Natalie Portman on how she prepared for new movie Jackie

Natalie Portman on how she prepared for new movie Jackie
Natalie Portman in Jackie, which opens here tomorrow.
PHOTO: Shaw Organisation

To play the iconic Jacqueline Kennedy in the new movie Jackie was a daunting task for US actress Natalie Portman, especially since the biographical drama focuses on one of the most tragic moments in US history - president John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination.

Directed by Chilean director Pablo Larrain, the story is told through the first lady's eyes, recreating the event and then focusing on the days after, when she had to deal with her grief, console her children, plan the funeral and move out of the White House.

At the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, a glowing Portman, pregnant with her second child with her French ballet dancer-husband Benjamin Millepied, talked about how she stepped up to the challenge.

Jackie, which opens here tomorrow, earned the 35-year-old her second Best Actress Oscar nomination.

How difficult was it to portray someone so famous in such a well-reported time in her life?

When someone is so well known and people are so familiar with the way she spoke, moved and looked, you have to get to a certain threshold of believability before it can even relate to you emotionally in the film.

So it was important for me to do all of that specific work.

Where did you start?

I had a short time to prepare, because the movie came together quite quickly. I was doing everything at once.

I was working with my dialect coach. I focused on the White House tour, because that was exact.

I was saying the exact words and the exact places she would stumble on in her words or pauses or sighs or any of that - all of that was very, very exact.

We really worked on that in terms of the vocal and accent challenges.

And then I was reading, at the same time, 12 biographies.

How hard was it to step into her pain?

The mourning clothes, the pink suit - a symbol of the assassination and the very traumatic - was quite heavy, and it put me in the place emotionally where she was.

It was quite easy to empathise with her.

It was such a horrific thing she lived through, and all the crises of identity, faith and grief that she had at that moment were quite emotional.

So I did not find it too challenging to understand that.

I loved the creative process so much. Pablo is such an incredible director. He created such a creative and inspiring environment.

I loved going to work every day, which almost feels perverse to say because it was such dark material.

What were the biggest challenges?

The parts that were the hardest were the ones that were documented on film.

The assassination itself was scary and difficult because you see in the videos and the famous Zapruder film exactly which way she was turning, when she turned and what the expression on her face was.

It is the worst thing you could possibly imagine happening, having your husband's head explode on your lap and you are there, and all of those emotions.

But you have to also be faithful to a film that is known. I could not suddenly be sobbing hysterically or screaming, because you watch the tape and that was not what she was doing. It is specific.

So that felt hard because it felt like something extremely emotional and, at the same time, prescribed from history, like what you can and cannot do.

How do you think being a public figure impacted her grief?

A lot. The thing that is so fascinating about her is that she was so aware of herself as a public figure as well as a private figure.

Even in the days after this incredibly traumatic and violent event, she was wise enough to be thinking about the image she wanted the American public to have and the legacy that she wanted her husband to have.

She was canny about moulding that perception, even in the moments after, when she was like, 'I am going to keep wearing this dress and I will not change.'

It was impressive that she was thinking already, so she was really existing on those two planes.

How do you like living in Los Angeles after two years in Paris?

We moved back in July after my husband finished his work at the Paris Opera (Ballet).

Paris and Los Angeles are kind of complementary cultures in a way, because you have such refinement and culture in Paris, and then you have freedom and nature (in Los Angeles), and they complement each other. It is nice to have both.

I love living there, and I love living here, and it is nice that we get to spend a lot of time in both places.

You have been in the public eye since you were young. How do you make a normal life?

I have a regular life - I think because my family were always completely out of show business, had no relationship to my career, and were never involved in what I was doing financially.

They were just caring about protecting me and kept my life separate.

And I feel like now, my life is similarly out of any movie world.

So it is a little like a split werewolf existence, where you are one thing by day and another by night.

But it also keeps you understanding the difference between pretend and reality.

tnp@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 15, 2017.
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