V62

ARTICLE ALEX NEEDHAM

PHOTOGRAPHY MARIO TESTINO

STYLIST CLARE RICHARDSON

CREDITS ARTICLE CONTENTS

THE VIDEO: DAVID LYNCH & LYKKE LI

ORIBE EN MIAMI

NATALIE PORTMAN

EXTRA CREDITS

Manicure Lorraine Griffin using Sisleya by Sisley  Photo assistants James White, Hans Neumann, Rasmus Jensen  Stylist assistants Sophie Lawrence and Rebecca Connolly  Makeup assistant Lotten Holmqvist  Set design Gideon Ponte  Digital technician Alex Franco  Lighting design Chris Bisagni  Seamstress Jill Burlington  Set design assistant Poppy Bartlett  Catering Kate Trawnley  Lighting Equipment Unique Lighting  Production Elisabeth Ward  Retouching R&D

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NATALIE PORTMAN

PHOTOGRAPHY MARIO TESTINO
FASHION CLARE RICHARDSON
TEXT Alex Needham

A STAR AT THE AGE OF 12, NATALIE PORTMAN COULD HAVE FOUND HERSELF A VICTIM OF FAST FAME. INSTEAD, THE INSANELY TALENTED, SUPREMELY BEAUTIFUL, AND INTENSELY FOCUSED YOUNG ACTRESS HAS CARVED OUT A HOLLYWOOD CAREER OF STUNNING DEPTH. NOW SHE’S EXPANDING HER REPERTOIRE IN THE SEASON’S WAR BLOCKBUSTER BROTHERS, STARRING IN HER FIRST-EVER SEX SCENE, AND SPEAKING HER MIND, AS ALWAYS

Natalie Portman is sick of people calling her “good, smart, studious, and conservative.” But it’s not hard to see why they do. Since playing a femme fatale at the age of 12 in Luc Besson’s action thriller The Professional, Portman has made some twenty-five films—including Hollywood blockbusters like the Star Wars trilogy—and through it all, has remained miraculously untarnished by celebrity culture. The paparazzi follow her, bloggers gossip about her, the tabloids put her on their covers—she is a young starlet in every sense of the phrase—and yet she is highly respected as an actress. Somehow, under the all-seeing 21st-century eye, Portman has kept hold of her mystique in an almost old-Hollywood fashion. No wonder directors love her.

But what’s she really like? Portman maintains it’s impossible to tell what any actor is like by watching his or her performances. But her role in this winter’s war drama Brothers may help. In it, she plays a marine’s loyal and courageous (and radiantly beautiful) wife, who, on being informed her husband (played by Tobey Maguire) has been killed in Afghanistan, grows close to his feckless brother (played by Jake Gyllenhaal). When the husband is rescued from the Taliban and returns home, the consequences are disastrous. Although it is a remake of a 2004 Danish film, Brothers couldn’t be more of-the-moment, with the “war on terror” focused once again on Afghanistan. That political currency is not lost on a woman who holds a degree in psychology from Harvard and took a course in “the anthropology of violence” at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. With its timely gravitas, Brothers is the latest example of Portman’s knack for choosing projects shrewdly, the importance of which she learned early.

“Going to school was a great barrier to doing too much. I had one slot open every summer. That makes you really, really picky.” Though many critics panned the Star Wars trilogy, she wasn’t blown off course. “My acting was not exactly respected in those films,” she admits with a nervous laugh (one critic compared her to an ice bucket), “but those are the moments when you want to prove yourself again. When people think I suck, it helps.”

Part of proving herself means that Portman has started taking more risks. She’ll play the lead in Darren Aronofsky’s next project, Black Swan, which contains a pretty serious sex scene, and a lesbian one at that. Portman, however, insists “it’s not raunchy—it’s extreme.” She used to avoid roles like this, at first turning down 1999’s Anywhere But Here because of a nude scene. (It was excised to get her back on board.) “I was figuring out my own sexual identity, likes and dislikes and all that stuff, and it’s weird to be doing stuff on film as you’re figuring it out,” she explains. “Also, being a sexual object when you’re a kid is really uncomfortable. After The Professional, I was already getting creepy letters.”    She’s still somewhat inhibited by what lurks on the Internet. “It’s annoying, because online bullshit interferes with what I want to do artistically. I’m not opposed to sexuality or nudity in a film, but I’m very opposed to pornography sites and you’re pretty much giving them material if you do any of that. It’s always a big dilemma for me.”

