It was the sex scene that nearly sank a movie. After years of uninspired scripts and uncommitted directors, the big-screen adaptation of Mona Simpson’s acclaimed 1986 novel about an overbearing mother and her shell-shocked daughter almost stalled again in early 1998. The problem: Portman, just 16 at the time and fresh from playing Queen Amidala in ”The Phantom Menace,” turned down the daughter role over a love scene with actor Corbin Allred that required nudity.
Producer Laurence Mark already had Sarandon attached as the mother and Wang (”The Joy Luck Club”) signed on to direct, but Sarandon, who had costar approval, decided she couldn’t make the film without Portman. ”Natalie was cast for her intelligence and strength,” says Sarandon. ”I needed someone I could go at full force who could hold her own. When Natalie fell out, they talked about other people, but I told them I wouldn’t do it without her.”
The solution: Portman actually wanted the role, minus that scene. ”I loved the part,” she says, ”but I just wasn’t ready for that. I’m not one of those people who’ll do anything for their art.” The filmmakers tried to remain calm. They went back to the drawing board and had screenwriter Alvin Sargent (”Ordinary People”) rework the script. Recalls Wang, ”We said to each other, ‘Hey, it’s Natalie, we’ll make it work.”’ They sent a sanitized rewrite to Portman, and she accepted.
”I never want to change a writer’s vision,” she says, ”but when they did that for me, it was such a nice feeling.” The revised scene features a clever twist: a boy in his drawers and a passionate… hug. Despite the changes, explains Wang, the scene was still filmed on a closed set, with ”a lot of long discussions about underwear.” Sarandon was pleased too. ”I think it’s better. Natalie’s integrity actually forced the writer to be a tad more inventive.” BUZZ FACTOR: 5
Go to the official website.