|Jersey City resident Paul Cohen will play financier Bernie Madoff in an upcoming movie.|
Jersey City resident Paul Cohen looks like Bernie Madoff.
Often mistaken for the disgraced money manager, who in March pleaded guilty to defrauding investors of billions of dollars in a wide-ranging Ponzi scheme, Cohen said the resemblance has raised many eyebrows.
“It was embarrassing,” he said. “People would see me and jump up and down.”
Now Cohen – who said he has worked in publishing his whole life and, for the past six years, has been an advertising executive for the Hudson Reporter in Jersey City – is using his appearance to his advantage.
Under the stage name Paul Cole, Cohen will play the part of Madoff in an independent film written, directed, and produced by Edmund Druilhet. The movie, “Madoff: Made Off with America,” is due to be released in September, said Cohen.
According to the Madoff look-alike – who, like Madoff, was born in April and attended school in the Far Rockaway section of Queens – he has read every article about the financier that he can find and has watched all existing footage.
He noted that while the financier is clearly a smart man, he is also “an evil man” who did great harm to the Jewish community. Nothing he has read or heard since beginning the movie project has changed his mind, he said.
“I have a great connection to the community he hurt,” said Cohen, who is himself Jewish, noting that his son, daughter-in-law, and seven grandchildren live in Jerusalem. When Druilhet mentioned that he wanted somehow to “give back” to the many institutions Madoff had harmed, Cohen suggested that they start with Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital. As a result, a portion of the film’s proceeds will be donated to that institution.
Cohen said he was motivated to do something about his resemblance to Madoff because people confused him with the felon “one too many times.” When he learned from a New York Post article about the casting call for the upcoming movie, he told his wife it was time to do something about it. The two took some pictures of him at home and sent them to the production company.
The Madoff look-alike said the number two played a significant role in his recent adventure. Two hours after sending the photos, he heard back from the California studio. Asked to come to Los Angeles for a screen test, Cohen, with no previous acting experience, was in L.A. two days later reading for the part. Two weeks after that, “the attorneys completed their work” and the deal was sealed.
Calling sales “a first cousin to acting,” Cohen said playing Madoff will be something of a challenge, since “nobody really knows him.” With not much to look at as a guide, he said, his acting job will be both harder and easier.
“The executive producer is giving me the overall concept but I’ll have a lot of freedom,” he said.
Cohen will spend most of July filming in Los Angeles and then return to New York for the filming of landmarks such as the outside of Madoff’s home and office.
The new actor said he has been given a leave of absence from his newspaper to work on the film project and is trying to juggle all his responsibilities.
“I’m multi-tasking,” he said. “Women aren’t the only ones who can do that.” Still, he said, he’s having fun.
“My family and friends are as excited as I am,” he said. “They’re all enjoying it.”
Cohen said the film is especially exciting because “it has a long life ahead of it. So much is going on.”
He can’t believe, he said, that Madoff was alone in committing these crimes and expects that more discoveries will be made.
What’s next for the Jersey City executive/actor?
“Hashem is taking me on this road; He’s guiding me,” said Cohen, admitting that he doesn’t know where it will lead.
When the movie is over, “I’ll stop and see what happens,” he said, adding that he expects to derive a lot of learning and understanding from this new experience.
“I might change how I look,” he joked, adding that he has already ordered an “I’m not Bernie” T-shirt. Still, he said, “I’ve gone through life looking like this.”