When E. Randol Schoenberg found out that Ryan Reynolds would be playing him in a movie, he was dumbfounded.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, how could he possibly do that? He was People magazine’s sexiest man alive in 2010. … No, that’s not going to work,’ ” Schoenberg told The Hollywood Reporter at the New York premiere of that very film, Woman in Gold, held Monday night at the Museum of Modern Art. “I thought, ‘I’m a schlubby Jewish lawyer: So Jonah Hill, right?’ ”
Woman in Gold recounts the true story of Maria Altmann (portrayed by Helen Mirren) who, 60 years after fleeing Austria, fights to reclaim a Gustav Klimt masterpiece of her aunt’s that was looted by the Nazis. In real life, Schoenberg was her lawyer who took the Austrian government to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to force them to return the painting.
After the initial shock subsided, Schoenberg warmed to the casting decision. “Katie Holmes is my wife, and Helen Mirren is my client. … You couldn’t ask for a better cast,” he continued, adding that he met with Reynolds on the last day of filming. “I was dressed in my ordinary chinos and a blue shirt, and he walked over after shooting a scene and was dressed exactly the same,” recalled Schoenberg. “He looked at me, pointed to himself and said, ‘Nailed it.’ “
While primarily set in the 1990s and early 2000s, the film also recounts Altmann’s past, including her courtship with and marriage to an opera singer, played by Max Irons (opposite Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany as a young Altmann).
Irons had 24 hours to learn and recite passable German for the role’s audition. “I panicked … I drank a lot of coffee and used Google and YouTube to cobble together what I’m sure is terrible German,” he said on the red carpet. Maslany — who has spoken German on Orphan Black, where she has also proven herself a virtuoso at many accents — was on hand to help Irons, but “I think she was aware that if she was always correcting me, it would drive me nuts,” Irons told THR. “She’s the kindest, funniest, warmest person — which is all you can hope for, especially when you’re doing a slightly dark subject matter.”
At its core, the movie explores how objects connect us to the past, as well as the bravery it takes to revisit troubling memories. (What’s the bravest thing Holmes has ever done? “I went bungee jumping when I was 13,” she told reporters.)
And for Allan Corduner, who plays young Maria’s father, that message resonated on a personal level. “My mother was German. … She had to leave because of Hitler in 1935, and she lost her father to the Nazis,” he said, adding that he has his own Klimt-painting equivalent, so to speak. When they fled Germany, his parents managed to take a slide machine with family photographs — a visual, visceral connection to their shared past.
Meanwhile, viewers can see director Simon Curtis‘ family heirloom onscreen. “In the film, the German holds up a silver cup, and that’s actually my great-grandfather’s silver cup from Poland,” Curtis told THR at the premiere, which drew castmembers Mirren and Holmes, along with guests including Brooke Shields, Tony Bennett, Bob Balaban, Dylan Baker, Ivanka Trump and Mark Cuban.
So does the Shark Tank star and outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Cuban have something that connects him to his past and heritage? “I have my dad’s birth certificate. When my grandparents came over from Russia, they didn’t speak English, and so when my father was born, they spelled his name C-u-b-i-n; it somehow got changed to Cuban,” he told THR. “The last name on my father’s birth certificate is different than my last name.”
Woman in Gold hits limited theaters April 1 before expanding to wide release April 10.