Natalie Portman--Cluttered and Loving It
Interview, March 1996
by Ted Demme and Ingrid Sischy

In the new movie Beautiful Girls, Natalie Portman gives another wondrous performance that shows you don't need to be an old actor of twenty to convey a mass of emotions everyone can identify with...

Thursday Night

Actress Natalie Portman followed up her astounding debut in The Professional with a small but memorable in Heat. Now, with the release this month of Beautiful Girls, she's indelible as a wise teen with a crush on an older guy (played by Timothy Hutton), and steals the movie from the rest of its starry cast. Here, the fourteen-year-old actress talks with film's director, Ted Demme.

Ted Demme: Natalie, when we first met on the set of Beautiful Girls, we talked a lot about the reaction to you in The Professional. Did the stuff some people wrote about you make you feel you shouldn't have done that movie?

Natalie Portman: No. I didn't feel exploited at all. I understood everything I was doing. It wasn't like some dirty old man was tricking me into something. [laughs] The movie was simply about a little girl's crush on the first person who'd taken care of her.

TD: In our movie, Beautiful Girls, your character, Marty, has a crush on Willie [Timothy Hutton], who's about thirty. And he has a crush on Marty, but it never goes too far.

NP: He doesn't really have a crush on her. He has a crush on what she will become.

TD: How much do you identify with Marty?

NP: She's just like me. We live in the suburbs. We go to school. We're regular kids.

TD: Smart. Bit of a wiseass.

NP: Wiseass, yeah. I don't like that.

TD: Is Marty beautiful?

NP: No.

TD: Is she cute?

NP: She's O.K.

TD: Can cute be beautiful?

NP: No. Cute is when your personality shines through your looks. Like, when you see someone's personality in the way they walk and you just feel like hugging them every time you see them.

TD: When Marty says she's got an "old soul," what does she mean?

NP: It means she's got knowledge that she wouldn't necessarily have at her age. And I guess know the definition of "old soul" means I am one.

TD: There's that speech in the movie by Rosie O'Donnell where her character tries to get across to a couple of the guys that beauty is only skin deep. Do you think that's a cliche?

NP: The way Rosie says it is an original way of saying it. It is a cliche because it's said everywhere, but it's true, too. There's nothing new under the sun.

TD: What's Beautiful Girls about, to you?

NP: It's about these guys who have this fantasy of finding supermodels as girlfriends. They're sure that one day these models are going to come and sweep them off their feet, and they're not really giving the regular girls a chance. Their girlfriends are real women and don't fufill that plastic image. Which is not to say models are the problem--but their image is.

TD: Now, when you look at a guy your age--

NP: Uh-huh. Prepubescent. [giggles]

TD: What makes them beautiful to you?

NP: O.K., this is very important. Well, looks...

TD: Looks, number one?

NP: No, not number one. Yes, I am attracted to guys by their looks, but if they're stupid and big losers because of the things they do, then no, I won't like them. Being smart's important.

TD: And you love to study, right?

NP: [laughs] You make me sound like a nerd. I don't love studying. I hate studying. I like learning. Learning is beautiful.

TD: What isn't beautiful about your life?

NP: There was this girl who spread rumors about me that people were only being nice to me because I was in movies. A lot of people were scared off because they didn't want to be seen sucking up to me. It was terrible. Now that's over, but she and this other girl still do mean things. Like this guy I know was going to have a party and we were going to go, and then this girl told everyone that his mom decided he couldn't have girls over. So we all made other plans--and then she took the guys to another party! Well, that's what's going on.

TD: When you're working on a film, do you like looking at dailies?

NP: No. I hate being self-conscious. When I'm conscious of being self-conscious, it's terrible.

TD: What are you self-conscious about?

NP: How I'm acting, how my body looks.

TD: Isn't that natural?

NP: At my age?

TD: [laughs] Do you think you'd have as much chance being an actress now, if you weren't as pretty as you are?

NP: I don't like that question. I think when people are truly talented they'll get jobs anyway. Maybe I have a better chance of being in a movie if I'm pretty, but it doesn't mean I have a better chance of getting a good role.

TD: I know how you feel, because some people say I got my job because I have an uncle [Jonathan Demme] in the film industry. What you're saying is, it insults you when people suggest you got a job because of the way you look.

NP: Exactly.

TD: Well, I think we've covered just about everything, pal.

Sunday Morning

Portman spoke with Interview again a few days later--just hours before she flew to strikebound Paris to continue playing her part in the Woody Allen movie musical due for release this fall.

Ingrid Sischy: Are you going to be able to get around over there, with all the transport workers on strike?

NP: Apparently, the traffic's pretty bad, but they have experts there telling us what streets to use.

IS: Experts, huh? That's funny.

NP: When we were making Beautiful Girls, they asked all these meteorologists where all the snow would be, because they wanted to look snowy. They all said, "Go to Minnesota. They'll have six feet of snow the whole winter, it'll be great." They said there'd be no snow in Massachusetts, where the story is supposed to take place. Of course, there was no snow in Minnesota and three feet in Massachusetts. We had to make our own. The crew got chunks of ice from a lake in Wisconsin and ground it into little snowflakes to be put on land. One day I ate some and everyone yelled at me. They were like, "Eeew, that's from a lake."

