Interview with Natalie Portman

To tie in with our Garden State review, we have a syndicated interview with one of the film’s stars, Natalie Portman…

After big budget movies Garden State must seem a very different sort of film for you?

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.

Your character in Garden State spins fantasies, have you ever felt compelled to tell lies?

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.

Is there an obvious contrast between doing big films and small films?

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.

What was it like filming the Garden State scene when you are caught in the rain?

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.

Have you ever experienced the sort of awkward homecoming that we see in Garden State?

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.

What about you experience of working with Zach, as a first time director?

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.

Would you like to work with him again?

Definitely. It was really fun, a really great experience.

How did you go about getting into the mindset of a character who is so unlike you?

It’s very much a generation 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.

What was you favourite part of the film?
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.

It seems that your transition from child roles to adult ones, worked out seamlessly?

It’s interesting 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 but I obviously have some good peers and we keep pushing each other I guess.

Is it easier to do intense emotional stuff than fantasy stuff?

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. 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.

Why did you decide to take time out to go to university?

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 where imagination 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.

Are you keen to direct yourself?

Definitely. I definitely admired what Zach 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.

Colin Polonowski

Updated: Apr 18, 2005

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