Why Natalie Portman Changed Her Approach To Acting
Natalie Portman is a rockstar for the simple reason that she isn't trying to be one. Portman's latest film, Planetarium, out now, addresses making history through motion pictures. So what's the legacy Portman hopes to leave behind? Is that something she even thinks about? As it turns out, the answer is yes, but not in the way you might think.
In a world of flashing lights and paparazzi, it's seemingly easy for celebrities to get caught up in the hype. But Portman, who's widely known for being private about her personal life, appears unaffected by the hoopla. According to the actor, she's in this business for two reasons: a genuine love of the work and her family.
Though some celebrities are flattered by fans' fascination with their lives, Portman jokes that the thought of one's own legacy is a notion driven by "ego." Instead, she chooses to view her filmography through what her kids might someday think. She notes how great it would've been to be able to watch her own mom on screen, and says she wonders what gave her ancestors joy. Clearly, family is on the brain.
The 35-year-old, who started acting at age 11, says she was able to thrive because her parents, neither of whom were in show business at the time, gave her their undying support. “I always felt protected with my parents, I never felt alone,” she says over the phone. And the actor has come a long way, noting that it took about 10 years in the industry to truly come into her own.
And it is that strong sense of family that is what continues to drive her now, even as Portman actively tries to keep her children Aleph (six), Amalia (five months), and husband Benjamin Millepied, out of the headlines.
It seems striving to put her family first has not hindered her career in the slightest. She's won countless awards, including the 2011 Best Actress Oscar for Black Swan, has taken on over 50 roles, and made her feature directorial debut with 2015's A Tale of Love and Darkness. But with an impressive bank of roles to her name, she admits that seeking out the juiciest roles wasn't always a priority. According to the actor, when she was younger, she had more of an "I don't care" mindset, and was willing to try out anything. "Not that I didn’t care, but it wasn’t the end of the world," she says. Yet somewhere along the line, her priorities shifted, and now she's proud to only take on the meatiest of roles.
Wanting to make the best work for herself and her kids is what drives her each and every time a potential script is in her lap. In a 2008 interview, Portman spoke to her avoidance of empty and cliché female roles. "I love comedy but anytime I read one it's like the girl is in fashion, she's really into clothes or she just wants to get married," she said. "Those are not values that I care to jump the bandwagon on."
When talking with her, she reflects that same sentiment, looking back at Old Hollywood and reminiscing on how bold and complex the female characters were (she points out roles in Hitchcock films, for example). "It's ironic because it was more sexist back then," she says, expressing that complicated female characters are still rare, at least in American mainstream media. Still, she finds them.
In Planetarium, Portman and Lily-Rose Depp play sisters whose ability to perform seances is brought to the big screen by a well known producer. When pushed out of her comfort zone and acting for the cameras, Portman's character says, "I'm not afraid of hard work." This statement reflects the actor's real-life attitude, and she laughs, almost with appreciation, when the line is brought up in our chat. After all, it's hard to believe anyone would say Portman sells herself out to played, one-note stereotypes and clichéd rom-coms.
Challenge, aside from family, is what inspires her. She notes her three most challenging films to date: Black Swan and its demanding physicality, Jackie and the responsibility to accurately play a historical icon, and the massive task of directing A Tale of Love and Darkness.
Looking back at the trials and triumphs, Portman ponders if she would change anything over the course of her 25-year-old career. "No," she says point-blank. She recognizes she's now fortunate enough to only take on substantial roles, but she wouldn't be at that place if fate didn't have its way in the beginning.
And yet, all roads lead to family. Considering the extent of her career, Portman says she would neither steer her children to or away from Hollywood one day. "I support them in doing whatever they love," she says.
Portman strives to make truly great work — not to prove anything to anyone, not for ego or status — but to make her and her families proud.