'Dinner with the Parents' Stars Michaela Watkins and Henry Hall Are Sorry About that Torah Scene – Kveller
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‘Dinner with the Parents’ Stars Michaela Watkins and Henry Hall Are Sorry About that Torah Scene

The actors talk about their love for Jewish food, cool lady rabbis and the LA bar mitzvah circuit.


via Amazon Freevee

There are those actors that you would follow through hell or high water, to every project, any indie film or esoteric TV project, for a chance to glimpse their brilliance. That’s how I feel about comedian and actress Michaela Watkins. She’s so funny, and sometimes so devastating, in the cult-hit show “Casual” and movies like “Suze,” and in every show (of which there are many) where Watkins has a guest role that’s surprising and delightful.

In Amazon Freevee’s “Dinner With the Parents,” the new Amazon Freevee show that centers around a Jewish family, she plays Jane Langer, a matriarch that’s both deeply loving and deeply insecure. She feels inferior in the eyes of her mother, played by the legendary Carol Kane, who obviously favors her more successful daughter over Jane. In an episode of the show that centers a shiva, she feels self-conscious about her Hebrew school drop-out status and pretends to know more about Jewish rituals than she does, a sham that at first wins her the admiration of the cool lady rabbi overseeing the somber event, and then her consternation when she butchers the Mourner’s Kaddish. As Jane, Watkins is lovable, funny and sometimes cringe-worthy, but mostly just incredibly enjoyable to watch, especially when, during an episode with a seder, she starts singing the songs from the haggadah, accompanied by a tiny harp.

Her cast mates are similarly awed by Watkins. “I admired Michaela forever, just as an audience member,” Dan Bakkedahl, who plays Harvey Langer, Jane’s husband, told Kveller in an interview. “And then I got a chance to work with her on Lynn Shelton’s final film, ‘Sword of Trust’… and there were times then that saved my life. Without any hyperbole here, she really came to the rescue, kept me afloat, and she keeps things light. She keeps it fun.”

I got to interview Wakins alongside Henry Hall, who plays her onscreen son, David, and is also the real-life son of her frequent collaborator, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. It’s a perfect pairing in many ways — both their characters are haunted and doomed by their own insecurities in hilarious ways, and in real life, they’re both equally charming and personable. And I do have a feeling that Hall is going to become someone whom I similarly will watch anything he’s in.

The three of us spoke about Jewish blasphemy, the Los Angeles bar and bat mitzvah circuit and our mutual love for gefilte fish.

Hi, I’m Lior from Kveller, we’re a Jewish pop culture site.

Michaela: Are you sure? With a Yiddish name like that?!

Henry: I’m about to kvell over here.

Michaela: We’re all kvelling!

Henry: I’m sure you’ve never heard that before!

Michaela, were you an actual Hebrew school drop-out like your character in the show?

Michaela: Yes! Oh my gosh, I remember my Hebrew school teacher was talking about something, I was like in fourth grade, I was like — that sounds very sexist.

Henry: That’s so awesome.

Michaela: She was like Michaela, can you please stay after class? She said to me, “Michaela, it is not sexist, because when a woman is having her period, she does not have to lay with her husband.”And I was like, “That’s not the flex you think it is.”

Henry: What a progressive outlook.

Michaela: I know, also, “have to [lay with her husband]?” I was in fourth grade.

You were not supposed to be exposed to any of that! But you did bring the Passover songs to the Passover seder episode!

Michaela: Can I tell you something? Henry, I think I told you this. So, I was at a Passover seder where an octogenarian was having a medical event and passed out at dinner and the music teacher from the kids school picked up a hand harp and started doing “Dayenu!” While the paramedics were coming! I just was going, this is so art-imitating-life, life-imitating-art. What is happening?! I could not believe it.

That’s even more chaotic than the “Dinner With the Parents” Passover episode! Henry, what are your seder experiences? Have you had any?

Henry: I’ve been to a few seders here and there. I have less experience with those than I do the bar and bat mitzvah circuit circuit. [For that] you’re talking to an absolute pro over here.

Michaela: You come in, you find the sushi part of the buffet!

Henry: We’re in LA. You know, the food in Los Angeles is incredible. So every bar/bat or b’nai mitzvah was just loaded. I mean, we’re talking like the most epic buffets you’ve ever seen. But my parents would make me go to the service for every single one, because they were like, you have to! Like, come on, don’t just go and dance and eat chicken wings like that. We’re not religious, and like barely Jewish, but…

You need to experience the exhaustion and the hunger before the buffet!

