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Q&A: Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman (L.) with Greta Gerwig in No Strings Attached.

Syosset native Natalie Portman seems to be into predictions these days. Whether she’s mulling the Oscar nomination she just nabbed for Black Swan, or a pending apocalypse related to all the movies she’s turning up in lately. During this conversation for her just-released romantic comedy, No Strings Attached, Portman talked about embracing the pleasure principle after the dieting hell she was put through for Black Swan, and being turned on by the slacker appeal of NSA, relatively speaking. Portman also reminisced about pumpkin jokes, movie condoms and how totally unrelated small talk can ease the embarrassment of watching oneself in sex scenes with Ashton Kutcher.

Natalie, you’ve just been nominated for an Academy Award for Black Swan. What would an Oscar for Best Actress mean to you? 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 honor and a huge compliment. So I think it’s just an extremely flattering thing, just to be among these other people that I really, really respect and admire.


You’ve been through this awards season before, with your nomination for Closer in 2004, so what’s the best moment for you? It’s a big honor to have people be excited about a movie you make. It’s the one thing that you want, an audience to connect to what you make. So it’s always really exciting to have that feeling. It’s the coolest thing.

Moving from Black Swan to No Strings Attached seems like quite an extreme switchup. Did it involve any momentary major identity crisis for you as an actress? Well, you’re like, how did you get fat so quickly! But it was pretty great. It was like a palate cleanser after all of that discipline, focus, and very serious kind of set, to really playful fun. I mean, obviously everyone is still very professional on this kind of movie. But you know there’s an improvisational feel all the time, and everyone’s there to like play. It was a really great atmosphere. And I didn’t have to work out, because she’s a doctor so they don’t have time!

Did Ashton tease you about the whole Black Swan thing? Tease me? He was always like, are you wearing flats again! Really?

What kind of back story did you create for Emma Kurtzman and her anti-intimacy issues? A lot of it was provided to me in the script, which was really wonderful. And that it’s sort of having this incredible loss early on, and not really wanting to get hurt. And I think most women know someone like this, if they’re not like that themselves. You know, that leads you to a point where you’re not even looking for intimacy anymore. You’re just looking for the physical side, and not the emotional side. And that something breaks a little bit before you get to that point. It’s not the way that you’re born.

Are you anything like Emma, and how would you compare your own take on romance and intimacy? I don’t know. I find it a little scary to say that I’m like a character. I was excited, because I knew who she was as soon as I read her. And I think you always need to be able relate to your character. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to understand why they do what they do. You know, you don’t actually have to be like that yourself, I don’t think you identify your own personality with it necessarily. So that’s kind of very hard for me to answer. But I’m in a committed relationship, if that helps!

No Strings Attached, even with your sexed up character, seems to be advocating safe sex. Can you comment on how important it was to send a message to the audience, especially teenagers, about the importance of safe sex? Well, I’m not a teen, that’s the first thing I’ll say. I’m a grownup! But yeah, it is really prevalent in our country. And I think that’s part of what the movie addresses, that we have so much sex in our media that’s dissociative from our emotions. And there can be separation between the emotional and physical side of sex, and they really do belong together. And yes, the condoms were fake! And used in the fake sex scenes in this movie!

You wouldn’t recommend those movie condoms. Exactly! Not prop condoms.

Did you come up with anything that was not in the script? Well, I have to say that the script was ninety-nine percent of what you see on screen. Everything is really, really there in the script. And it was a really very funny script, always. So I think that’s what always carried us through. But there were certain times, I mean for me I don’t know about other scenes, but for me I think the most was the pumpkin night. Probably when I was screaming at the girls. And we had a lot of pumpkin-related jokes that were going on for a very long time.

How comfortable were you with the sex scenes? Well, also being horizontal gave the only opportunity for a tight two shot. Because we’re standing up. And I’m like, you can’t fit us in, right? Yeah. But the nice thing was that I think we did that scene pretty deep into the shoot, so we were already comfortable. As comfortable as you can be in that scenario!

How about when it comes to watching your sex scenes, do you get embarrassed? I’m pretty immature, so I get embarrassed pretty easily! Like there was one with my panties coming off that we did. And after I watched it I was like, oh that’s not bad because it was really quick! You know, it wasn’t like lingering on anything that I felt modest about or anything. So yeah, I checked the dailies out a little. And I sort of go the opposite direction between takes. Like, what are you doing this weekend? Just totally benign conversation in between takes, to make it a little normal!

You also have the stoner comedy, Your Highness, and the action film, Thor, out this year. Was this by accident or design, and how do you feel about that kind of mixed schedule? Well you have heard the apocalypse is coming, right? 2012, Mayan calendar. And I thought I’d get it all in right before! But it was a great opportunity to get to do a lot of different things in a year. I feel like I learned so much from doing all of these different types of movies. Because you bring the research, and the seriousness and discipline of doing a drama into something like Thor. And you bring the humor and the improvisational attitude from something like Your Highness into Black Swan. And it was really kind of a lucky order because I did Your Highness and then Black Swan and then Thor and then No Strings Attached. So it was really interesting. I do feel bad for boring people with my face for a while! But in terms of, as an actress, it was really an exciting thing to get to work on all these things. And almost back to back.

What else is coming up? I’m cooking a child!

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