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Garden State - Natalie Portman Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. This is a very different sort of film for you?
A.
I think this movie doesn’t really go into any genre. Movies now are so often made to mimic other successful movies in the past that we’ve created these genres, like the romantic comedy, the thriller, the action movie, that are so formulaic that you can guess the ending after the first five minutes.
So it was so nice to see something like this that was much messier, like life, that doesn’t fit into any category, that doesn’t go with anything we’ve ever seen before. It just has these unique experiences and unique characters.

Q. Have you ever felt compelled to tell lies, like your character?
A.
I don’t think I have a tendency to lie, but like Sam says, you don’t really know that that’s not a lie as well.

Q. Not even telling little white lies to the press?
A
. No, I don’t feel compelled to answer every question, if there’s something I don’t want to say then I just won’t answer.

Q. What, to you, is the contrast between big films and small films?
A.
I think the greatest part is that when you don’t have money, you don’t have time to waste, so you keep going and there’s no going back to your trailer for two hours while they do a lighting set up. That really conserves energy.
I think when you go back and have a little nap between scenes, or talk to your agent, or whatever you do when you’re waiting between scenes that breaks the energy. It breaks the momentum and I think you really feel that, that we were all there together as a team, working on this movie.
So there are things that you might miss, like having a big comfortable trailer and having perks like that. But it was wonderful, too, because you actually got to meet people much more and had a smaller crew and got to talk to people between takes; you’d sit there and learn about people, what kind of music they might like, why they want to work in film and what their passions are. That was a really great experience.

Q. So is it the case that doing big movies helps to get smaller ones made - is it a case of one subsidising the other?
A.
I think when you keep challenging yourself to do different things it does. There are great things about doing big films too. Working with special effects is like a whole different world, it’s a really amazing experience and there’s really interesting people who work on that. You get to enjoy other peoples’ talents a lot.
I think it’s mixing it up and doing different things that keeps everything interesting, for yourself and for other people.

Q. What was it like filming the scene in the rain? How wet did you get?
A.
That was an interesting scene; it was done with fake rain but what Zach did to create a rapport between all of us before filming was to come to visit me at my university with Peter for a weekend. We all went out and partied together, which is a great way to start out because it breaks down all barriers when you get a little liquor together.
We kept that sort of atmosphere on set, not drinking of course - we were all very responsible and professional and focussed on our work.
But there was very much a party atmosphere, that we were joking and hanging out. I think you feel that in the film, that there was this sense of friends being with each other.

Q. Do you ever experience the awkward sense of homecoming that Zach Braff's character, Large, does?
A.
Actually not really because I never really left home. I live on my own now, but I live in the same neighbourhood that I grew up in, I have the same friends that I’ve had since I was little and I’ve been acting since I was 12, so all my friends have pretty much always known me as an actress, so it wasn’t any big change.

Q. New friends don’t come out the woodwork then?
A.
Of course, that happens every once in a while, but it’s not like it happens in the movie.

Q. Have you ever met the person you least wanted to meet?
A.
It’s always nice to see people from the past, but the weird thing is that everyone always remembers you and sometimes you don’t necessarily remember them.
Which doesn’t sound nice, but they probably wouldn’t remember me if they hadn’t heard a rumour at school that there was a girl who used to go to this school who is now an actress.

Q. What was your experience of working with Zach, as a first-time director?
A.
I didn’t feel too nervous about it, probably because he wasn’t nervous. He put me and everyone else at ease. He was very confident and very much a leader and really knew specifically what he wanted to do. But he was very relaxed about it.
A lot of directors, even experienced ones, get so stressed out because it’s such a difficult job.
There’s so much to think about, to be in control of, and being a leader is hard because it has to be done with a great amount of humanity.
People sometimes have a hard time keeping their egotistical vision intact while being humane to the people they work with. Zach was really wonderful about that, he really made this very collaborative feeling that everyone had a part to play, but he was the leader. So it was really nice to work on.

Q. Would you work with him again?
A.
Definitely. It was really fun, a really great experience.

Q. How easy was it getting into the mindset of a character, given that she is so unlike you?
A.
It’s very much a generational thing, and I think I see it around me. I was in my senior spring at university at the time and a lot of people at school were taking prescription medication to help them study, and recreationally.
There’s definitely a sense of confusion at your place in the world, and a lot of disillusionment even in people who – from the outside – might seem to be directed and successful and everything. That’s very much a sign of coming-of-age, trying to find your place in the world.

Q. What is your favourite part of the film?
A.
We had a series of very talented dogs come in to perform. It was always amusing to see what Zach could scrounge up next. I was like ‘he does what?’.
So that was always fun. It was really a very good time because Zach was constantly joking around and making it fun for all of us. That was a really great energy to have around.

Q. You appear with Julia Roberts in your next film. How did she feel about the line about herself and Lyle Lovett?
A.
That was before I signed to do Closer. I don’t know if she’s seen the film yet.

Q. Great things are being said about Closer – you are playing a pole dancer, aren't you?
A.
I try and do different things all the time. I don’t think of the character as a stripper, or a pole dancer, she has several different jobs throughout the story. That one just happens to be the most salient one for audiences I suppose.
It’s not a conscious decision to show a new side – namely my backside. It’s more just trying different things. The cast was incredible and the director was the best in the world. And the writing was really strong. It was an amazing experience.

Q. What is it like working with Ewan McGregor? And do you have any funny anecdotes about working with him?
A.
I love Ewan, he’s wonderful. It’s been really nice to work with him three times now. It makes going back more fun because it’s like a reunion.
I appreciate Ewan even more because I love his wife, she is one of my favourite people that I’ve met through films. It says a lot about Ewan that he could find such an incredible woman to marry.
He does great impressions of pretty much everyone on set, so that always makes it a lot more fun.

