The Arty Semite

Q&A: Actor Jason Isaacs on 'Awake'

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

British actor Jason Isaacs is best known for his role as the villain Lucius Malfoy from the “Harry Potter” movies, but you also might recognize him from his role as the Scottish private investigator Jackson Brodie on the popular British series, “Case Histories,” shown in the U.S. as part of the PBS “Masterpiece Mystery!” series.

Courtesy of NBC

His latest role is as an American detective, Michael Britten, in the NBC series “Awake,” which premieres March 1 at 10 p.m. on NBC. On a trip with his family, Britten gets into an accident and wakes up in a dual world — in one reality he lives with his wife and his son died in the crash, while in the other he is a widower raising his son.

Isaacs is the great-grandson of one of the founders of the Jewish community in his native Liverpool. It the midst of a hectic day on set he spoke to The Arty Semite about being a Jewish Liverpudlian, his first exposure to the outside world, and how he first turned down the “Awake” role.

Curt Schleier: What was it like growing up in Liverpool?

Jason Isaacs: It was a very tight, insular community. I spent my entire life at the Jewish boys’ club. It was only when I came to London when I was 18 that I saw an outside world that wasn’t Jewish. And I assimilated like the rest of my generation.

Was it much of a culture shock?

Liverpool when I grew up in the late ‘60s still had bomb sites from the war. My parents and others of that generation were teenagers during the war and remembered when the camps were liberated a few hundred miles away. There have been Nazis in London. I think they had a sense that the world they lived in, the world they loved, was unwelcoming.

I’m of a different generation. I didn’t see religion or color until I was a teenager. All my friends were Jewish and I went into this big, bad world expecting to find rampant anti-Semitism. But I didn’t. My wife is not Jewish and we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. I’m raising my children so they know the [Jewish] traditions and songs and can identify anybody as a human being.

How did you get into acting?

I went to university to study law. I’d been there for about a week and felt very much like a fish out of water. I was surrounded by people with different accents and backgrounds and so when I saw a sign [put up by a theater group] looking for someone who could do a Liverpool accent I knew I could do that. I signed up and wound up running and producing shows at the Edinburgh Festival and the London fringe, which is like off-off-Broadway.

When it came time to graduate, unlike my contemporaries, I applied to [the London School of Drama]. I never thought I would go. I just wanted to see if I could get in. So I auditioned. I thought if I got in I’d keep the acceptance letter and hang it on the wall of my law office or show it to my son when he was 10. But I didn’t get a letter. A lady came to the room and said. “Would you like to attend?” and I just said, “Yes.”

It’s funny how things work out by chance. That’s kind of how you got this role in “Awake,” isn’t it?

I was in Los Angeles trying to sell an idea to FX [network]. It was for a show I wanted to create and make and possibly appear in. Howard Gordon, the show runner [and executive producer] had told me Bob Greenblatt [chairman of NBC entertainment] would like me to take a look at this script. I told him, no, I want to work on my own show. Gordon said he understood and felt the same way, but take a look at it, you’ll like it.

So I did and respected it a lot. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to play the part, but I wanted to be the first person to find out what happens in episode two. I found it very human and very entertaining. So even though it wasn’t what I set out to do, I had to stop and take a deep breath and recognize how forces can conspire to throw something that’s engaging at you.

Did anyone ever suggest that you change your name?

Actually I suggested it to myself. I thought long and hard about it. I don’t think audiences should know anything about actors, their ethnicity or anything. I want them to concentrate on the character. Some years ago I was at an event for Soviet Jewry and saw a very famous Jewish actor. I won’t mention his name. I asked him about changing my name and he said, “Absolutely no.” He said, “Don’t be ashamed of yourself.” I thanked him and started to leave but turned back and asked him, “Is that your real name?” He said, “No, but I’m of a different generation.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Television, Michael Britten, Lucius Malfoy, Jason Isaacs, Interviews, Harry Potter, Curt Schleier, Awake

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.