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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

‘Nick and Norah’ star Kat Dennings is infinitely Jewish, in her own way

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Who would use tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world, as a lead-in to a movie love scene?

Norah Silverberg, the lead character in the hit teen comedy, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” that’s who. The film tracks an offbeat love story between high school students Nick (Michael Cera) and Norah (Kat Dennings) as they traverse through New York City in search of a mysterious band (“Where’s Fluffy”) and Norah’s lost, drunken girlfriend.

Along the way they meet an interesting cast of characters, including Norah’s ex-boyfriend, the sleazy Tal (Jay Baruchel), who is using her in hopes her famous dad will produce his Jew-power album. Oh yeah — and Norah tells Nick about tikkun olam — right before she makes her move on him.

But actress Kat Dennings, who is Jewish, like the character she plays, didn’t know the concept before the film. “I had to ask people around the set about the Hebrew words,” she said in a phone interview with The Jewish Journal. “I couldn’t pronounce it.”

Dennings, who is 22 and lives in Los Angeles, is different from Norah, an 18-year-old who lives in Englewood, N.J. For one thing, she’s not a “JAP” — as Nick calls Norah in the film.

“I don’t even know what JAP really means,” Dennings said. “That’s just something kids say to each other.”

She said she is very different from Norah, except “for both being brunettes and Jewish,” and “I tend to worry a lot and take care of my friends — I take a mothering role,” she said.

The trailer

Still, she was attracted to the film, based on a 2006 novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (Knopf Young Adults) that had far more Jewish references. (In the book, Norah talks often about Judaism.) The film’s Judaism has been “moviefied,” Dennings said.

“I liked that Norah was a strong and unique female lead, not the type of girl I was used to seeing in films like this,” Dennings said. “I liked that she was Jewish — it’s different from what I’ve seen in the past.”

Although she says she’s “a billion percent Jewish” (“I don’t think I have any relatives who aren’t Jewish”), she considers herself more ethnically and culturally affiliated than religiously so, as do many of her generation.

For example, on her blog — which she’s had for an astonishing seven years — she has posted a video titled “Happy Purim!” about her and a faux pregnant friend clowning around. “It had nothing to do with Purim, but we filmed it on Purim,” she said.

After an article about her appeared in Vanity Fair, she blogged, “push Aunt Nancy aside and throw open the screen door, because ‘Hollywood’s Next Wave’ just got a lot Jewisher.”

The youngest of five children raised in Philadelphia, “I went to my little friends’ bat mitzvahs, but I’m not that into religion,” she said.

Which is funny, since the pale-skinned, pouty-lipped actress’ first standout role was in “Sex and the City,” playing Jenny Brier, a teen who hires Samantha to do publicity for her bat mitzvah.

She says she’s not worried about being stereotyped; she’s also starred in “40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Charlie Bartlett,” and guest starred in TV’s “CSI: Miami” and “Without a Trace.” She is also set to film “Sendor,” with Woody Harrelson.

Judaism, she said, “is an important part of my history, but, as a whole, religion is not a part of my life.”

“It’s a background thing, but I’m proud to be Jewish.”

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