Adam Goldberg talks The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler
The Hebrew Hammer
It’s been 10 years since Adam Goldberg played an overcoat-wearing, kick-ass Jew named Mordechai Jefferson Carver in the “Jewxploitation” flick The Hebrew Hammer. Beginning this spring, the Hammer is back, this time for a sequel called — get ready — The Hebrew Hammer vs Hitler, slated to start production this May in New York City, with Goldberg attached to once again play Mordechai, and the original movie’s filmmaker Jonathan Kesselman back to direct.
The movie takes time travel and pours a bucket of Manischewitz all over it. Mordechai tries to prevent a time-traveling Hitler from rewriting Jewish history, with Goldberg also slated to take on the role of Jesus. Kesselman hopes a Last Supper Scene will be filled with notable Jews, including Mel Brooks and Larry David. So far, more than $40,000 has been raised towards production on the crowdfunding site Jewcer.com.
Kesselman praised Goldberg, telling EW, “We cracked the story for the sequel together, and writing with him in mind the second-time around made this script funnier and more specific as I got the ability not to just write the character, but write the character with an understanding of Adam’s specific and very, very funny voice.”
In a meandering, funny, in-depth conversation with EW, Goldberg, now 42, talked about being on board for a sequel, being half Jewish yet always typecast as a Jewish character, the potential for controversy for anything smacking of humor having to do with the Holocaust and Hitler (Springtime for Hitler in Mel Brooks’ The Producers, anyone?), needing to lose weight (not really), and whether he’ll wear that amazing black overcoat again.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let me preface this by saying that I’m Jewish — well, my mom’s side is Jewish, and my dad’s side isn’t — and I know so many Jews who absolutely love The Hebrew Hammer and you in it. You’re going to make a sequel! They’ll be very excited.
ADAM GOLDBERG: I’m half Jewish too. What Jon wants to do is he wants to get it made as soon as possible. We’ll all just look at our schedules. At various points we were going to shoot in 2006. I wasn’t attached to do the sequel until recently. There are no deals in place, and that sort of thing. It’s all assuming we can make it the way we want to make it. We didn’t have the financial control we wanted over the last one. We’ve met about the script, virtually. He’s in New York, I’m in L.A. We Skyped. I don’t feel comfortable Skyping.
When did the idea of a sequel come up?
We always sort of talked about the idea of a sequel. I brought it up to Jon at a certain point, in 2005. He had made a short film, then Hammer the feature. It obviously became more of a collaboration. I said, “If we’re going to do this, there shouldn’t be any in-between. We should go for the big one, the Holocaust.” I’m sure the title was conceived then.
That’s definitely going big, taking on the Holocaust and Hitler. Have you seen Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds? There’s this twisted sort of joy that comes from seeing Eli Roth’s Jewish character take down Nazis.
We came up with this before Inglorious Basterds. When that came out, I thought, “Oh f–k.” Tarantino is of course different with his movies. We felt we were making films that were pretty much revenge films. It would seem a glaring omission, not to look at the Holocaust. What this sequel and the other movie does is highlight the absurdity of anti-Semitic humor, derision and stereotyping, be able to take on every kind of cultural stereotype.
I heard the original script had a scene where Mel Gibson — famed for a drunken anti-semitic rant in 2006 — is shot in the face.
The Mel Gibson scene is going to be gone. In general, we’re trying to steer away from real people. Is it officially out of his script? I don’t know. What I know is he’s working on different openings. I think this film is taking a more global approach.
So tell me again about your family. You mentioned earlier being half Jewish. You’re always portrayed in articles and movies as full-on Jewish. Interesting.
My mom’s side is German, Irish and French, with a bit of Mexican. My mother’s maiden name was Goebel. It makes for an interesting fantasy life for me. Half Jew, half Nazi. Ha! There are so many different kinds of Jews. My other contribution to this film is Jesus, who was Jewish. We sort of play with that, that notion. The ultimate sidekick for the Hebrew Hammer other than Mo [the character Mohammed Ali Paula Abdul Rahim played by Mario Van Peebles in the original] is the king of the Jews himself, Jesus, who doesn’t appears as wispy haired and blonde.
