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ is one of them, and it's terrific.” 

The Oscar buzz around “Diary” compels me to note, here, that I recently learned that the film’s star, BEL POWLEY, 23, is Jewish. Born and raised in England, most of her work has been on the stage and on UK TV. Her non-Jewish father, Mark Powley, is a British TV actor. Her mother is (Jewish) casting agent JANIS JAFFA. What’s known about Powley’s Jewish background is limited to a tweet she sent out in which she called herself “Jewish”. Powley’s performance in “Diary” is being labeled, everywhere, “a breakthrough role.”

One more Jewish tidbit-- the film is based on a semi-autobiographical graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, who isn’t Jewish. Gloeckner has long idolized famous underground comic book writer ALINE KOMINSKY, 67.  Gloeckner’s character Minnie is an aspiring cartoonist and, in the film, Minnie fantasizes conversations with Kominsky, her idol. (Kominsky’s voice is provided by an actor).

Of Vices and Nebbishes

The 10-episode TNT series, “Public Morals,” starts on Tuesday, August 25, at 10PM. It was created by the talented filmmaker Edward Burns and is produced by STEVEN SPIELBERG’s company. It co-stars Burns and MICHAEL RAPAPORT, 45. The series is set in the 1960s, and Burns plays an Irish-American New York City police detective in the vice unit who tries to steer clear of the many illegal temptations offered vice officers. Staying clean, however, gets harder when a war breaks out between two factions of Manhattan’s Irish American mob. Meanwhile, his partner, played by Rapaport, is the “muscle” of the vice unit and is certainly not a “clean” cop. Rapaport is a familiar face to TV and movie goers. He often plays tough guys, like villain Daryl Crowe in “Justified.”

Director/producer J.J. ABRAMS, 49, was one of JON STEWART’s last guests. He directed the highly-anticipated “Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens” (opening in December). It was long known that HARRISON FORD, 73, suffered an ankle injury while making this film. It wasn’t known that Abrams was injured, too.  Ford’s injury, Abrams said, happened when the door of a prop spaceship accidentally slammed down. Abrams told Stewart that he raced to help Ford and heard a “popping sound” as he tried to open the door. Abrams’ doctor later determined that Abrams had broken his back. Abrams told Stewart that Ford recovered within a month, while he was still wearing a back brace under his clothes. He described the scene: “Harrison Ford, from across the stage, sprints at me faster than I will ever run…“And he’s like, ‘Hey J.J.!’ And I’m like, 'Hi, Harrison Ford.’ Ooh it hurts to talk that way. I felt like the most nebbishy Jewish director ever.”


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