“The Patient” co-creators, showrunners and executive producers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg (“The Americans”) explained why they cast Steve Carell, who is not Jewish, as a Jewish character in a story rich with themes surrounding Orthodox Judaism and temple culture.
“When we came up with the original idea, the character wasn’t originally Jewish and we started, as you always do, looking for ways to add specificity and depth,” Weisberg said when asked about the decision during FX’s virtual panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “And we came up with that idea and pretty quickly realized that it allowed us to tap into things from our own lives and our own past that added just certain dimensions and it became really a lot more fun to write in a certain way after that.”
On casting Carell (who also serves as executive producer) to play a Jewish character, Weisberg added that his and Fields’ “feeling has always been as television writers that we’re kind of in an area where people are pretending to be other people,” adding that they understand how others feel differently about the question.
Fields said, “The Jewish themes are very personal and important to each of us. My dad was a rabbi, so I grew up in that world. Joe grew up with a Jewish family as well, so we were able to tap into something very personal for us. Ultimately, I think a big part of our belief as storytellers is that what we’re doing is trying to amplify our common humanity. And that’s something Steve does brilliantly in this part and Domhnall [Gleeson] does brilliantly in his part.”
Over the years, the industry has reckoned with backlash when casting individuals whose identity — be it related to their ethnicity or sexuality — do not align with who they portray on-screen. Most recently, there was debate surrounding Helen Mirren’s casting as Israel’s first female prime minister Golda Meir in an upcoming biopic.
In “The Patient,” Carell portrays Dr. Alan Strauss, a psychotherapist who is eventually kidnapped by one of his patients, Sam Fortner (Gleeson), who reveals himself to be a serial killer seeking help in curbing his violent compulsions. The FX on Hulu series premieres with the first two episodes on Aug. 30.