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Judd Hirsch Found His Fabelmans Character Thanks To A Tony Award-Winning Play - Exclusive

Steven Spielberg's "The Fabelmans" is a film about much more than a young boy learning to love the art of moviemaking — it's also a cautionary tale about the price of devoting your life to the arts and all the power and heartache it can give you. Judd Hirsch's character of Uncle Boris embodies that theme in particular, and his show-stopping scene with Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) in the film sees Boris stoke the fires of creativity within the boy while simultaneously giving him a stern warning about pursuing them.

It's a scene masterfully played by Hirsch, who has to not only deliver that theme but keep Boris a believable person. The "Fabelmans" star begins by admitting that Boris was ultimately made up of a potpourri of people he's met over the course of his nearly 50-year career: "It's pieces of humorous folks, Yiddish guys, Russian guys, people that passed me by," he explained in an exclusive interview with Looper. But he went on to say that he found a key piece of Boris about 37 years ago, when he performed in a Tony Award-winning Broadway play.

'It's almost like you should know that every time he opens his mouth he's right.'

Judd Hirsch told Looper that performing the role of Nat in Herb Gardner's play "I'm Not Rappaport" on Broadway in 1985 allowed him to find Boris' voice. "I was in a play where I was going to play an 81-year-old, and I was only 50 [at the time], and he comes from Estonia," the actor said. "There was a certain kind of sound that made me the character, so I had to do it. I wanted to do it very much — I wanted to get the right guy because it's a very funny piece."

Describing how he worked on the character of Nat, Hirsch went on to say that "The [character] was an old Jewish guy sitting on a bench with a Black guy in Central Park [...] I remember I was doing something where he sounded a little light [and] natty. Then I was looking at the author, and I said, 'He's not that way, is he?' He said, 'No.' I said, 'Well, what more?' He said, 'Bigger than that.'"

"I changed my entire voice to a guy who was the commander," Hirsch told Looper. "He's right all the time." Speaking about how Nat's voice became the basis for Boris' no-nonsense demeanor, Hirsch said that "It's almost like you should know that every time he opens his mouth he's right. He can't be a guy who says, 'You know what I mean?' He's got to be a guy who says, 'You know what I mean.' Different person."

While Hirsch, unfortunately, did not appear in the 1996 film version of "I'm Not Rappaport," you can see some flashes of his work as Nat in "The Fabelmans," where the actor — most well-known for his comedic chops — holds the screen just like a commander would.

"The Fabelmans" is in select theaters now and opens everywhere on Thanksgiving.