With a blossoming baby bump and an immaculately well-received portrayal of Jackie, it looks like 2017 could be Natalie Portman’s biggest year yet, as Karen Anne Overton discovers
Since her disarming debut aged 12 in the French drama Leon, Natalie Portman has managed to carve herself a niche in Hollywood roles – playing strong, intelligent and energetic women, during a career that has continued to blossom for more than 20 years. And none of her most memorable roles could be considered ‘easy’.
In fact, the 35 year old has proved she prefers a challenge – as seen in her troubled and obsessive ballerina in 2010’s Black Swan. Preparation for the film required months of gruelling training, but the hard work paid off as it garnered her both an Oscar and a husband – the film’s choreographer, Benjamin Millepied – with whom she now has a son, Aleph, five, and daughter, Amalia, one month.
“I love being a mother and I am so grateful for my life with Benjamin, who has enabled me to take on the best role of my life – being a mum,” Portman beams. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding. You feel this new family responsibility and it changes so many things about the way you live.”
Portman’s latest turn as Jackie Kennedy in Pablo Larraín’s biopic Jackie has already attracted critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination, but the star’s determination to get through the iconic veneer that surrounds the widow of JFK and find the woman, and mother, underneath threw up issues at home with young Aleph.
“I was trying to talk to him in my Jackie voice,” she explains. “But he just kept asking what I was doing! I had to learn how to turn it on and off, which probably helped me develop as an actress in the long run. Being a mother means you can’t just run off in isolation and inhabit that character completely, you have to make compromises that many male actors are able to avoid.”
Off-screen, motherhood has helped Portman flourish not just in herself, but also in her career. “There’s a sense of greater responsibility and maturity that you develop very quickly. You know you’re beginning a new chapter and it’s wonderful to watch your child grow and learn every day,” she explains. “I also have a lot more confidence and that’s why I decided to direct my first feature that we made in Israel last year.”
In her directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness – based on Amos Oz’s biography of the same name – Portman played the young Amos’ mother Fania, a devout and sophisticated woman who is deeply troubled by the horrors she witnessed in Poland during the Holocaust. The star is also vocal in her comparisons between her family duties and the ‘maternal’ art of directing, explaining that the ability to stay calm in the face of pressure and tantrums has very much come in handy when it came to taking her first steps behind the camera!
As well as this move to directing, Portman’s recent maturation has led to her not only taking on “more adult roles” but also embracing her thirties on a personal level, learning to be less self-critical and even dressing differently. “Being a mother makes you feel a little more conscious about how you present yourself. I used to be fine wearing a T-shirt and jeans, but now I’ll wear a dress or something more serious – otherwise my grandmother will be very upset with me!” she laughs.
Portman has certainly been dazzling the media with her maternity style, particularly at the Venice film festival when shortly after announcing her second pregnancy she appeared on the red carpet in a Grecian-style gown by Dior, and at the SAG Awards, also in white Dior. At a petite 5ft 3in, the star began showing deceptively early. In November she decided to set the record straight, telling The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon: “Everyone thinks I’m about to pop and give birth any minute, and I have months to go!”
Fortunately for Portman, the cravings she experienced during her second pregnancy meant the past months have been less dangerous when it comes to retaining her film-star figure. While carrying Aleph, the Jerusalem-born beauty “wanted anything with cream”, whereas this time around the desire for dairy desserts has been replaced with pineapple and cucumber.
While she would doubtless be delighted with a second statuette for her mantelpiece, Portman knows true joy is not found through fame and fortune. “I’ve always considered myself very lucky in life,” she says. “I’ve been able to enjoy a wonderful career. At the same time, there’s nothing more important than your personal life. Nothing else really means very much if you can’t find happiness in your own world.”