From her film debut at age 12 as an assassin’s disciple in Léon: The Professional to her current role as the face of Dior and its new Rouge Dior lipstick campaign to her upcoming portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in the highly anticipated biopic Jackie, Natalie Portman has always possessed grace, poise and regal beauty. To that list of admirable traits, you can now add bravery, since the Academy Award-winning actress took some big risks when she wrote, directed and starred in the recently released A Tale of Love and Darkness, based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s autobiographical novel about growing up against the backdrop of the creation of Israel. “I read the book when it came out and was so moved by it,” says the Jerusalem-born first-time director. “I could see it as a film right away. I really felt like I needed to make that come to life.”
In a particularly bold move, Portman chose to have her actors speak all dialogue in the film in Hebrew. “There were a lot of people who actually encouraged me to make it in English, saying it would get a wider audience,” she says. “But I feel like, you see great films in their original language. When you see a movie that takes place in Germany, you expect they’d be speaking German. If you see Mexico, you expect to hear Spanish. And, of course, in Israel, they speak Hebrew. And this film is so much about language. It’s almost impossible, I think, to make it in another language.” Still, she admits, language was a barrier she had to overcome. “I obviously speak it as well, but not perfectly. So I had to really improve my Hebrew for playing the part, and also, in terms of communicating as a director with the entire cast and crew.”
There was another challenge to which Portman had to rise: finding her voice on set. “I was uncomfortable in the beginning stating what I wanted all the time,” she confides. Her first inclination was to couch her requests of actors in apologies. “By the end, you get so good at saying, ‘I want this’ because everyone just wants you to be direct and clear and say what you want. And you know what you want. You don’t have to apologize for it,” she says with a laugh. “It was really a great exercise.”
As an actress, Portman has never been afraid to stretch her muscles. She famously shaved her head in V for Vendetta, descended into madness in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (and won an Academy Award as a result) and portrayed a troubled stripper in Mike Nichols’ Closer. She fearlessly jumped into the unpredictable world of Terrence Malick, not once but twice (Knight of Cups, as well as an upcoming untitled Terrence Malick film), had a love affair with an arrogant god in Thor and embodied Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy during summer breaks from studying psychology at Harvard University. She graduated in 2003 and has since taken graduate courses in Jerusalem and has lectured on counterterrorism at Columbia University.
When we reach Portman, she is in London filming Alex Garland’s new dystopian thriller, Annihilation, in which she plays a biologist on expedition in a territory cut off from civilization, where she has to deal with a mysterious contamination while searching for her missing husband. The ambitious film, says the actress, is physically challenging for her, which is one of the reasons she chose the project. “I want to do something that I’m not sure that I can do,” she explains. Most often, her interest in a role is sparked by intelligent writing, exciting co-stars or a time period she hasn’t explored before. “Sometimes it’s just an interesting director, which makes it worthwhile because you know that you’ll have an interesting experience.”
Among the auteurs she’s worked with who have had the biggest influence on her career are Malick, whom she credits with teaching her to make up her own rules; and Anthony Minghella, who directed her in the Civil War saga Cold Mountain. “He had such immense kindness and sensitivity toward everyone,” she recalls. In addition, she treasures her experience with Nichols (“He always emphasized story, story, story.”) and Aronofsky (“He brings out how each actor looks best.”).
But perhaps it’s her degree in psychology that enables 35-year-old Portman to have insight into her own strengths and weaknesses, professionally and personally. “I do feel that when I pull myself together, I feel better,” she says. “Makeup is such a big part of a film character and tells a story of its own. Whether you’re playing in a period piece or a modern film, it’s important to match that character’s look with that time period. And in my everyday life,” she adds, “makeup also plays an important role in expressing who I am to the public.”
As the wife of French ballet dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied and mother of 5-year-old son Aleph, Portman claims she is just like any other parent of a young child. “I kind of have a uniform—usually jeans or black trousers and a T-shirt. Anything comfortable, unless I’m going out,” she says. “I’m a harried working mom.” In her case, that means being able to not only make time for her work and family, but also to dedicate herself to improving the lives of others. Portman recently visited Kenya with WE, an organization that helps create self-sustainable communities in countries all over the world, in addition to giving young girls a chance at secondary education. “It’s so moving to see the ambition in people who appreciate the opportunity to go to school, something most of us take for granted and might even have complained about. I, of course, have. They feel so lucky to do that.”
Portman acknowledges that she is also the beneficiary of good fortune. “I feel very, very lucky. It’s been really great having my work and family. I feel very lucky to get to have both.” And, with Jackie and several other Portman projects set for future release, her fans have reason to feel very lucky too.
On Portman, main photo: Ribbed technical net blouse, $2,250, at Dior, Beverly Hills. On lips: Rouge Dior lipstick in No. 999 matte, $37. On nails: Rouge Dior vernis in No. 954 Red Glove, $27. On eyes: Diorshow Maximizer 3-D triple volume plumping lash primer, $30, Diorshow mascara in No. 090 Pro Black, $29, Diorshow Pro liner waterproof in No. 092 Pro Black, $32, Eye Reviver palette in No. 001, $62, and All-in-Brow in No. 001 brown, $52. All at Dior counters at major department stores and dior.com.
On Portman, inset photo: Ring, price upon request, by Dior Fine Jewelry, and thin wool crepe vest, $2,600, both at Dior, Beverly Hills. On lips: Rouge Dior lipstick in No. 080 Red Smile, $37. On nails: Rouge Dior vernis in No. 994 Opening Night, $27. Both at Dior counters at major department stores and dior.com.
Hair by Stephane Lancien
Makeup by Peter Philips for Dior Beauty
Manicurist: Elsa Deslandes
The new Rouge Dior lipstick collection features five categories of shades for a total of 50 colors in two finishes–35 classic luxe satins and 15 long-wearing mattes. Daring Extremes comprise a trendsetting mix of matte shades inspired by street style. Iconic Reds are built upon No. 999 matte, the emblematic red of the House of Dior. Splendid Coral takes its inspiration from No. 080 Red Smile, a flush of color that dazzles. Stunning Pinks stem from No. 047 Miss, a bright, optimistic pink. Sensual Nudes is a collection of delicate shades that make an impression without overwhelming. In addition, there is a Rouge Dior contour lip liner collection and a limited-edition line of Rouge Dior vernis.