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Josh Gad on Jewish Representation in ‘Marshall’

While Josh Gad is perhaps best known for voicing Olaf, the lovable/grating (your mileage may vary) snowman in Frozen, he’s most often cast as somewhat annoying, nerdy types. His big break was for originating the role of the weirdly nebbish Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon (seriously, why do so many Jews play the geeky Mormon character in that show?). He’s a physical “type,” to be sure— but there’s an unfortunate overlap between a short, round Jewish man with curly hair and bumbling characters onscreen. His next role, however, is a step away from that— and he’s excited about it.

Gad is one of the stars of Marshall, the upcoming Thurgood Marshall biopic telling the story of a young Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) while he works as a lawyer for the NAACP. The film revolves around Marshall’s role as the defense lawyer for Joseph Spell, a black chauffeur accused of sexual assault and attempted murder by Eleanor Strubing, a Greenwich, Connecticut socialite. Gad plays Sam Friedman, a local Jewish lawyer who’s never handled a criminal case who is tasked with teaming up with Marshall to defend Spell. The two men build a defense together while contending with both anti-black and anti-Semitic views.

(The real Friedman was important to both the case and this movie; his family was instrumental in passing the film’s script— co-written by a Connecticut Jewish lawyer who knew Friedman, as a matter of fact— into the right hands to get it produced.)

Gad spoke with Buzzfeed News about the film, and the conversation turned to the importance of Jewish Representation on screen. Gad talked about how refreshing this project is when most Hollywood creatives (especially the Jewish ones) shy away from making characters “too Jewish.” He is excited that Marshall takes the opposite response and really leans into Friedman’s Jewish identity.

“It was so important to illustrate how important faith was to this man, even if he didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve,” said Gad.

Early in Marshall, Friedman tries to hide his Jewish faith, believing that if he keeps his head down and doesn’t make too much noise he can get by without experiencing discrimination. He, unlike black men, has a chance to assimilate. Thurgood Marshall makes him realize that he can’t avoid oppression, that the case that they are fighting affects him, too. It’s a moral awakening, and one that it’s powerful to see a Jewish actor portray.

Gad may look the nebbish (because of continuing stereotypes), but it doesn’t mean he has to play bumbling shlemiels the rest of his career. This film is primarily about African American history, of course, but it also shows an example of Jews who chose to help others in a mutual struggle, rather than strive for personal comfort in American society.

Marshall comes out this Friday, October 13. In the meantime, you can check out the trailer below:

Image via Open Road Films

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