Natalie Portman’s career started with a bang, playing a precocious pre-teen in Luc Besson’s action classic The Professional. Since then, she’s worked on a staggering number of projects, including Heat, Beautiful Girls, V for Vendetta, Garden State, the Star Wars prequels, and Black Swan (the last of which won her a richly deserved Oscar). After taking an extended maternity leave from moviemaking, she returns to the big screen this Friday: reprising her role as Jane Foster opposite Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. During the film’s press day, she spoke to journalists about the challenges of The Dark World, as well as the last two decades of her career.
Question: In the first film, Jane was very much a spectator, whereas this time she’s right in the middle of Thor’s world. Was that part of what excited you about the prospect of coming back?
Natalie Portman: It was exciting to get to come back on a general level. I had such a wonderful experience on the first film, and it was great to get to work with Chris [Hemsworth] and Kat [Dennings] again. As far as going to Thor’s world, the best part was getting to work more with actors who I hadn’t done much with in the first film. Tom Hiddleston in particular was amazing to work with, but to have scenes with Rene [Russo] and Anthony [Hopkins], too, was just amazing. There was definitely a lot of laughing, maybe too much laughing on set.
Q: We asked Chris Hemsworth about shooting in London. How different is it filming in the UK as opposed to shooting in Hollywood?
NP: It’s hard to compare because we don’t really shoot in Hollywood at all these days. I love working here, though, and I’m a little envious of British actors and British crews because they can always work close to home. American and Australian actors, we end up like gypsies: moving from movie to movie, changing cities all the time. You can really have such a fulfilling, wonderful rich career in London, between the theatre, the TV here, and the film. It’s pretty cool to get to live and work in the same place.
Q: As this world is getting more fantastical, and things are becoming wilder and stranger, what did you find to hook yourself as an actor to? How do you ground your performances and try to stay true to your characters?
NP: The humor helps. This script was very clever and witty, and that helps keep all the wild special effects in check. I also think that the characters are going through some very relatable things, even though they’re traveling between realms. You don’t look at it as, “Thor went off to fight this epic battle in a far off realm.” You look at it as, “there was this great guy who suddenly didn’t return your calls.” That helps ground it. It’s a long-distance relationship. You’re getting to meet his parents and they don’t quite approve. Things like that. You find the normality of that, and all of the costumes and sets and wild things going on aren’t quite so wild anymore. It also helps that I’m the mortal among the gods and villains and monsters near me, so that’s naturally more grounded. But a lot of the issues they have, they’re still pretty relatable. Rivalries between brothers and things like that.
Q: Your mother supposedly keeps a scrapbook of photos that she allows out on set, and all these shots in the flat scene are you through the ages.
NP: Yes she does.
Q: Does that make you look back on you career at all, and the changes that have taken place over it? How do you see those early films now, twenty years after the fact?
NP: The scrapbook is funny, because it’s the same set of photos that she always lends out for every movie I’ve done for the past 20 years, and there’s a lot of characters that shouldn’t have the same experiences and family photos but do. There’s some interesting ones of, say, me and Tobey Maguire from when I’m young. There’s also a lot of Photoshopped stuff in there, with different people I’ve worked with. It’s strange, and interesting and kind of amazing to think of all that ground being covered. I’m very lucky to have had the career I’ve had and to work with the people I’ve gotten to work with, from Luc Besson all the way up to Alan Taylor. That album is a good way of remember just how fortunate I’ve been.