Wednesday 22 November 2017

All things bright and beautiful

Natalie Portman is a woman of many talents, and the award-winning actress will soon be making her directorial debut

Diverse: Oscar winner she may be, but Portman isn't above a popcorn flick role
Diverse: Oscar winner she may be, but Portman isn't above a popcorn flick role
THOR-oughly enjoyable: Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in Thor: The Dark World

Brian Lloyd

Natalie has had a busy couple of years since she won the Oscar for Best Actress in Black Swan, one of 2011's most acclaimed films.

After completing work on Thor and Black Swan, Portman decided to put her career on hold to look after her personal life and get some distance from the Hollywood machine. She married choreographer Benjamin Millepied – whom she met on the set of Black Swan – and gave birth to a son, Aleph. This, however, isn't the first time Portman took a brief hiatus from acting.

In 2000, having curtailed her workload in films to focus on her academic career, she moved into the dorms of Harvard University and completed her Bachelor's in Psychology. Her only roles from 2000 to 2004 were in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, where she played Padme Amidala, the mother of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.

With Thor: The Dark World, Portman is now back on our screens as Jane Foster, the love interest of Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth. The film takes place in locations as varied as London and Asgard – the fantastical dimension Thor hails from.

The Dark World focuses on Malekith, played by British actor Christopher Ecclestone, and his goal of destroying all life using an unknown force called the Aether which has come into Jane Foster's possession. Thor returns to Earth to defend the planet and, more pointedly, Jane Foster. "It's fun to imagine where she has been since Thor," Portman laughs. "She's doing her thing as a scientist and she's moved cities and is going on dates."

Roscommon's own Chris O'Dowd has a brief cameo as a bungling office worker who, somehow, has managed to score a date with Portman's character. "I was amazed and shocked and so happy that he took this part. I was a big fan," Portman giggles.

But what of the film itself? Thor: The Dark World is set within the billion-dollar universe that is Marvel Comics. The franchise, which is now in its eighth instalment, has fans from across the globe and is now firmly entrenched in popular culture. Natalie Portman, it would seem, is the last person one would expect to turn up in this effects-laden, popcorn fare. However, she's smart enough to recognise both the film's potential for reaching a large audience and the accessibility they offer.

"I love all kinds of movies," Portman explains. "Snobbery will make you miss out on a lot of good things in life. There's gems in every genre. So if you say I only like this kind of thing or that kind of thing, that's limiting. There's great mainstream movies, there's great independent movies and then there are terrible mainstream movies and terrible independent films."

On the topic of independent films, Portman is gearing up for her directorial debut. Israeli author Amoz Oz's autobiography, A Tale Of Love and Darkness is a chronicle of the fall of British Palestine and the eventual birth of the state of Israel. Portman herself was born in Jerusalem, Israel and is proud of her heritage. To adapt an autobiography that focuses on Jewish identity, it would seem, is a natural choice for her. "It's a story that's captured my imagination," Portman says of Oz's autobiography. "It's the first thing I've read that I really felt that I see visually already and would like to make into a story. It stuck with me for years."

There's a crossover between Portman taking the first steps into directing and the saga of Thor: The Dark World's previous director, Patty Jenkins. Jenkins has a history of directing films with a strong female lead. She had previously directed 2003's Monster, starring Charlize Theron and directed the pilot of TV's The Killing with Mireille Enos.

Portman had recommended Jenkins for the director's chair. With the production of Thor: The Dark World slated to begin in September 2011, everything was in motion. However, it soon became clear that Jenkins wasn't working to Marvel's timeframe and Jenkins was replaced by TV veteran Alan Taylor, who previously worked on Game of Thrones and Mad Men. As Portman tells it, both Marvel Studios and Jenkins mutually decided to part ways. "It worked out well for everyone. Patty's doing her film now and Alan Taylor did such an amazing job with this."

But what of Jenkins' role as director and her being a woman? Wouldn't that have had some sort of influence on Thor? After all, the superhero is a muscle-bound, blonde-haired Nordic god that wields a hammer called Mjolnir. Jenkins, up to this point, was known for directing female-centred, emotional stories that had a strong dramatic core.

"I think any director changing makes a different movie. Every director has a different point of view and gender is one aspect," Portman explains. "If you look at Kathyrn Bigelow's movies, I don't think you would say, 'Oh, that's a woman's movie'. I don't think you can only define it by gender."

Portman admits that, for directing at least, it's a male-dominated job. "It would be great to see more female directors. In the US, it's a really widespread issue. You could almost count them on your hand."

It would seem Natalie Portman has everything going for her. A career that's on the up and up, a stable family and her trademark intelligence and beauty. Her response is typically disarming and modest. "I'm just very lucky, very very lucky," she quips.

Thor: The Dark World is out now

Irish Independent

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