The Miller family is in a big pickle.
Well, more so they’re trying to steal a big pickle.
Lynn Cohen, 83 — known for her roles in Sex and the City as Magda, Munich as Golda Meir, or more recently Mags Flanagan in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire — has a new role in The Pickle Recipe, as a grandmother with a secret pickle formula.
The Pickle Recipe follows a local emcee, Joey, who teams up with an uncle to steal his grandmother’s treasured pickle recipe to make a quick buck and replace his broken equipment in time to play at his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.
The film — also starring Jon Dore; Academy Award nominee David Paymer; and Eric Edelstein — opens at Ritz at the Bourse on Nov. 11.
Cohen’s character, Rose, is a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Detroit and opened a small restaurant with her husband.
“The highlight of it was the pickles that [Rose] made. They became famous,” Cohen said.
Her funny, no-nonsense character planned to keep her pickle recipe — originally from her grandmother — a lifelong secret, but a hit on the head gives her short-term memory loss. The only thing missing: the pickle recipe.
As a last resort, her son makes 60 varieties of pickles, hoping Rose will remember it by taste.
“That scene took a couple of hours to do. I had a spit basket behind me. It was great fun, but I think I was off of pickles for a while,” Cohen said.
Her character’s task is to make her child and grandchild “strong, able to live in the world. It’s an original story but also I think it’s one that’s happened in every family about wanting to pass on what you’ve learned in life, particularly if you see your offspring becoming not good human beings.”
Although the themes and storylines are very Jewish, Cohen said this film is not just a Jewish story.
“Everybody can relate to [having] someone in their life — an old aunt, an old grandmother, someone strong — who has survived through everything.”
The story is universal, all about passing on traditions to the next generation.
“It’s a funny picture with a huge heart and a universal story to tell,” she said.
Cohen hopes people seeing this film will gain new respect for female matriarchs, and perhaps help to crack that glass ceiling.
“Many times I have found myself doing the same work as a man and not getting the money,” she said. “It’s the woman who bears the children and keeps the family alive, and it’s changing, but it’s very slow. But anything worth fighting for in life, you have to step up to the plate.”
All of the roles Cohen has played have something that she likes and believes in, that illustrate strength of the human being and resilience of the human spirit.
“Whether it’s The Hunger Games where I’m doing mountains and commit suicide to protect everybody, or whether it’s Sex and the City where I have a very strong idea of what life should be, what morals are, or Munich, where I play Golda Meir, or a Woody Allen movie — it has to do with the strength of women, the strength of the human being. And that’s what attracted me to this role: the strength of the woman, her intelligence, her humor and her passion.”
Cohen actually had no Jewish upbringing in her hometown of Kansas City, Mo.
Her grandmother emigrated from Ukraine at the turn of the century and participated in the Reform movement.
“When I was 13 or 14, that was the very first time I was really exposed to any kind of Judaism at all,” she said. Even then, it was more about morals: “The golden rule: ‘Do unto others as they would do unto you,’ which is really the basis of our religion, being conscious and careful and caring of humanity.”
Cohen recalled some of her own grandmother’s recipes.
“My grandmother made pickles. When I was in school we used to have a cooking class. The very first thing that I made was pickles. I never thought of it until this minute,” she laughed, thinking about her 13-year-old self. “I did much better there than I did in the sewing class.
“My parents were so loving they actually ate those pickles,” she chuckled.
She said her grandmother was a great cook, “but like all grandmothers, she never had a recipe, really,” she said. “I remember my grandmother made a few things I thought were amazing, so actually one day I said, ‘OK, Granny, let’s make these.’ They were little meat pies, and she would make the dough but do it all by feel.”
When her grandmother tossed in the flour, Cohen would take it out, measure it and jot it down.
“I got that recipe that way,” she said.
She tried making that dish — her favorite when she was growing up — for her husband when they first got married. He said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
“There are things in every family like that — that you love and other people just don’t understand it,” she explained.
But Cohen was definitely a match for the role of playing an old woman with an affinity for pickles.
“I love them! I think I have a pickle every night.”
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