Natalie Portman: 'The less I’m in a movie, the more I like it'

The actor talks about directing herself, the things she learned from Terrence Malick and Mike Nichols, and making a tourist trip to the Star Wars universe

Hi Natalie. You’ve moved back to LA after two years in Paris (1). What’s it like to be back in the belly of the beast?

People in LA are just wild. French people are very judgemental, or in Paris at least, about how you are and how you look. You would never wear workout clothes on the street or sandals or shorts or wild colours. It was fun to get back to where everyone’s just being free.

Did you move back because of the vegan cuisine? (2)

[Laughs] Took the words out of my mouth. Actually, Paris has improved a lot for vegans in the past few years. It was a lucky moment to be there as a vegan.

You premiered A Tale of Love and Darkness at Cannes (3), where critics are notorious for booing. Was it scary opening yourself up to that?

Amy Adams once said this thing that I remember all the time about how artists have to have a very thin skin. You have to be very emotionally ready, emotionally connected to everything but then, as a public figure, you have to have such a thick skin. People will say such harsh things (4). You need to be vulnerable for your work but you also need to be tough as nails just to keep up, and that combination is really hard to maintain.

Do you read reviews of your own films?

No. I avoid it. It’s inhibiting to hear bad things about yourself. It makes you afraid, and you can’t be afraid when you work.

So many actors hate watching themselves. How do you get past that?

I usually see a movie once when it comes out at the premiere and then never see it again. Usually I cringe through the premiere and hate everything I do. The less I’m in a movie, the more I like it.

How do you rate your performance in this film?

I will never tell you anything good about myself. I promise! At least I was able to have the distance to be like, “OK. This could be better.”

Would you cast yourself again?

[Laughs] Yes.

You’ve worked with some incredible filmmakers (5). Who influenced your directorial style?

Mike Nichols was a huge influence. He emphasised story so much. He was always telling the story over and over again to the cast so that everyone’s in the same moment. This is the moment they fall in love … this is the moment she realises he’s cheating … this is the moment he sees his mother as flawed for the first time. You name the big event of the scene and that helps you connect the dots.

Terrence Malick was a huge influence also. He’s completely different. He’s just constantly pushing to paint from life and not from other films. Whenever they say “It has to be a three-act structure” or whatever, he’s like: “That’s not true. You portray the world as you experience it.”

I read that while shooting Annihilation (6) at Pinewood Studios in London you visited the Rogue One and Episode VIII sets. What was it like to step back into the Star Wars universe? (7)

It’s always fun getting to visit a movie set as a tourist. When you go and it’s your job and you go everyday, you get a little immune to how magical it is. To experience it as a tourist just makes it magic again.

You have Jackie coming up, in which you portray Jackie Onassis. You’re being tipped for an Oscar. You seemed to enjoy yourself while on the awards trail for Black Swan ... (8)

Being sober the whole time is a trip! (9) I’ll tell you that. [Laughs] I felt unusual being that way relative to the room.


(1) Portman moved with her husband, Benjamin Millipied, and their five-year-old son Aleph, after Millipied became director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet in 2014. He returned to LA Dance, the company he created in 2012, this summer.

(2) Portman has been vegetarian since her preteen years. In 2009, she declared herself vegan after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals.

(3) Portman’s feature directorial debut, an ambitious, Hebrew-language adaptation of Israeli writer Amos Oz’s autobiographical novel of the same name. She stars as an Eastern European Holocaust survivor who struggles to adapt to life in what will soon become the state of Israel.

(4) A Tale of Love and Darkness premiered in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section and earned mixed reviews. The Guardian’s Andrew Pulver called it a “serious, well made adaptation.

(5) Portman has worked with film-makers including George Lucas, Mike Nichols, Terrence Malick, Darren Aronofsky and Anthony Minghella.

(6) The next film from Ex Machina film-maker Alex Garland. Portman plays a biologist who signs up for a dangerous secret expedition.

(7) Portman played Padmé Amidala in Stars Wars Episodes I, II and III.

(8) Portman won her best actress Oscar in 2010 for her performance in Darren Aronofsky’s ballerina thriller Black Swan.

(9) She was pregnant while campaigning for the award.

• A Tale of Love and Darkness is released in the US on 19 August


Nigel M Smith

The GuardianTramp

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