She was amazing in Leon, terrible in The Phantom Menace but thankfully great again in pretty much everything since – particularly Closer (for the pole-dancing scene alone) and, of course, new flick Brothers, out this week.
Playing a war wife who seeks comfort from her brother in-law after her husband goes AWOL in Afghanistan, the 28-year-old is back on top form (i.e, she’s no longer sporting the bald look she debuted in V for Vendetta). However, it’s not all about looks with Nat – the Harvard graduate is a bit of a boffin too, although, as she tells Playboy, she’s not so hot on politics right now – luckily the elfin beauty is quite happy to chat about intimate moments with her co-star and her gripes with Hollywood though…
Playboy: Hi Natalie. We’re looking forward to seeing Brothers - what was it like to have those two, erm, handsome men for co-stars?
Natalie Portman: It was great. And I've known both of them for so long, which gave a great atmosphere of familiarity to the set, and what we have together as friends. I met Tobey when I was fourteen, and Jake when I was eighteen. So it was just crazy. Like you're used to working with people all the time that you don't know, and then having to have intimate scenes with them the first day. You know, like hi, nice to meet you. And then we're in bed together! Pretending to...you know!
Playboy: How exactly did you meet them?
Portman: I met Tobey at a screening. I was fourteen, and he was like eighteen or nineteen. And we share a best friend. So over the years, we're like always at these little dinners or house parties, or whatever. And Jake I met, seeing his play in London, This Is Our Youth. Which he was phenomenal in.
Playboy: Did you go back stage and say hi?
Portman: Yeah. And then we became friends. And we've been really close ever since. So yeah, it was really a great opportunity.
Playboy: Did you feel like there should have been more sexuality going on between your character and Jake as your brother-in-law? It seemed a bit tame…
Portman: Yeah, definitely. Just a kiss seems so... not a big deal these days! But yeah, of course in those circumstances, it was a huge deal. And if they had gone further you wonder, could they have ever recovered from that. And would you like forgive any of the characters. It's such a massive trespass.
Playboy: How did this movie about war and post-traumatic stress syndrome resonate with you personally, especially being born in Israel?
Portman: Yeah, well it's definitely something you feel in the air, in Israel. Since it's a place where the entire country has served in the military, men and women. I don't think there's ever been a society where that's the case.And not only have they served, but most of them have seen action. It's like a country of PTSD. And almost the whole nation has it, you know, you feel all the stress and the aggression that comes with it. And it defines the national character.And it's funny, because a lot of the PTSD experts in this country are Israelis! Because they have too much experience, unfortunately. But we always think about war as just being fought. And there's always this gaping hole left in every single military family household. And that hole is rarely seen.
Playboy: Did this movie change your own feelings about war in any way?
Portman: No, no. I feel less political than ever.
Playboy: How come?
Portman: I've just been more interested in like art, and making movies. I don't know, I just think you can make a lot more of an impact with stories, than politics. I mean, politics feels... convoluted. And stories seem true.I don't know...Maybe that's why I can't explain it! But I don't like political art. I don't think art should be didactic. And sort of the opposite of what stories should be.
Playboy: How did you get your head wrapped around this character, to play a military wife?
Portman: I spoke to many military wives, and that was really helpful. Because they were able to provide details about what kinds of things they do on a daily basis, and how they deal with their spouses being away. And what the kids are like, and how they misbehave! So how they deal with all that. And what kinds of phone calls they leave their husbands. That's how we came up with the idea of the letter Tobey leaves behind for me. Because one of the women told me that her husband wrote a letter to each one in the family, that was only to be opened if he were not to come back. I mean, even to contemplate that is such a level of mortality, that none of us really grapple with on a daily basis. So it's just a really different kind of existence to lead.
Playboy: The girls that play your daughter are meant to be amazing…
Portman: Oh yeah. They're real actresses. Like they would finish a serious scene, and then just start giggling. Like you didn't have to trick them into feeling anything. I've been on sets where the children are told, think of your dog who died! Or whatever, to evoke something. But they just got it.
Playboy: What your big pet peeve about movies these days?
Portman: The way the scripts have become so secretive. Like working on [new movie] Thor now, any time you get a phone call, it doesn't come up like a normal number. It's like a five digit code. And it keeps getting more secretive, just with the preponderance of every kind of technology available to scan or blog everything, whatever. So you don't get a script anymore, without watermarks on every page that identify you as the leak. In case it ever got out! But that's like every script now, not just Marvel movies. And it's so hard to read.
Playboy: Doesn't that really ruin it for you?
Portman: Yeah! It's always on like some weird colored paper. And they put your name like huge, across the entire text. And you like can't read the text. It's really strange.
Playboy: So it sounds like that literally ruins it for you.
Portman: Literally! it does.
Playboy: Finally, we must ask, Jake or Tobey?
Portman: Um...All day long!