The Challenges of Being 'A Serious Man'

Actor Michael Stuhlbarg on starring in the Oscar-nominated film "A Serious Man," the Jewish experience in America, and his love-hate relationship with acting.

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I think he's kind of unique in some ways. I found myself describing him as sort of living in a perpetual pause. It seems like there's always some sort of air before he speaks and some air after he speaks and he's constantly in this place of bewilderment about all the things that are happening to him. So, I think that's an interesting character trait for him.

His Judaism is something that I think surprises him during the course of the movie. I think between him and his wife, [she] is the more religious of the two. She was probably the one who insisted having the children go through Hebrew school and [their] Bar Mitzvahs. Larry was mostly concerned with what he did for a living, which was teaching physics. And he probably let his wife take the reins in terms of guiding the family's Judaism. When he is confronted with the things that happened to him, he goes on this sort of spiritual quest. For somebody I imagined who was not particularly religious, he finds himself asking some quite profound spiritual questions about why his life has turned out the way it had.

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So, there is this dilemma figuring out an ethnic connection as a Jew and spiritual connection with Judaism?

Yeah, absolutely. I think particularly for American Jews, I guess is another way to talk about it because our history is elsewhere. And coming here and trying to find your identity not only as someone from the Midwest, or from New York, or from California, or wherever, you had this history that we carry along with us in terms of our own identity and then we have this religion that we carry with us.

There are also different sects within the religion in which some people adhere very closely to it and other people don't. So, the Jewish experience in America is quite varied, and this was also a very specific kind of experience for Joel and Ethan that they grew up with. So, it was "their kind of Jews."

Do you feel a sense of responsibility in portraying Jewish characters?

Well yeah, sure. I mean, I think though you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. With Larry, he's one way. He perhaps was not raised particularly religiously, but because his wife welcomes a more disciplined or involved aspect of religion, he went along with it. It's one particular portrayal.

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