If a casting agent invited you to play yourself in a major motion picture, would you think it was a joke? That’s what cantor Mia Fram Davidson of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale thought when she was asked to shoot two scenes in the upcoming film This is Where I Leave You (based on the Jonathan Tropper bestseller) this past May. But then she found herself in a hair-and-makeup trailer with Jane Fonda and Tina Fey—just one of the pinch-me moments from her notes on the experience of a lifetime.
6:30 am: I arrive at ‘base camp’ and am whisked away to hair and makeup. Right next to me is Jane Fonda, and, two chairs down, Tina Fey. Is this really happening? Ben Schwartz and Corey Stoll come in and ask what other movies I’ve been in. They can’t believe I’m a real cantor!
8:30 am: We start my first scene, at Congregation KTI in Port Chester. Ben, who plays the rabbi, is so gracious, explaining everything to me. It turns out he’s from Edgemont.
Noon: Between takes, the cast goes outside to the “crafty” truck. (You can get any kind of food you want, and it’s delicious!) I meet Jason Bateman and Adam Driver. My cast chair is right next to Tina’s, and we talk about raising daughters.
3 pm: I teach Jane the Jewish hymn ‘Hinei Ma Tov,’ so she can sing it in the movie. She asks about Jewish holidays, and tells me her new boyfriend is Jewish.
4 pm: My husband and daughters—Lena, who’s 6, and Mikaela, 3—come to the set. Jason kneels down and talks to Mikaela’s ‘lovey’ [a blanket with a stuffed cow head]. He and Jane have brought their dogs, and my girls have a great time playing with them.
8:30 am: Today we’re shooting in a cemetery, and it’s freezing. Between takes, the assistants give us all down coats. ‘Now you know that half of acting is pretending you’re not cold when you are,’ Tina tells me.
10 am: Ben Schwartz is improvising his lines, and every take is different and hilarious. The director says I have to keep a straight face (but it’s so funny!).
Noon: Still in the cemetery. Tina is supposed to hold a baby, so there are all these babies, identically dressed, looking perfectly happy in their parents’ arms. But as soon as she holds them, they start screaming their heads off. ‘I promise, I’m a good mother!’ she says. (It doesn’t help.)
6 pm: I am squeezed in the cast van between Adam and Corey as we return to base. There are so many camera angles needed that we will continue shooting here tomorrow. When the movie comes out, this scene will be only a minute long!
8:30 am: It’s freezing again, but eventually, the scene is done. Before I leave, I take a cast picture. The director says I did a fantastic job, and I ask if I might get tickets to the premiere. We’ll see!
3 pm: I’m back at Westchester Reform Temple, tutoring students for their bar or bat mitzvah. It was an amazing experience—but I prefer being an actual cantor to being a movie one.