MISS DIOR – The new Eau de Parfum
Natalie Portman's New Love
When I meet Natalie Portman at a coffee bar near her place in Los Angeles, she's all business, arriving in a long-sleeved chambray dress and black sandals, her wet hair pulled back into a bun. At 34, she's as fresh-faced as ever, the only flash of glamorous movie stardom the bright-red polish on her short nails, a remnant from a whirlwind 48-hour trip to Beijing, where, as a longtime brand ambassador for Dior, she hosted the opening of an art exhibition. She has even scheduled our get-together for 7:30 A.M., a tactic that implies she is treating it almost like a grueling workout.
Once Portman gets going, she's anything but removed. She talks animatedly about spending most of her time now in Paris, where she and husband, the French dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, have settled with their four-year-old son, Aleph. The couple, who met on the set of Darren Aronofsky'sBlack Swanfilm that earned Portman an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2011—moved there last year after Millepied was named director of the Paris Opera Ballet. "It's magical," she says of her life in the French capital. "But the cultures are different in ways you don't even realize. And there's stuff you don't know you'll miss until you're away." Like what? I ask. "Like indoor gyms where kids can just run and jump," she offers, shaking her head. "They don't have those there. [In Paris] if you're running around on the playground chasing your kid and playing a game, people think you're nuts." Then there are the more grown-up differences. "This French friend of ours just told me that being in Los Angeles, he missed having serious conversations at dinner," says Portman, who majored in psychology at Harvard. "In Paris, if you're at dinner and there isn't a debate, you leave and think, Well, that wasn't a very good party. But no one ever does that here. And I thought, I like just having happy talk!" She lets out a giggle. "My French is okay, but when my friends are talking about books and philosophy, that's a level of conversation I'm just not ready for linguistically," she says, cocking her eyebrow playfully. "And maybe intellectually."
"I had so many friends who asked when we were younger, 'Who am I? What's my identity?' I never questioned my identity." —Natalie Portman
Portman has been out of the spotlight for a few years now, but she's starring in a pair of movies set to hit theaters in the coming months. The first,Jane Got a Gun, is a dramatic western about a frontierswoman who is forced to ask a former lover to help bail her out of trouble. The film, which Portman also produced, was shot in New Mexico in 2013 in less-than-hospitable circumstances, with last-minute shuffles in costars (Bradley Cooper and Michael Fassbender dropped out, replaced by Ewan McGregor and Joel Edgerton) and leadership (director Lynne Ramsay exited, and Gavin O'Connor took the reins). "It's a testament to how amazing it is in New Mexico that I still love it there, because that movie was really challenging," she says, relieved to have a final product that she's proud to promote. "It's a miracle it came out so well."
The second film,A Tale of Love and Darkness, debuted at Cannes in May, and marks Portman's first feature as director. Based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by the Israeli author Amos Oz and set against the backdrop of the formation of Israel in the years after World War II, it tells the story of Oz's relationship with his mentally ill mother (played by Portman, who also write the screenplay, which is entirely in Hebrew). She made the film in Israel last year over a period of six months. "The power of words is at the center of Judaism, and the creating of a people through storytelling," she explains. "So I wanted to show the birth of this writer as he relates to his mother." Though Portman grew up on Long Island, she was born in Jerusalem, where her father was raised, and her connections to her Jewish heritage remain strong. "It's a very strange place to be from," she says. "When you say, 'I'm for Israel,' everyone wants to have a 10-hour political conversation. Everyone has a very strong, passionate opinion about it," she continues, "But I'm grateful for it. I had so many friends who asked when we were younger, 'Who am I? What's my identity?' I never questioned my identity."
"I said to Cate Blanchett, 'How do you do it?' She said, 'You just do.'" —Natalie Portman
Nevertheless, even in red-carpet situations, Portman often finds herself peppered with queries about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. foreign policy. "I get asked so many questions about the Middle East, and I'm like 'Can you please just ask me about my dress? Let's just talk about the dress!'" she says, half-laughing. So while many actresses are busy hashtagging #AskHerMore and trying to dodge questions about their manicures and motherhood, Portman is asking for less? Though gender inequality is obviously very real, she says she can understand the temptation to focus on fashion. "I like to look at what people are wearing, but I do see the sexism in it," she says. "Yeah, you could reject it all, but I don't know anyone who has done that and been able to maintain the level of work I'd like to maintain."
In addition to two upcoming films that she shot with Terrence Malick,Knight of CupsandWeightless, Portman is preparing to act in two more, so it's no surprise that work-life balance is now front of mind. "Cate Blanchett is an amazing person," she says of her costar in the Malick movies. "Very early on, I asked her about being a parent. I said 'How do you do it? You're a mom. You're the best at what you do.' She said, 'You just do. Stressing about it doesn't help,'" Portman recalls. It might also be worth instituting an #AskHimMore hashtag to counter the assumption that family and juggling kids are women-only topics. "Most men I know are dealing with the same issues," she says. "Maybe those questions need to be asked of men too," she adds.
Video: Paris I Love You - "TRUE" - Natalie Portman (CZECH subtitles)
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