Her mesmerising performance in political biopic Jackie has thrown her into the Oscars race, but there’s so much more to our February cover star than Hollywood success. Meet the superlative Natalie Portman
Interview by Mickey Rapkin
She’s one of Hollywood’s hottest big-screen talents and is set to steal the limelight again in Chilean Pablo Larraín’s Jackie – a stirring film set in the week following JFK’s assassination (it went down a storm with critics at the Venice Film Festival in September and is hotly tipped to bag Portman another Oscar). But when I meet the actress at The Trails cafe in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, it’s two days after Donald Trump is named president-elect of the United States, and the mood is… strange. ‘Someone said to me that it felt like it had snowed in LA,’ she says. Perhaps it’s a fitting setting – Jackie is a story of a nation mourning a dream, and Portman admits to being daunted by the role.
‘In the wrong hands,’ she says, ‘[it could have been] a very bad decision.’ But after meeting director Larraín, whose 2012 film No was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, Portman felt she was in good hands and spent four hours a day with a dialect coach, while tearing through biographies of the former first lady at night. She and Larraín would send each other YouTube links of Jackie’s interviews – including a 1962 hour-long TV documentary, A Tour of the White House with Mrs John F. Kennedy – noting her famously breathy voice, her posture and mannerisms.
‘Jackie was really fun and really naughty – still elegant, but she was like a coquette smoking cigarettes in the bathroom at school, getting in trouble with her friends and going out with guys. That was so interesting to me. To have this public image…’ She pauses. ‘The dichotomy the public had – that Jackie is the one you marry, but Marilyn is the one you want to fuck or whatever. That difference between how you are and your awareness of how the public perceives you, that friction between those things was super interesting.’
Portman acknowledges she too faces a disconnection between her public and private selves. She’s a serious person who directed and starred in a film about the birth of Israel that she adapted herself from an Amos Oz novel, but she also recently voted in favour of legalising marijuana in California. (‘If you see the examples of the states where it’s become legal, people are actually smoking less,’ she explains. ‘It means fewer jail sentences for those who are non-violent offenders. It doesn’t really hurt anybody.’)
The face of Miss Dior perfume has a delicious sense of humour, too, that even her friends sometimes forget. Darren Aronofsky (the Oscar-nominated director of Black Swan) recently sent her a YouTube video of orthodox, Hasidic Jews appearing to freestyle rap. ‘Someone put dirty hip-hop over it and I was like: “That was so funny.” Darren was like, “Oh, I’m glad. I thought I might have offended you.” I was like, “Who do you think I am?”’
Now, at 35, it seems Portman is on the precipice of a new chapter. After a two-year stint in Paris, where her dancer and choreographer husband Benjamin Millepied ran the famed Paris Opera, the couple moved back to LA in July with their five-year-old son, Aleph. She’s due to give birth to their second child this year and will return to work ‘as soon as possible’, she says, playing another iconic woman – the ‘Notorious RBG’, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Portman insisted the film be directed by a woman. Yes, she too is frustrated by opportunities for women in Hollywood. ‘I don’t think women and men are more or less capable, we just have a clear issue with women not having opportunities,’ she says. ‘We need to be part of the solution, not perpetuating the problem.’
And there’s an added gravity to Portman’s thoughts today. Perhaps it’s because she’s about to welcome a second child or maybe it’s because Hillary Clinton is at home in Chappaqua, New York, while president-elect Donald Trump settles into the Oval Office. We’ve largely avoided the election, but she will say this: ‘I feel energised to be an activist; that our art is more urgent than ever. It’s more important to be as good a person as you can be in your community and to be really active in helping people who need more help now.’
Second Oscar or not, Portman sounds like a winner to us.
Jackie is in cinemas nationwide from 20 January
Read the full interview in the February issue of Marie Claire, on sale now
Photographs by Matt Jones. Styled by Anne-Sophie Thomas