So many people of Jewish background work in Hollywood, and yet, not a lot of Jews are outwardly represented on film. That’s one thing that makes The Hebrew Hammer so great, how direct it is about being Jewish, even with making fun of certain stereotyped traits.
I’m classically neurotic, but so is my mother, and she’s not Jewish. And my dad, who’s Jewish, was this steady guy. This phrase “nice Jewish boy,” I want to blow the lid off it. It will make its way into the script. Probably as many Jews say that as non Jews. Self-abasement and self-derision is a way for Jews to fit in comfortably to a society where they wouldn’t feel comfortable fitting in. Even though these films are silly at their heart, there’s some socio political commentary there. You give self-loathing people power and what do they do? They project a world onto a screen that hates them.
So what about you being cast as a “Jewish character” in movies?
On a personal and professional level my Jewishness has caught up with me over the years. I grew up in an insular world, Los Angeles. I wasn’t aware of there being anti-Semitism, and I became an actor. The point to me wasn’t that there were skinheads lurking in the San Gabriel Valley for the test screening of [Richard Linklater’s 1993 film] Dazed and Confused, but I didn’t know I was playing a Jewish character in the movie. I wrote a bio for myself for that. “What is this guy doing in Texas?” I got very close to changing my name before that movie got made. When I found out the credits were stuck, I thought ok, “I’ll go with Goldberg.” Around that time, I felt okay, ethnic guys were playing leading characters, like Pacino. Now I would say if you were Italian and you were blatantly Italian, you could interchangedly play Italian people and Jews. But if you’re Jewish, then it didn’t really work both ways. I’ve had more luck playing a variety of characters in TV than movies. We live in a society of mixed cultures and races. Plenty of people would say, “Half Jewish would suffice for Hitler.” There’s something very dominant about a Jewish sort of characteristic. I will never know how much I’ve inherited culturally and who from what. James Franco is half Jewish, but he looks more Italian. He looks very classic. Kirk Douglas had the most Jewish upbringing ever, but he looks like he’s carved out of a f–king mountain. I don’t have a versatile face and I don’t have a lot I can do with it. I find it unfortunate that it gets attached to a sort of culturalization.
On a separate note, who made that amazing black overcoat and outfit you wore in the original Hebrew Hammer? Are you going to wear it in the sequel? You look like a Jewish Shaft, so cool.
I was outfitted head to toe with Thierry Mugler. He happened to have a long leather coat that season, and bell bottoms with a tiny waist. This was something I was ambivalent about, that image. Being on the cover of Time Out New York when the film came out, a cover that said, “Super Jews.” I was like, “F–k, man.” I was ambivalent about it. But you gotta own it. Frankly, I don’t put much stock into my acting over the years. To me, it was like, “There’s no point in fighting this any longer. You might as well own it.” I thought, “I’m not going to have one of those careers.” That wasn’t about making a living back then, because I was doing okay. That made me feel culturally ambivalent.
It’s been 10 years since The Hebrew Hammer. Does that amaze you, that it’s been that long?
I’m far more impressed with how long I’ve been alive. I haven’t directed a movie in 10 years [the 2003 film I Love Your Work]. I’ve been writing this thing for the past three years. That’s the first thing that pops into my head. My only concern is that I’m not really in as good as shape. I didn’t need to exercise then. Some years later, I started to see a trainer to exercise in a way that was healthy because of my neck. But I ended up getting too aggro. I do yoga once a day, usually.
So where’s the outfit? Can you still fit into it?
I think I had to return that stuff. I was a 28 waist back then, and 145 pounds. I weigh 155 pounds now, and I have a 29 inch waist. I was a late bloomer. I couldn’t grow a beard until I was 20. I had no body fat. I was a stick growing up. Really thin.
What else are you working on?
All I’m doing is making my record. Now that it’s the new year I’m starting to put my movie together. It’s called No Way Jose, about a man named Jose Stern, 1/8 Mexican. He changes his name from Joseph to Jose.
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The Hebrew Hammer