Henry: Right, right, something like that, but I think that was probably a good instinct at the end of the day.

Michaela: They built good character with you! I just want to say, being in California, everybody was like, “Oh, did you have a bat mitzvah? Like, was it amazing?’ And I was like, no, I’m from Syracuse, New York. Amazing? My sister played Bruce Springsteen records, basically. Everybody ate pickles. It was just a very flimsy, very weak bar mitzvah game in Syracuse.

I’m from Israel, and my bat mitzvah was just in my aunt’s backyard.

Henry: I had no idea I had it so good!

Michaela: Now that I’m an adult and I live in Los Angeles and I’ve been to some bar mitzvahs, and I’m like, is that the entire lineup for the Yankees over there?!

You’re spoiled now.

Henry: There’s like the most delectable pastrami you could eat. Period. I’m like, this is great. I wonder if it gets better from here.

Michaela: Ladies and gentlemen, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders!

Was it kind of delightful for you, Henry, to have that fake bar mitzvah picture of your character haunting you around on set?

Henry: Yeah, they really did me nice and dirty with the bar mitzvah photo. I’ve got the big pimple.

Michaela: The bad perm.

Henry: It was a proper mess.

Michaela: Did you see the episode where the Torah catches fire?

Where the Torah catches fire on the bimah? That was blasphemous and hilarious!

Michaela: I was breaking out in a sweat. I was trying to point the lighting bolt that way, like, the writers are over there!

Just telling Hashem, I would never burn a Torah scroll in my life!

Henry: Oh my God, yeah. Dropping it on the ground is the worst thing ever — let alone lighting it on fire, are you kidding me?!

Michaela: That’s right! Jews are allowed to masturbate but we weren’t allowed to drop a book.

You’ve got to kiss it, and apologize!

Michaela: And then you stay up all night, just going like “augh!”

Michaela, you get to do a lot of Israeli accents [both in this show, and in “History of the World: Part II”].

Michaela: I do, is it OK?

It’s very good, I like it very much. Do you have many Israelis in your life?

Michaela: Well, Iris [Bahr], who is in the show and plays our neighbor, is Israeli, so I ran it up her flagpole. And I have a very good friend who’s Israeli so I did run the accent by her as well.

I do love the Jewish representation in the show, though some rabbis will probably have a lot to say about it. I love the lady rabbi in it. 

Michaela: I have a progressive lady rabbi, Sharon Brous. You know her?

Yes! We love Sharon Brous!

Michaela: She’s my rabbi. She’s our cool lady rabbi.

I have one last question. Since this show is about dinner, do you two have a favorite Jewish food?

Henry: Oh my God.

Michaela: I mean, where to begin?

Henry: That’s a great question.

Michaela: The cast just went to Langer’s [deli].

Henry: Yes, we did just hit Langer’s. That’s up there. That pastrami sandwich is crazy.

The Langers went to Langer’s!

Henry: Yeah, our namesake. I was just in New York and I went to Barney Greengrass and had their latkes with apple sauce and sour cream and I mean, I’m gonna start crying thinking about them, honestly. That’s gotta be number one for me. They also have an egg pastrami situation on a bialy. It’s beyond. That might be my favorite food in the whole world.

Michaela: You’re asking the right people. Henry and I just sit there and talk about food we like.

Henry: Literally, right before this interview, I was grilling Michaela on restaurants in her neighborhood.

Michaela: Are you ready for mine?


Michaela: Herring. Pickled herring. With the sour cream or with the vinegar, I don’t care. I love pickled herring. Like, I need to have it right the F now. And any kind of white fish. Basically I like any food that a man in his 90s loves. Bagels, all the cream cheeses. I love kugel. I love gefilte fish. Have you ever met a person who genuinely likes gefilte?

I am a fan of gefilte fish. 

Michaela: I would open a jar and eat the whole thing right now.

Henry: Oh the jar, that stuff is so good.

Let’s get together and eat some gefilte fish.

Michaela: I had a boyfriend in college, when I explained gefilte fish to him, he goes, “How does it swim?”

Henry: Immediate breakup.

Michaela: I go, “It’s just like a lump of fish. There’s no fins, no head, no tail.”

That’s how they kept it for so long! They had to use a little bit of fish and they stretched it!

Henry: With the yummiest preservatives. It’s like oh, this thing that makes it last forever, it actually makes it taste like the best thing in the world.

Michaela: Oh and horseradish. I love horseradish.

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