Natalie Portman is earning awards buzz yet again thanks to her role as troubled pop star Celeste Montgomery in “Vox Lux.” Portman has earned three Oscar nominations and one win, for “Black Swan.” A nomination for “Vox Lux” would be her first for Supporting Actress since 2004’s “Closer.”
Portman recently sat down with Gold Derby managing editor Chris Beachum to discuss the uniqueness of her role in “Vox Lux,” how it relates to today’s times, and her first award show memory. Watch the exclusive web chat above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Natalie, this movie has a lot of music and so many things in your career have revolved around music, especially in films and I’m thinking of The Lonely Island. Was music important as you looked at the script and thought about doing this role?
Natalie Portman: Getting to work with Sia’s songs was such an incredible opportunity. She writes such wonderful pop music. It was really lucky, I think, on the film because it really rested on the believability of having real pop songs, ‘cause the music has to be believably major pop hits and we only could’ve done that with Sia’s work and it of course gave a tone for the whole atmosphere of the film, too.
GD: And costume design and hair and makeup, I’m thinking about those people that you worked with as well. That’s a huge part of your performance in this role.
NP: Yeah, well, hair and makeup and costumes always gives you a real sense of the character ‘cause you look in the mirror and you see someone different, and that makes you feel very different.
GD: You play Celeste grown up and then we see Raffey [Cassidy] as her younger. When you’re doing a movie like this, do you wanna see her scenes or does she wanna see your scenes so you can compare?
NP: We really didn’t coordinate in that way because the characters are so different and Brady [Corbet] consciously skipped the period in between when this innocent child grows up into this monster. You don’t really see how it happens. You just see the before and after. They’re supposed to be really different, so we didn’t have any sort of coordination on it, but I love the fact that he had her play both roles because I felt like when she’s dealing with her daughter she’s seeing her younger self so all of that self-hatred and self-love and also just the poignance of seeing the before and after of the character all shines through this daughter character because she’s also the younger version of the older Celeste.
GD: And that’s so rare when we have seen a character played by multiple people. And here she does play your daughter. What was that like acting opposite her knowing that?
NP: Well, it was scary because it’s obviously a bigger challenge to be believable as the same character when you’ve got the younger version of the character in the scene with you, but I loved it, too, because it really gave this feeling of looking at your younger self when you look at your kid, which I think is a part of what it feels like to be a parent often, is this sense that you have this second chance and this cyclical nature and the good and the bad of that. The generosity that you can feel by looking at someone who is a piece of you and also the difficulty of that, too, because, of course, of seeing yourself and how you feel about yourself.
GD: School shootings have unfortunately become such a large part of daily conversation in this country and that’s a huge moment in this movie. What about this movie do you want people to come away in that regard?
NP: I think it’s much more of a reflection of the world we live in right now than a message about it. I think how people feel about it is up to them to take away from the movie and I hope that people have a variety of different experiences walking away, ‘cause I think that’s what the best art does is it provokes a conversation but people will have different feelings depending on their different backgrounds.
GD: Celeste is so innocent when the movie starts and then everything happens and then like you said, there’s that gap. What do you think happened in that time during that gap?
NP: I think that part of the reason it works, that there’s this gap between, and Brady talks about why he wrote it that way, is that we’re very familiar with the tropes of someone becoming a star and changing and having these downfalls, both through real-life stories and also cinematic tropes, so we can easily fill that in. We don’t necessarily need to see it to understand what got her from point A to point B and that brings a lot of the audience’s participation into it.
GD: And how did you avoid that? You started awfully young.
NP: I feel that it’s quite different to be an actress than a pop star, and also I had very good, protective parents. I think it gets quite complicated when people who are supposed to be loving and protective of you are also profiting off of your fame or your work. I was lucky not to have that ‘cause my family wasn’t really involved in my business except for trying to keep me safe. So I think it’s complicated for Celeste to have some of the people closest to her so heavily involved in her career.
GD: Brady, first-time director—
NP: Second-time, yeah.
GD: Second-time. We’ve known him as an actor for a long time, too. What’s it like when you do get to work with an actor that’s turned director?
NP: It’s really great to work with an actor, especially a very good actor like Brady, turned director, because I think he really understands what an actor needs, like what helps an actor thrive and have an atmosphere where they can be very creative, so he created a very fun, safe and free environment. I think the freedom was key. He created scenarios where we could do a scene from beginning to end and that’s really helpful ‘cause you get to really explore different options and try different things and that was really fun.
