No Strings Attached - Natalie Portman interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
NATALIE Portman talks about the pleasure of filming No Strings Attached after the rigours of Black Swan, as well as some of the film’s more embarrassing sex scenes.
She also talks about her amazing career run of late, including roles in Thor and Brothers, as well as some of her favourite memories of the recent awards season, including her Oscar success.
Q: Your co-star in No Strings Attached is Ashton Kutcher. He is a world-renowned prankster. Were you a victim of his jokes during the making of the film?
Natalie Portman: [Laughs] Yes. He would always tease me about my height, like: “Are you wearing flats again? Really?”
Q: You had over a year of intense physical preparation and ballet training for Black Swan. What was it like to move from such a strenuous production to a romantic comedy like No Strings Attached?
Natalie Portman: It was wonderful. It was like a palate cleanser after all of that discipline and focus and a very serious kind of set to a really playful, fun set like No Strings Attached. I mean, obviously, everyone is still very professional on this movie, but there’s an improvisational feel all the time and everyone is there to play. It was a really great atmosphere and I didn’t have to workout because I was like: “She’s a doctor so they don’t have time.”
Q: Your character, Emma, is quite interesting. She gets to the point where she wants a no strings attached sexual relationship with a friend. Did you create a backstory for this character to work out in your mind how she got to this point?
Natalie Portman: Absolutely, but a lot of it was provided to me in Liz’s script which was really wonderful about sort of having this incredible loss early on and not really wanting to be the sort of pillar for her family and not wanting to get hurt.
Q: Do you think Emma is relatable to women?
Natalie Portman: I think that most women know someone like this, if they’re not like this themselves. They know what happens that leads you to a point where you’re not even looking for intimacy anymore. You’re just looking for the physical side of it and not the emotional side of it. Something breaks a little bit before you get to that point. It’s not just a way that you’re born.
Q: What was it like the day that you had to do the first sex scene with Ashton?
Natalie Portman: I think the nice thing was that we did the scene pretty deep into the shoot so we were as comfortable as you can be in that scenario.
Q: After you shot each sex scene did you take a look at it on the monitor to make sure you were OK with it?
Natalie Portman: I’m pretty immature and get pretty embarrassed easily. I would check out once in a while certain shots to make sure that I felt OK because sometimes once you see it you realize it is fine. Like, there was one shot of the panties coming off that we did and after I watched I was like: “Oh, that’s not bad!” Because it was really quick and it wasn’t lingering on anything that I felt modest about. So I checked a little.
Q: Making movies is a notoriously slow process. When you were shooting a sex scene with Ashton and there was a break while the crew moved the cameras or lighting around, what did you talk about?
Natalie Portman: You do sort of go the opposite direction between takes, like: “So, what are you doing this weekend?” It becomes totally benign conversation in between to make it a little normal.
Q: You are also an executive producer on No Strings Attached. What was that like?
Natalie Portman: It was a really exciting process to get to be involved for the first time so early in a production and working with [screenwriter] Liz Meriwether and [director] Ivan Reitman. I came on a couple of years before filming began. So it was great to watch their process and talk to them about the script. They were definitely controlling that process, but it was fun to be included in the evolution of the script and seeing how it changed and why it changed, to have Ivan’s expertise in pacing and figuring out.
Q: What was an example of that?
Natalie Portman: I remember Ivan said: “At the end there needs to be more movement…” Because in the original script that was written it was sort of a contained scene at the end. He said: “No. We have to get them moving, on the road.” To learn those things through the process was really exciting.
Q: Can you comment on the prevalence of sex in movies and how that affects teens and how it’s being glorified in the media recently?
Natalie Portman: Obviously, it is really prevalent in our country and I think that’s part of what the movie addresses. We have so much sex in our media that’s disassociated from emotions. We have so much separation between feeling the emotional and physical side of sex. They really do belong together.
Q: How much did you improvise in this film?
Natalie Portman: I have to say that Liz wrote 99 per cent of what you see onscreen. Everything is really there in the script. It was really a very funny script, always. I think that’s what always carried us through
Q: What scene took the most takes for you?
Natalie Portman: I think the most was the pumpkin night, probably, when I was just screaming at the girls. We had a lot of pumpkin-related jokes that were going on for a very long time.
Q: Emma is quite a talent playing mini-golf. How is your own game and how much luck or how many takes did it take get those shots right?
Natalie Portman: I’m really good at mini-golf. Maybe not big person golf, but little person golf I rock. That was a lot of fun to shoot a the mini-golf place.
Q: You have had an amazing selection of roles across genres in recent years with Black Swan, No Strings Attached, Thor, Brothers and Your Highness. How do you feel about having such a mixed CV?
Natalie Portman: Well, you have heard the apocalypse is coming right? 2012? The Mayan calendar? I thought I’d get it all in, right before.
Q: I see. That explains it!
Natalie Portman: [Laughs] No, it was a great opportunity to get to do a lot of different things in a year. I feel like I’ve learned so much from doing all these different types of movies and back to back. You bring the research and seriousness you do in a drama into something like Thor and you bring the humour and improvisational skills into something like Your Highness into Black Swan. It was a lucky order. I did Your Highness, Black Swan, Thor and then No Strings. It was really interesting. I feel like I’m boring people with my face, but for an actress, it was really exciting to get to work on all these things almost back to back.
Q: Can you see similarities between Emma and yourself?
Natalie Portman: I always find it a little scary to say that I’m like a character. I was excited because the character was written really specifically and I knew who she was as soon as I read her. I think you always need to be able to relate to your character, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to understand why they do what they do. But you don’t actually have to be like that yourself. I don’t think you identify your own personality with it. That’s hard for me to answer.
Q: What was it like to go through the crazy award season with so many nominations and wins for Black Swan?
Natalie Portman: It’s a big honour to have people be excited about a movie that you make. That’s the one thing that you want. You want an audience to connect to the thing that you make. So, it’s always really exciting to have that feeling.
Q: What was one of the great, but unexpected experiences of the award season?
Natalie Portman: We got to do a round table with all the actresses and it’s so rare to get to sit with other actresses of all generations, people who are just starting out and people who have been doing it for 30 years, and hear everyone’s experiences, hear what it’s like for people to be mothers and actresses. I wished that it wasn’t on camera, but it was the coolest thing. I was like: “If I could just have this experience, that’s the best prize of anything to get to hangout with these other women that I admire.”
Q: What does an Oscar mean to you?
Natalie Portman: I think it’s obviously a big honor. The company in which it puts you even to be mentioned among these other women is a huge honour and a huge compliment. So, it’s just an extremely flattering thing to be in and meaningful just to be among these other people that I respect and admire.
No Strings Attached is out on Blu-ray and DVD on June 27 from Paramount Home Entertainment.
- But it on DVD (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Natalie Portman interview
- Ashton Kutcher interview
- Ivan Reitman interview
- No Strings Attached Photo Gallery