Portman believes she is taken more seriously because she escaped the Net’s pitiless scrutiny. “The formative time of my public image happened before there was Facebook, Twitter, all of these gossip sites. I had my drunken nights and dating a million people, but there wasn’t that attention then.” She’s discreet enough to enjoy nights out watching Animal Collective deejay or hanging at the Saatchi Gallery in London—activities more conducive to building a long-term, serious acting career than endless cocktails at photo op–oriented celebrity parties. (Portman says that if she catches herself enjoying one of those events, she gets nervous.)

Given all that, it’s a bit strange to realize that she is a contemporary of Britney Spears. (The two were actually in the same off-Broadway show, though at different times, and Portman says they haven’t spoken for a while.) And it’s definitely hard to imagine what Portman and Spears might speak about—or at least how Spears or any starlet like her might keep up with Portman and her wide-ranging conversational interests.

For example, Portman talks of being “infuriated” by protests against the Toronto Film Festival for its string of films from Tel Aviv. She explains that the protesters, including Jane Fonda (who later backtracked) and British director Ken Loach, “say [Tel Aviv] was built on the misery of Palestinians. Well, the United States was built on the misery of the Native Americans and all the slaves who were brought over so are we going to boycott all American films? I don’t think the Israeli government is beyond criticism—there’s plenty to protest against, but it seems really absurd to me that artists would try to censor art.” There is, she adds, a lot of interesting work coming out of both Israel and Palestine. Portman is also passionate about reading—Roberto Bolaño’s epic 2666 at the moment. “I’m in the hair and makeup chair for a while, so it gives me a way to feel productive instead of staring at myself in the mirror and hating my face,” she laughs. 
But even the most intelligent of actresses can’t totally buck the system, and Portman is already thinking about how that face might change, and how, as a woman, aging will affect her career. “You see people who were stars five years ago and already they’re waning,” she says. “As actresses approach 40, it starts becoming really, really difficult.” She hasn’t ruled out plastic surgery. “I would hope not,” she says, adding that she doesn’t know what it’s like to be that dissatisfied with your looks, but “if I have a pimple I want to get rid of it.” In the meantime, it’s with her production company, Handsomecharlie Films, and activism (she’s an ambassador for Finca International) that she is “trying to lay the groundwork for things that will fulfill [her] and make [her] feel productive” should the parts start drying up.
This seems like the most Natalie Portman solution—writing and directing her own films, promoting an organization which gives people in the developing world access to credit, even getting over her antipathy to the Internet by setting up MakingOf.com, a site which takes viewers behind the scenes of famous movies. Yet for all her depth, Portman also possesses a drive that’s no less intense than that of more in-your-face celebrities. “To be successful, you need the desire to be successful,” she says, citing all those with potential who never made it, and those who made it but shouldn’t have. “Ambition can be a dirty word, but it’s pretty much more important than anything.”  More important than talent?

 “I feel like that’s kind of obvious.”

EXTRA CREDITS

Manicure Lorraine Griffin using Sisleya by Sisley  Photo assistants James White, Hans Neumann, Rasmus Jensen  Stylist assistants Sophie Lawrence and Rebecca Connolly  Makeup assistant Lotten Holmqvist  Set design Gideon Ponte  Digital technician Alex Franco  Lighting design Chris Bisagni  Seamstress Jill Burlington  Set design assistant Poppy Bartlett  Catering Kate Trawnley  Lighting Equipment Unique Lighting  Production Elisabeth Ward  Retouching R&D

MORE TO LOVE

PHOTO DIARY: COPENHAGEN FASHION WEEK THE THIN WHITE DUKE NEW SCHOOL ROMEO THE DISCREET CHARM OF KATE UPTON
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