Celebrity Jews

Columnist Nate Bloom , an Oaklander, can be reached at [email protected].

Oscar’s Jewish thespians

Here is a little Jewish background on the performers nominated for Oscars this year. The Oscars are on ABC on March 5.

Joaquin Phoenix is up for best actor for “Walk the Line,” the Johnny Cash biopic. Contrary to some reports, Phoenix’s Jewish mother didn’t grow up in an Orthodox home; her parents were not observant by the time she was born.

Phoenix grew up in a vagabond family, with little formal education. Like his late brother, River, he was a child actor. My very strong sense is that Phoenix’s ties to “Jewishness” are minimal.

Likewise, Jake Gyllenhaal, nominated for best supporting actor for “Brokeback Mountain,” has a Jewish mother — screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal (her first husband was famous Jewish historian Eric Foner). Gyllenhaal grew up in an intellectual secular home where social liberalism substituted for religion, and he had a secular bar mitzvah at 13.

Rachel Weisz, up for best supporting actress for “The Constant Gardener,” has an honors degree from the University of Cambridge and is nobody’s fool. Weisz’s Jewish father fled Hungary for Britain in the 1930s. While her mother is sometimes described as Jewish, the actress told a reporter I know that only her father is Jewish. Her mother is a Catholic by birth and left Nazi-occupied Austria for Britain in 1939.

The actress (who is engaged to Jewish director Darren Aronofsky) “unloaded” in 2002 to an English Jewish journalist. Weisz spoke about how she was advised to change her last name to make it in Hollywood — that Jewish film execs prefer Aryan-looking types for acting jobs and see Jewish women like her as wives.

‘Lost’ Hebrew

I get asked whether there are any Jews in the cast of the ABC hit show “Lost.” The only one I’m sure of is actress Mira Furlan, who has co-starred sporadically as Rosseau, the half-mad French scientist. Furlan appeared in the Feb. 15 episode and will appear in the next episode, airing Wednesday, March 1.

Furlan, a Croatian Jew, was so respected in her homeland that she was once known as the “Meryl Streep of Yugoslavia.” But she had to flee the ruinous civil war that engulfed the former Yugoslavia (she received death threats for refusing to align with one side or the other, and her husband is a Serb). She has returned to Croatia a couple of times since the fighting ended, but considers herself an American.

Clooney as Groucho

Triple Oscar nominee George Clooney (no, he isn’t Jewish) came up in a recent interview with Roseanne Barr. The Jewish comedian was astonished how far Clooney has come since the days (1988-89) he played her boss on “Roseanne.”

She recalled how they had a fling back then and that the wacky actor didn’t care when a photo of him wearing nothing but a pair of Groucho glasses and mustache was posted on the set.

Portman on SNL

Natalie Portman will host “Saturday Night Live” on March 4. Portman’s appearance is part of a publicity push for her new movie, “V for Vendetta,” opening March 17.

“Vendetta” is a futuristic thriller set in a totalitarian Britain. Portman plays a woman rescued by a mysterious masked revolutionary. Eventually, she joins him in a campaign to overturn the country’s tyrannical government.

The actress shaved her head for the film and her hair is still growing back. That’s why Portman has appeared either boyish or Audrey Hepburn-ish at recent awards events.

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.