The star talks about using her love of music, her rockin' friends (the Shins, Beirut, Norah Jones, Devendra Banhart), and her own cred to promote poverty relief
Three years after famously telling Zach Braff that the Shins will ”change your life” in Garden State, Natalie Portman is once again using music to transform people’s worlds. She’s put together Big Change: Songs for FINCA, a $7.99 charity album available through iTunes, mixing together 16 songs from artists like Norah Jones and Antony & the Johnsons, and including exclusive tracks from the likes of M. Ward and Devendra Banhart — even a shiny new Shins remix. Net proceeds from the album — due Oct. 30 — will benefit FINCA (villagebanking.org), an organization that helps alleviate poverty in developing countries; she’s worked with the group since 2003. Caught in an appropriately charitable mood, the actress offered EW some time to talk music, movies, and celebrity activism.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you become such a big music fan?
NATALIE PORTMAN: I’ve always been into music. I was a huge Debbie Gibson fan when I was 8 years old. She was my first concert. I went with my mom and my best friend, and I wore my hair in a side pony. I loved Tiffany, too. And then in middle school and high school I went through Nirvana, Juliana Hatfield, Jeff Buckley — my teen-angst period. In college I got more into indie and folk. I love this whole [freak folk] movement now with Antony and Devendra and CocoRosie and Sufjan Stevens.
How did you corral all these acts onto your mix? Did it involve taking Devendra Banhart out for a beer, that kind of thing?
No. Beirut was the first to sign on [Hear the EW.com exclusive track from Beirut]. They’re well regarded in the music community, and it only takes one to break the ice.
Are you pals with any of these musicians?
Well, Norah is a great friend. I just did a movie with her [Wong Kar-Wai’s My Blueberry Nights], so I called her up. And the Shins and I have a little bit of history because of Garden State.
You were essentially credited for launching the Shins with your scene in Garden State.
The Shins are the ones who created their own success. No one is gonna think a sound is great just because I say so. They hear the songs, and that’s what decides it for them.
Movies-wise, next up you and Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire are remaking the 2004 Danish film Brothers. I’ve never seen the original…
I actually haven’t seen it yet either. I’m not sure if I will because I’m a little scared. I’m always scared that my whole performance will be dictated by either trying to do the same or trying to do something different than what I see someone else do.
Back to music. Who are your all-time favorites?
All-time, I think Stevie Wonder is probably my No. 1. And Radiohead, the White Stripes — they’re modern-day classics.
How do you convince people that this album of yours is more than just an iTunes celebrity playlist?
The proceeds really go to something special. It’s an amazing cause, and this is spreading access to opportunity for so many in the world.
What do you think about people who bash celebrities for their activism?
Well, it gets a bad rap — people with their causes. There’s such disproportionate attention on celebrity that when people choose to divert it onto things that actually matter, it’s wonderful. It’s not about me feeling high and mighty. I don’t understand why people knock it so much.