Natalie Portman, one of the most highly sought-after actresses in the world, recently sat down to discuss her new film Jackie O. For the history inept, Jackie Onassis Kennedy was the widow of John Fitzgerald Kennedy - former president of the United States.
Portman plays the title role of Jackie O as we've never seen her. The well-crafted media portrayal of Jackie O had been one of a measured, demure and feminine fashionista. But in this film, directed by Pablo Larraín, she is depicted as anything but measured as she painfully goes back and forth over the slightest details of JFK's funeral and legacy within hours of his death.
Portman, who virtually morphed into the role, broke it down for us.
"It’s an amazing challenge to get to take on because it’s rare when people are so iconic that we see them as a thing, we see them as a symbol, as a facade, and to get to really consider someone as a human being was such an amazing exercise and something we haven’t done with her," Portman said. "Largely because she really kept herself private. She gave a certain part of herself to the public and said 'The rest is for me.' And she was so careful about that and did such an amazing job doing that too. Still, we haven’t given her the due of considering she went through something so tragic in service to the country and then pulled herself again in service to the country, which is just astonishing."
(Photo Credit: Gannett)
Most notable of the attributes that Portman brought to the screen was Jackie O's signature accent.
"I watched the White House tour obsessively as my beginning of my exploration with my language coach," Portman said. "Because we were doing an exact replica, I wanted to get even the pauses, the hesitations, the breaths, the mess ups, I wanted all of that to be the same. We listened to that and that was the really formative thing for the accent. It’s a two-hour special, so you can get all the sounds she made and her rhythms. Also the interviews she did with Schlesinger, you have the transcripts and the tapes that accompany them. That was helpful because he was a friend, so even though it was an interview you get a sense of how she talked in private with someone she knew versus doing a TV show."
We asked her, from an artistic standpoint, how do you portray a historical person without going into caricature?
"It’s super dangerous," she said. "I was really scared of it because it’s never been my thing, mimicking. I never thought that was a talent of mine. I was really scared because you want to be believable first and foremost. The first thing you need the audience to do is to buy the person you say you are on screen. I knew I would have to do that because she’s so well known and how she talks and her voice and the way she moves. It’s kinda interesting but at the same time we’re actors, not surgeons, if we fail nobody is going to die. That’s what I have to tell myself 'no one is going to die.' It was totally scary and new. When I started talking in the voice on set everybody everybody was like 'uh oh.' You look at the tapes and that’s what it was. Luckily Pablo was really bringing it back to the inner and the private that it gives it a nice balance. It doesn’t get campy, hopefully."
(Photo Credit: Entertainment Weekly)
At the roundtable discussion, Portman was asked if she thought about how this would play in a digital age, and if the film give her insight into politics?
"It’s interesting she was so unknowingly ahead of her time," Portman said. "She wasn’t trying to be feminist. She was actually defining herself as her husband’s wife and guardian of his legacy and everything she was doing was out of her wifely duty in her mind. But at the same time to craft your own narrative and be the agent and author of your own story is what everyone is doing today. People are showing what they want to show on Instagram and she was doing that fifty years ago. 'This is what you guys are going to think about me, here’s the story that will remain till today.' So it’s incredibly modern, it’s incredibly intelligent and has an understanding of history. The story that lasts is the best one that gets told, not real fact."
With the current, volatile political environment unfolding during election season in the United States, some of which contains outwardly violent overtures toward both presidential candidates, Natalie was asked how this film ties into our contemporary times.
"The incitement that leads up to the assassination was not something I was really aware of," she said. "Being from Israel, I had heard it so much about the Rabin assassination. They had posters and slogans about killing him and they were doing the same thing with Kennedy, which I was really not aware of. And we reference it in the movie when Jackie says to Ladybird early in the movie, “there were posters calling for him to be killed.” We heard disgusting rhetoric during this election talking about those things. Please, lord, may it not… you know. We can see how vile and repetitive these patterns of incitement are and the real tragedy that can ensue. There’s probably a lot of parallels you can draw. First Ladies taking the reins."
When asked if she felt comfortable playing that role if she had to step up or was that her naturally, she said, "I definitely had to step up to and into her shoes. It was not natural, but it was really beautiful to experience. Pablo emphasized a lot her love of beauty. He always had me say in scenes that didn’t end up in the movie 'I love beauty.' He had me say it like all the time.
"It was really important that someone who was so aesthetic, she loved clothes and fabrics, and apparently she was always getting in trouble with Kennedy because she was spending a million dollars a year on clothes, getting all the couture," she continued. "And he said the American people are gonna lose their minds, you gotta chill out. When someone who loves beauty that much, then the ugliest thing in the world happens to them, how does that affect them?"
Jackie Onassis Kennedy remarried 1968 to in shipping magnate Aristotle Socrates Onassis. She died in May 19, 1994 at the age of 64 .
Jackie O opens in theaters on November 4.