Q. Ewan McGregor talked about the thrill of playing with your light sabre? Was it the same for you?
A.
Let’s hope that’s not a metaphor.

Q. But do you feel that it enables you to be a kid again?
A.
Absolutely. Star Wars is the most like being a child that I’ve ever experienced in acting. It’s like taking a refrigerator box and pretending it’s your space ship because you’re literally working with nothing, pretending that it’s the most outrageous thing.
One of the interesting things is that we all have our idea of what it will look like but then we see it and it’s completely different. It’s very imaginative and creative.

Q. You're one of a few young stars to have made the transition from child roles to adult ones seamlessly? Was that ever a worry when you were younger?
A.
I’m not really a worrier, I try and be in the now and not worry too much about what’s going to happen tomorrow.
It’s interesting, though, because my generation of female actors is largely made up of people who started out acting as children.
If you look at Kirsten Dunst, Scarlett Johansson, Christina Ricci, Claire Danes, we all started out when we were 11 or 12. I don’t know what it is about our generation. I don’t know what it is but I obviously have some good peers and we keep pushing each other I guess.

Q. Do you find it easier to do intense emotional stuff, such as Garden State or Closer, than fantasy stuff, such as Star Wars?
A.
It is probably easier because you can relate to it more directly. You have to find more circuitous paths to emotions when it’s not similar to something you’ve personally experienced. But that can happen in reality based movies too, it doesn’t just have to be in science fiction.
I’ve obviously been lucky enough not to experience violence in my family or anything, but the stuff that Sam goes through in this movie is probably more directly relatable to my personal experience.

Q. Does Garden State conform to the recognised view of Jewish family life?
A.
I think there are certain lines in the movie that I probably related to because I grew up in the Jewish suburbs and this is about the Jewish suburbs. So it seemed very accurate to me, this is something I have information about because that’s how I grew up. In that way, I related to this particular story a lot because it was so similar to where I grew up.
Like the part where Zach’s character says about people only going to synagogue once a year and they have to extend the walls to fit all the people in for the one day of the year when they actually got to Temple. That’s something I could fully relate to as an American Jew in the New York suburbs.
But I also think it’s limiting to do things that are according to your own experience, or to play parts that are like you.
I try and do things that are different all the time; I’m not particularly looking for any themes that are like my life. You just probably relate to things more easily when it’s stuff you recognise.

Q. You have decided to take time out to go to university – why?
A.
I actually worked while I was at university, but I only worked in the summertime so it wasn’t like I took a four year break or anything. I never worked during the school year, so it was really a case of keeping the same pattern of school during the year and working in the summer. That was never really a question for me, it was something I wanted to do.
To be an actor, first and foremost, you have to be a person who’s engaged in the world. Whether that’s through school, or through travel, or through meeting people and listening to them and learning about peoples’ lives I think that’s the most important thing.
You’re trying to imagine other peoples’ lives and imagination only takes you to a certain point.
Having knowledge and first-hand experience can really feed that imagination. So it was never really a question for me. It was an amazing experience.

Q. Did you ever feel conscious of having to work harder at university to prove yourself worthy?
A.
Absolutely. It wasn’t so much with my professors because they generally did not recognise me. Academia is its own bubble.
And I don’t think I’m that immediately recognisable to people. But certainly amongst my peers, I think a lot of them wrote me off straight away, thinking that I got there because I was in the movies.
I try not to base myself too much on other peoples’ impressions, but I was definitely conscious that if I raised my hand in class I’d better have something intelligent to say.
If you make a mistake, or say something stupid, the fear would be that I’d somehow snuck in there, that I didn’t really belong. So I definitely worked hard at proving myself I guess.

Q. Did you ever find it hard working with Zach, being that he so involved in the whole film?
A.
You definitely have an expert with you. Sometimes a director might be unfamiliar with a certain scene or not really understand it but he was obviously so familiar with the material, it came from within him and he had the passion and the understanding that comes with that. That was helpful.
And it was so nice because he was so open to everyone’s input. He had the power to say it was okay to change a line.
Sometimes when you work with a director who’s not a writer and you want to change a line and he feels we have to check it first because they want to respect everyone. But Zach was everyone so he was able to have a little more executive control.

Q. What was the last good book read?
A.
I just read a really beautiful book called The Known World, by Edward P. Jones. It’s really beautiful, it almost Biblical. It’s about black slave owners right before the Civil War ends. It’s beautifully written, with like 40 different characters, it’s really nice.

Q. Do you ever read trash?
A.
Definitely I do. But I won’t talk about because I don’t want to insult anyone who thinks they’ve written great literature. I don’t want to right them off as trash.

Q. There is a line in the film that an actor chooses to pursue that career because it gives you the ‘chance to be someone else’? Do you agree?
A.
I don’t think of it that way. The job is like practising empathy, it’s imagining other peoples’ lives and imagining what other people feel and how the world makes other people feel.
It’s an amazing thing to create as your brain pattern to look at people and ask what are they going through? How do they feel today? What’s their life like? It’s an amazing way to approach the world. It’s a nice sort of job to imagine what it’s like to be someone else.

Q. Are you keen to direct yourself?
A.
Definitely. I definitely admired what he did. You meet him and he’s smart and confident and funny and usually I think I could never do something like that, I’m not smart or focussed enough. And then I look at him, and he’s definitely extremely talented, but it’s not like he has some magical gift of focus.
It seems like something attainable, something that I could do too. It did give me confidence to watch him and hope.
But I hate talking about that, because I can remember as a 12-year-old saying in an interview that I wanted to be an astronaut and people sometimes ask when I’m going into space.
So I shouldn’t talk about anything until I do it. If I do it then I’ll tell you about it, but Zach is definitely inspiring.

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