Celebrity Jews

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Soomkeh stars

Persian American Jewish actress Bahar Soomekh, 31, has her first starring role in the horror-thriller, “Saw III” (opens Friday, Oct. 27). She plays a doctor who is kidnapped and forced to treat the “Saw” series villain, named Jigsaw.

I spoke to Soomkeh a few months ago. She told me she was born in Tehran and came to the United States when she was a young child. She grew up in a religious household in Los Angeles, was a bat mitzvah, and is still very much a practicing Jew. Her extended family, she said, gathers together for weekly Shabbat dinners.

Bahar’s first roles were almost all as the wife or girlfriend of some Middle Eastern villain. However, she broke out of that mold with her stellar performance as the daughter of a troubled Muslim shopkeeper in the Oscar-winning movie “Crash.” Since then, her career has soared with a large supporting role in “Mission: Impossible III” and her selection to People magazine’s 2006 list of the 100 most beautiful people in the world.

Casting note

A few years ago, it looked like the strikingly beautiful actress Rena Sofer, 38, would follow up a successful soap opera career with a big primetime TV hit. However, the two TV series that she co-starred in, “Blind Justice” and “Coupling,” got bad reviews and neither lasted a full season.

Now there’s news that Sofer will be a regular guest star on two TV series this season. She’ll play the wife of Nathan (Adrian Pasdar) on the new NBC hit series, “Heroes,” and she’ll appear as the wife of the shadowy figure known as Graham on the long-running Fox series, “24.”

Until this piece of good news came around, I was envisioning Sofer’s father, an Orthodox rabbi, muttering to himself: “Would it ruin some vast eternal plan if my daughter finally had a hit?”

Last of the Jewosaurs

Insult comedian Don Rickles, 80, is just about the last member of his generation of Jewish comedians to still regularly go out on the road for stand-up gigs, and he still can get off a nasty zinger. Recently, he appeared at a casino in rural Minnesota and the local paper asked him why he agreed to travel there from Los Angeles. Rickles replied, “For money you do a lot of things.”

Rickles also told the paper that he is working on a book of memoirs and that director Jon Landis (“The Blues Brothers”) is currently making a documentary about him.

Frears’ latest

British director Stephen Frears’ new film, “The Queen,” which just opened in the Bay Area, covers the period following the death of Princess Diana in which the Royal Family was heavily criticized for not appearing to share the country’s sadness. “Queen” has received great reviews and Helen Mirren, as Elizabeth II, is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

Frears, 65, has directed many other hits, including “My Beautiful Launderette,” “The Grifters,” “High Fidelity” and “Dirty Pretty Things.”

Frears, who isn’t religious, didn’t know his mother was Jewish until he was in his late 20s. His brother, who knew the truth, told Stephen about their mother not long after Stephen married his current wife, highly respected Jewish painter Annie Rothenstein.

In a 2001 interview, Frears speculated that his mother hid being Jewish because of the low-key anti-Semitism so prevalent in Britain — an atmosphere that contrasted, Frears said, with the healthy, easy and open attitude about being Jewish that Frears found when he got a chance to work in America.

Nate Bloom

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