GD: One scene I loved was the restaurant scene with you and your daughter, the diner scene. Tell us about shooting that one and if you enjoyed that one as well.
NP: Well that was really cool also because we did the scene also in one long take, and there were two cameras so we could try different things and we could go from start to finish and Raffey was just incredible at such a young age to be able to sustain that intensity for these very, very long takes and we could try different things because there were two cameras. If she did something that I reacted to or I did something that she reacted to that was different, we could be spontaneous and it would be caught on both sides so we wouldn’t have to repeat it. Normally if you’re not shooting with two cameras then you have to repeat those spontaneous moments to get both sides of that. So Brady, again, created a scenario that we could really just try different things.
GD: We’re an awards website so I wanna ask you a couple of awards-related questions. For this movie, being campaigned in Supporting Actress, there’s very few women that have ever won lead and supporting at the Oscars. Some huge names like Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett and Ingrid Bergman and Maggie Smith. What would that mean to you to join a group of ladies like that if it were to happen?
NP: Well those are all women I deeply admire. I think that getting to be part of this kind of film is such a gratifying experience that that alone is already such an incredible experience. Awards attention really just helps these kinds of films get more attention and get more audiences because of course, it’s always helpful to help films that might be seen as smaller, more independent films get a wider audience.
GD: I see that with friends and family when something gets nominated or wins something and they suddenly wanna see it. Maybe they hadn’t even heard of it before. Tell us about your Oscar night the night you won for “Black Swan.” You’d won basically everything leading up to that moment. Was it kind of in your mind that this was gonna happen that night?
NP: Well it was really a whirlwind of a night, and you’re so tired by that point and it’s become such a season and you’re going to so many things and being pregnant through it especially, I just felt very tired so it was really an amazing feeling but I also just remember being very overwhelmed by all of it and exhausted and ready to just kind of be able to be in bed and just relaxing afterwards (laughs). So it was a really incredible honor and a really incredible experience and also completely exhausting.
GD: What was your first big award show that you went to? Do you remember?
NP: I think the first time I went to an awards show was the Golden Globes when I was nominated for “Anywhere But Here” for Supporting Actress when I was 18. I remember I left college to come for the weekend and attend the show.
GD: That’s one of the most fun because it’s a party. It doesn’t feel as nerve-wracking I don’t think, but it’s film and TV, too. Did you meet a lot of people that night, heroes?
NP: Yeah, it’s very surreal I think always to enter a room where you recognize everybody but you don’t know anybody. It’s like a dream where you’re in a space where you’re just surrounded by people you admire and you’re familiar and that you feel like, “Oh, hey,” but you actually don’t know them at all. It’s a funny experience.
GD: It must be odd also when you’re that young that people would know you. You certainly know the people that you grew up watching but then you turn around and someone like that knows who you are.
NP: Yeah, it’s completely an honor when people you admire and respect come up to you to say they’ve seen your film or they appreciate what you do. That’s always the most fun when you get to interact with people that you really admire and enjoy their work and get to exchange appreciation.
GD: One question I always like to close on when I have an Oscar voter in front of me, just tell us about the process of voting from your perspective when you’re either nominating or voting for a winner. You don’t have to give names, but what are you looking for in a performance that makes you wanna vote for it?
NP: I feel like it’s very instinctive. If someone moves me or if someone does something that I feel like I haven’t seen before, or, of course, in other categories just work that makes you feel something that’s remarkable, shows virtuosity, and we’re lucky. I feel like there’s such interesting stuff that you get exposed to from getting to see all these films that you don’t get in other parts of your life.
GD: As you were growing up, what were a couple performances that you saw over the course of your life that just wowed you, or movies?
NP: I remember “Dead Man Walking” really moving me and inspiring me as a teenager. It felt like a movie that changed my mind about a lot of things and also had really incredible performances. I remember “Breaking the Waves” was completely astonishing and I felt like I had never seen anything like that, performance-wise, before. I feel like those were probably the first two that come to mind.
GD: Well I’m sure a lot of people would name this one that you’re promoting now as well as “Black Swan” and some of your others when they’re talking about some of their favorite Oscar-type performances. Thank you so much. Good luck with the movie.
NP: Thank you. Thanks so much.