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V For Vendetta - Natalie Portman interview

Natalie Portman in V For Vendetta

Interview by Rob Carnevale

Q. What was it that appealed to you about the role and why did you decide to take it?
A. It was very interesting for me to consider the mindset of someone who goes from being non-violent to being drawn towards using violence to express her political beliefs. I enjoyed the fact that it was a complicated journey that can be interpreted on many different levels – maybe she’s being manipulated, maybe she’s finding her true self, and just developing pragmatism over idealism. I appreciated the complicated view of what would make someone want to do this sort of thing.

Q. How surprised were you by the political content in the script when you first got it?
A. When I received the script I was just so shocked by the fact that a big Hollywood action movie could actually have substance and something that’s provocative. That it could actually make people feel very strong things and think strong things, whatever those various reactions would be. I thought: “This is crazy, I want to do this!” It’s exactly the kind of entertainment I’m interested in making.

Q. How liberating was it having to cut your hair off for the role?
A. Obviously for the character it’s a very traumatic experience because it’s a violence committed upon her. But for me, I got to choose to do it so it didn’t feel like a violent thing committed against me. It was actually kind of wonderful to throw vanity away for a little bit. We’re always expected to be preening ourselves, so it was a pretty nice opportunity not to have to think about that stuff for a while.

Q. What was it like working with Hugo Weaving when he was wearing the mask all the time? Did it affect your performance?
A. I think it’s kind of amazing because you’re always wondering what’s going on behind it. You’re always thinking, are they laughing behind that? Are they smiling? Are they crying? Are they angry? You’re so engaged with the other person’s emotions – namely Hugo acting V – that you almost become that other person and there’s an incredible engagement with the character. Hugo is such an incredible actor anyway. His performance was so vocal and physically specific that it was a great help. It’s not like working with blue screen, for instance, where you have to imagine the performance opposite you. He was giving a very full-bodied performance.

Q. Were you a fan of graphic novels before appearing in the film?
A. I was introduced to the graphic novel when I was offered the part in the film and was blown away by it. I also had not been familiar with the genre and had always lumped it together with comic books and thought they were things for boys. But to see such great literature with its historical and literary allusions was amazing. I think we all made this movie out of deep respect and admiration for the original work.

Q. How did you go about getting your English accent? And was it daunting given that you were surrounded by so many British stars?
A. I worked for a month before with a dialect coach and we ran through the material over and over again. Every morning during the filming we’d also warm up an hour before we started. But doing a different accent was exciting because it immediately puts you into a different character. Everyone was very supportive and didn’t try to intervene too much.

Q. Evey is reluctant to get into this. But are you a politically motivated person?
A. I think I’m politically aware. I think I go back and forth between being obsessive about reading everything and knowing all the details of political events. But I think relative to an average, I’m on the aware side. There are a lot of things that I care deeply about that I try and involve myself in during my life.

Q. You share many scenes in the film with Stephen Fry. How was he and did he behave?
A. [Laughs] He was really, really wonderful. He would always keep me laughing and happy between takes and interested too. He is clearly one of our sharpest minds and a great actor. I think his scenes are some of the most moving in the film. So it was a very lucky experience.

Q. Did you get a chance to sample the London nightlife and culture while you were filming?
A. I don’t really go out when I’m filming because I really can’t keep it together if I do. I enjoy working here a lot, actually, because there’s a lot of non-clubby stuff to do on weekends that can keep you interested and occupied when you’re away from friends, family home. This is the greatest city to see movies. I love the respect for film that London has, having a National Film Theatre, how all the movie theatres show repertory on the weekends. The ICA is a good place.

Q. V has his Shadow Gallery in which he stores national treasures. If you could have your own Shadow Gallery, what would you store?
A. I guess since a lot of what V has is stuff that is censored I’ll pick censored things. Lolita is one of my favourite books.

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