Helen Mirren's transformation into Israel's only female prime minister Golda Meir

"She's one of the best actresses of our time, there's no doubt about it," director Guy Nattiv said about the 'Golda' star

Helen Mirren famously took home an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, but now the famed actor has transformed into a completely different historic figure, Golda Meir, Israel's only female prime minister.

While the debate has been had for some time about whether a Jewish or Israeli actor should have been given the role of Meir in the film Golda (now in theatres), the movie's Oscar-winning director, Guy Nattiv, has highlighted that Meir's grandson very much supported Mirren in the role.

"She's one of the best actresses of our time, there's no doubt about it," Nattiv told Yahoo Canada. "When I joined the project, Gideon Meir, the grandson of Golda himself said, 'I see my grandmother in Helen. She is my grandmother. I look at her and she's my grandmother.'"

"She was [already] attached to the project when I arrived, but when I met Helen in my home for three and a half hours of discussions, ... she told me that she was in Israel when she was 29, in the kibbutz, picking tomatoes and just touring the country. Fell in love with the Jewish man and was just a real Zionist in a way. That made me feel like I'm talking to my mom or someone from my tribe. She felt totally from my family."

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in Guy Nattiv's film Golda (Elevation Pictures)
Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in Guy Nattiv's film Golda (Elevation Pictures)

'I wanted us to feel the loneliness and the isolation'

Golda isn't a true biopic. It's a story focused on the 19 days of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

While some may assume that the story would be focused on the war Nattiv went into the project, which was an open assignment for directors to pitch, with a completely different idea.

"The script was completely different, it was 80 per cent war and 20 per cent Golda," Nattiv said.

"My pitch was, 'hey, read the script. It's nice but it's not the movie I want to make. The movie I want to make is 80 per cent Golda and 20 per cent war, and a war without a single drop of blood. Instead of shooting the war, bringing it into the war rooms.' I guess they liked my pitch."

Nattiv then worked with Nicholas Martin, who wrote the script, on a story focused on Meir specifically during those 19 days.

"We knew we were not doing a biopic from birth to death," Nattiv said. "This is not The Crown, ... in an hour and a half what you can do is, like they did in The Queen, you can concentrate on a specific time of someone's life."

"We chose this war that was detrimental to the history of Israel and to the life Golda, and to her legacy."

The way Nattiv shows Meir to the audience is very specific. Oftentimes there's a sense of extreme closeness with the shots, particularly as we see her struggling both mentally and physically. She was an obsessive smoker and had lymphoma while managing this immediate danger of conflict.

"I wanted us to feel the loneliness and the isolation, and the helplessness that Golda felt," Nattiv explained. "She was completely alone. She was not part of the Israeli command team. She was American. She was kind of like an outsider and she just felt that she's not a war person. She's more of a state woman."

"She found herself pushed to be prime minister, she didn't even want to be prime minister. So I wanted us to feel as viewers like she's the wrong person in the wrong time, in the wrong place."

20 February 2023, Berlin: Director Guy Nattiv from Israel and British actress Dame Helen Mirren stand next to each other at the photocall of the film

'I hope they will understand her conflicts'

Meir certainly has a complicated legacy in history, but Nattiv stressed that "flawed characters are the most interesting in films."

"Golda for me is a flawed character," he said. "She [made] many mistakes. She was a refusenik. She didn't want to hear anything about making peace with Sadat."

"She did not go after her hunch and she didn't make the right decisions. But, unlike other prime ministers and presidents today, she took responsibility and resigned at the end."

For those who watch Golda, Nattiv hopes that they will be "emotional" about this woman.

"I hope they will understand her conflicts, her determination, and how unique she was," he said.

"I want people to know [who Golda is]. People still think that Golda is an ice cream chain in Israel, you know, 19 year olds. To have a little piece of history and to learn about about this woman, I think that's the first step."