The Passion of the Christ
Following an award winning performance in “Those Who Pay with Their Lives” (1991), Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern achieved nationwide prominence starring as Nela in Lucian Pintilie's powerful drama “Balanţa” (1992, “The Oak”), for which she nabbed a Geneva Film Festival Award, an European Film Award and the Romanian Union of Filmmakers Award. After the success, she acted in international movies like “Nostradamus” (1994), “The Seventh Room” (1995, won a Venice Film Festival Award) and “Ulysses' Gaze” (1995) and in the Hungarian hit “The Witman Boys” (1998). Morgenstern, however, is perhaps best recognized by English speaking audience as Jesus' mother in the Oscar nominated “The Passion of the Christ” (2004), which was directed by Mel Gibson. The role brought the actress an Ethnic Multicultural Media Award (EMMA). Some of her more recent credits include roles in “Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula” (2000), “Rose’s Songs” (2003), “My Mother, My Bride and I” (2008) and “Eva” (2010), to name a few.
As an accomplished stage actress, Morgenstern has won the UNITER (The Theatre Union of Romania) award three times (1990, 1993 and 1995) and acted with the Romanian theater companies Piatra Neamt National Theatre, State Jewish Theatre and the National Theatre.
Childhood and Family:
Maia Morgenstern was born on May 1, 1962, in Bucharest, Romania, to a Jewish family. Her last name means “Morning Star.” She was trained at the world renowned Film and Theatre Academy in Bucharest, where she graduated in 1985.
Maia has been married twice. She has three children, Tudor Aaron, Ana Isadora and Eva Leea Cabiria.
A leading Romanian theater actress, Maia Morgenstern began her stage career with the youth theater Teatrul Tineretului after graduating from the Film and Theatre Academy of Bucharest. She went on to work with the prominent State Jewish Theatre from 1988 to 1990 and then the National Theatre from 1990 to 1998. In 1998, she became a member of Teatrul Bulandra while also performing with the State Jewish Theatre and other Bucharest theaters. Morgenstern has won UNITER awards for her work in “Ancient Trilogy” (1990), “Ghetto” (1993) and “Lola Blau” (1995).
Morgenstern made her feature acting debut in 1983 in “Prea cald pentru luna mai,” which was directed by Maria Callas Dinescu. Her subsequent film credits include the drama “Chained Justice” (1983), “The Season of Love” (1986), Mircea Muresan's “Maria and the Sea” (1988), in which she starred in, and “Marea sfidare” (1989). More film roles followed during the 1990s and Morgenstern was handed a Romanian Union of Filmmakers for Best Actress for her work in the 1991 Romanian film “Those Who Pay with Their Lives.” However, she did not experience a huge breakthrough until 1992 when director Lucian Pintilie cast her in the starring role of Nela in “Balanta” (The Oak Tree) which was shown at the New York Film Festival in October 1992. Adapted from a novel by Ion Baiesu, the drama was hailed as one of the best films of the 1990s. For her good performance, the actress picked up Best Actress honors at the Geneva Film Festival, the European Film and the Romanian Union of Filmmakers. The success of “Balanta” boosted Morgenstern's international status and in 1994 she teamed up with British director Roger Christian for the English language biopic “Nostradamus,” where she appeared with Turkish actor Tchéky Karyo, American Amanda Plummer and British performer Julia Ormond. The next year, she played Edith Stein in the Hungarian film “The Seventh Room” (1995, “Siódmy pokój”), from which she took home an Elvira Notari Prize - Special Mention from the Venice Film Festival. She also costarred with Harvey Keitel in the Theodoros Angelopoulos directed “Ulysses' Gaze” (1995). The rest of the decade found roles in such vehicles as “The Man of the Day/Omul zilei” (1997), the Hungarian drama “The Witman Boys” (1998) and the epic drama “Triunghiul mortii” (1999).
Entering the new millennium, Morgenstern played one of the leads in the French language “Marie, Nonna, la vierge et moi” (2000), directed by Francis Renaud. Later that same year, she was featured in the American TV special “Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula,” by director Joe Chapelle. After working in a few more Romanian/Hungarian projects, including the based-on-novel “Bed of Procust” (2001) and the drama “Fool's Song” (2003), Morgenstern enjoyed success in America with the high profile movie “The Passion of The Christ” (2004), which was nominated for three Academy Awards. Under the direction of Mel Gibson, she won an EMMA for Best Actress for her portrayal of Mary, the mother of Jesus (played by James Caviezel).
Morgenstern returned to her Romanian roots after “The Passion of The Christ” by appearing in Sergiu Nicolaescu's “Orient Express” and “Damen tango” (both 2004). She next portrayed Bonne in “Homme pressé, L’” (2005), rejoined Nicolaescu for “15” (2005), was cast as Adina Galupa's mother in the short film “Visuri otravite” (2006) and played the stepmother of the title character in Ioan Carmazan's “Margo” (2006) and Mrs. Mansfeld in “Mansfeld” (2006). She next received a supporting role in Adrian Popovici's “Eva” (2008), starring Vanessa Redgrave, portrayed Simona in “Luna Verde” (2010) and Marieta in the series “In the Name of Honour” (2010-2011).
Ethnic Multicultural Media Award/EMMA (UK): Best Film Actress, “The Passion of the Christ,” 2004
Venice Film Festival: Elvira Notari Prize - Special Mention, “Siódmy pokój,” 1995
UNITER (The Theatre Union of Romania): “Lola Blau,” 1995
European Film: Best Actress, “Balanta,” 1993
Romanian Union of Filmmakers: Best Actress, “Balanta,” 1993
UNITER (The Theatre Union of Romania): Best Actress, “Ghetto,” 1993
Geneva Film Festival: Festival Award, Best Actress, “Balanta,” 1992
Romanian Union of Filmmakers: Best Actress (Premiul pentru rol cu participare extraordinara), “Cei care platesc cu viata,” 1992
UNITER (The Theatre Union of Romania): Lucia Sturdza Bulandra Prize, “Ancient Trilogy,” 1990