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The Other Boleyn Girl - Natalie Portman interview

Natalie Portman in The Other Boleyn Girl

Interview by Rob Carnevale

NATALIE Portman talks about the challenge of playing Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl, why some women haven’t progressed in terms of rights since Tudor times and working with director Justin Chadwick…

Q. Was there ever any discussion about swapping roles – so that you played Mary Boleyn? Because these are both really rich roles…
Natalie Portman: It’s so rare to find a script with one role that’s as complex as one of these characters, so to have two in the same film – and both for women of the same age – is completely unheard of. So, it was really exciting. But I wanted to play Anne because it was just so different from anything that I’d done before. And it was also an amazing opportunity to get to work with Scarlett [Johansson] who I’ve admired since we were kids.

Q. How helpful was it to have an etiquette adviser on the set? And was there anything you learned about your character that surprised you?
Natalie Portman: It definitely helped in terms of contact and what was appropriate with your father or your sister or brother, in public and in private. All of those kinds of things were really helpful to have from someone who had all those details that you can’t glean from books. As far as discovery goes, you’re just continually reminded how biased history is and how history is always someone’s version and there’s always some kind of fiction depending on their agenda – whether it was some kind of feminist agenda or to try and depict her as this witch who put a curse on their beloved king. It helped them understand something in their own lives that their version had something to do with that. I think it’s nice that our film so clearly is fiction, and so clearly is an imagination of the events even though the timeline is mostly accurate.

Q. As a 21st Century woman how easy was it to get your head around the way your character was treated by men at the time – especially in terms of Anne’s father, who was prepared to auction her off to the highest bidder?
Natalie Portman: Well, I think it’s interesting because although obviously women have made a lot of headway since then, when women were made to have sex or marry for money or position, today a lot of women choose to have sex with someone or marry for position or wealth. So, we see it still today, there are still vestiges of societal limitations on women. I tend to think that has to do with opportunities that are available – it says a lot that it’s still sometimes the best opportunity for a woman to be able to advance herself.

Q. How difficult was it to master the upper crust English accent?
Natalie Portman: It was definitely an extra challenge but we were lucky enough to have a great dialect coach who really guided us through. I actually think that doing a more posh accent is easier because it’s sort of an exaggeration of what we think of as British. I think it’s clearer in my head than doing a modern, urban dialect.

Q. How did you cope with the English weather? I gather the Dover Castle shoot proved particularly challenging?
Natalie Portman: I think they left it until the end because they wanted to go chronologically so that for the beheading we’d already lived the whole experience together. But we then had really bad weather. Our crew had hard hats because it was so dangerous to walk. And then there were the two of us [Scarlett and I] bare headed and in our wigs and stuff. It was funny.

Q. How was working with Justin Chadwick, the director?
Natalie Portman: Justin and [cinematographer Kieran McGuigan] were like mad professors because the film was shot digitally, which is really unusual for a period film. In fact, I think it might be one of the first period features to be shot digitally, so they were always figuring out the shots so meticulously. I think they succeeded in making it look as beautiful as it could look on film. He’s just a lovely, lovely human being and I think he’s brought real emotion – I think it doesn’t feel as removed as period dramas can feel.

Read our review of The Other Boleyn Girl

Read our interview with Scarlett Johansson