The PopWatch Interview: Natalie Portman
There’s a little movie called V for Vendetta coming out Friday; maybe you’ve heard of it, even if all you know about it is that it’s the movie for which Natalie Portman shaved her head. For those unfamiliar with Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel about a masked anarchist bomber who takes a waif under his wing, this week’s issue of EW has a quick primer on the tale’s tricky transition from book to screen. Though Moore has disavowed the adaptation, and screenwriters Larry and Andy Wachowski (of Matrix fame) never talk to anybody, Portman has been tirelessly making the rounds to promote the picture. At a New York press junket a couple weeks ago, she spoke to PopWatch about fighting evil empires, feeling fanboy love, and getting that on-camera scalping.
How faithful is the movie to the 1989 graphic novel?
The graphic novel is practically a storyboard for the movie.
To prepare for the movie’s controversial take on politically-motivated violence, you read such books as David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas and the memoir of Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. How did that help you answer the question of when violence is appropriate?
That book [Begin’s autobiography] was very helpful for details of what a thought process might be like in an imprisonment situation that would eventuallyl ead you to a place where you felt violence was an acceptable means to convey your political beliefs. There was also a book that we all ended up reading, Cloud Atlas, that was pretty formative to my ideas about violence. It had the story about the Moriori, this nonviolent tribe in New Zealand, and when the Maori and the Europeans came, they were violent, and now the Moriori don’t exist. So the problem with nonviolence isif you have violent neighbors, then you cease to exist, which is almost violence to yourself. So that helped shape my idea that self-defense violence is the one I can understand being drawn to. But you could extend it — what if you’re defending your family, or what if you’re the President, and your country is your family? What if the threat is perceived vs. real? All these are questions you could talk about for a lifetime and never come to a conclusion.
Do you think moviegoers will want all that politics and philosophy mixed into their action flick?
It earns its action scenes. It has a compelling story, so you actually care what’s going on in the action scenes. It’s not gratuitous. The action scenes are a great reward to that storybecause they’re pretty stylized and stuff you’ve never seen before.
What was it like acting opposite Hugo Weaving as the always-masked V?
Hugo is such an amazing actor that just by his physical and vocalexpressiveness you could tell exactly who he was. There’s also anamazing engagement that takes place because you’re always wonderingwhat’s going on behind it. You try to get into his mind in a way thatyou almost become V.
Are you worried about the Alan Moore cult’s fury, given Moore’s stated disapproval of the film?
I’m a huge fan of the graphic novel, and I have a feeling that all ofus made this with the greatest respect for the graphic novel. He didn’twant to be involved in the process, but you’ve got to respect that.
What was it like meeting and auditioning for the Wachowskis?
I read the kitchen scene, and the scene where I first realize that Ihave to stay in the Shadow Gallery [V’s lair]. They made me fly to SanFrancisco from Israel during school, which was very friendly of them.But they were so great. I knew James [McTeigue, the director] before;we worked together on Episode II of Star Wars.And Larry has been an amazing person to get to know. He’s just so smartand interesting and passionate about filmmaking. We had a great talkabout the material, and I tried to make them think I was sweet andcute. They said, ‘Put your hair back like this’ [to see what you’d looklike bald], and I said, ‘OK.’
What were you studying in Israel?
I went for a semester of grad school last year. I brushed up on myHebrew, spoken Arabic, history of Islam, history of Israel, theanthropology of violence — which was very informative for this film.
How does it feel to be an object of fanboy adoration?
It’s been great. I haven’t had the Vendettaexperience yet, though I met a lot of fans at Comic-Con who haven’tseen the film yet. Everybody’s warning me for strange experiences, butit’s been really positive. I’m looking forward to meeting people andtalking to people about the movie because it provokes such strongreactions.
What draws you to political rebels like Star Wars‘ Padme Amidala or Vendetta‘s Evey?
What I’ve thought about is: what would it take for me to becomeviolent? To defend my family. Then you realize that can be extended onsuch a large scale if you think your whole religion is your family oryour whole country is your family, and if the threat your perceiving isjust perception or is it real, and how that can turn into wars. All ofus have had that feeling of ”Why can’t we just talk it out?”, whichis naïve, obviously. I imagine that’s how violence on a large scalestarts. As an audience, you feel the cause is just but the method isopen for interpretation. Obviously, throughout history, violence hasbeen a pretty effective way to create revolution, but it’s also notbeen the only way or anyone’s ideal way.
Any fear about shaving your head?
No, it was something I always wanted to do. I think making a dramaticchange that’s reversible is always a worthy experience, and this gaveme the courage to do it. The biggest stress of it is you only have oncechance. They rehearsed the cameras a lot. They rehearsed the razors.Guys on the crew volunteered to get their head shaved to make sure thatwas working. I just tried to focus and do my best during my one chance.
addCredit(“Natalie Portman: James Devaney/WireImage.com”)