IS: [laughs] So you're off to Paris. Do you like it over there?

NP: I love it, but my favorite city is Amsterdam, because it's so open. I like how everything is allowed there. Prostitution is more open in Amsterdam than America, yet at the same time, Dutch children seem very innocent. It's nice to see these little kids dressed conservatively and clean-cut but they seem to grow up to be very open people. I think half the reason why so many people do drugs in our country is because it's not allowed. Drugs aren't so cool when you can get them anywhere and you're not going to get in trouble for taking them. In Holland, you have more of a choice. If you do drugs there, the chances are you're going to be safer than in our country where drugs are completely illegal but it's still possible to do them because they're so easy to get hold of.

IS: Here it's all under the carpet, and therefore less safe. Did you see Kids, Natalie?

NP: I wasn't allowed to.

IS: Some people said kids shouldn't see Kids, but to me, kids were the one group that should have definitely seen it.

NP: I do think there's a point where kids need to be protected. I can't say Kids is a good or bad movie for kids to see because I haven't seen it, but I've heard it shows kids invloved in drug use and a lot of sex. Where I live, nobody who's fourteen is having sex and doing major drugs. And I think if you see it in the movies, you may be influenced by it. I think it's so important to preserve your innocence.

IS: Well, to me, Kids definitely didn't romanticize sex or drugs. If anything, the movie brought the terror out. Besides, the power of anything, whether it's a book or a movie, isn't that it defines the way everybody is, but that it touches on reality for some people. Isn't that true of Kids?

NP: Yeah, but what I'm saying is that it's not everybody's reality. Many people, many kids, have monumental problems, but they don't need to be burdened by thinking, "What's gonna happen when I turn fourteen and I'm going to have to do drugs and have sex?"

IS: When you and Ted [Demme] talked about your new movie, Beautiful Girls, for Interview, the whole subject of importance of looks came up. I want to ask you more about this, but not in a "what's you favorite lipstick?" kind of way.

NP: Right. In everyday life I don't wear lipstick, by the way. [laughs] Of course, I put it on if it's required in a movie or for the mood of a photograph- -stuff like that.

IS: Beautiful Girls brings up the idea that our society's fixated on the way girls look. Do you find there's pressure on girls to look a certain way?

NP: There is pressure on guys, too. There's always pressure, from other people and yourself. If you're happy with the looks you're born with, then what are you going to do your whole life? [IS laughs] We keep thinking up new things and finding better ways of doing things because we're not happy with what we're given.

IS: Are kids you know having nose jobs?

NP: One of my friends from camp just got one. It doesn't make her look really any different, but it makes her feel so much better. She had a great personality before, but now she's just so much more open because she's not so self-conscious about her nose. Who cares if it's not the nose she was born with?

IS: It's pretty obvious to me that the movie business suggests it's necessary for actresses to look good if they're going to become big stars.

NP: That's not true. There are only three actresses I think are really gorgeous: Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, and Tyra Banks. I don't think that Demi Moore is so beautiful, and look at her. She's making more money than any other actress in Hollywood right now.

IS: What's the most beautiful thing about your life?

NP: Normalcy and privacy. My parents are great. We live in the same place we lived before I was doing movies, and we've got everything we want, nothing more. And I've got my dog and my best friend, Rachael.

IS: You were telling Ted about this girl you don't get along with. Have you tried talking to her about it?

NP: It's difficult to talk to her alone because she always has her crew with her.

IS: She's a gang leader?

NP: [laughs] No, I don't know anyone in a gang. The kids in my neighborhood who try and act tough and dress like hoods are all from rich families--they're all upper or upper-middle class. It's like being in a bubble that's not exposed to germs from the world. For example, my school is like the Clueless pop-culture school.

IS: But you're being exposed to germs all the time, because you're out there- -you're a working girl.

NP: Yeah, I carry that innocence from my home life with me and people don't want to wreck that. When people see I have never tried smoking or doing drugs, they don't do it around me.

IS: What's the most beautiful or ugly-sounding word to you?

NP: You can't the word 'enema' around my mom [IS laughs] because she had to have one when she was pregnant with me in Israel. The word 'coconut' makes me uncomfortable. There are some beautiful words, though. For example, I just love the way 'clutter' sounds.

IS: What's the most beautiful song to you?

NP: Right now, it's "Ben" by Michael Jackson. I know it's about a mouse, but I love it. It's such a beautiful song about friendship that I cry when I hear it. I also like "Ugly," by Juliana Hatfield. I just met her at Sam Goody [record store] because she was there for World AIDS Day. She was at the counter, and I went up and I'm like, "Oh my God!" I'm so in awe of singers. I'd love to meet Bjork. My dad took me to see her concert. It gave me chills to hear her singing [impersonates Bjork], "Oh, so, quiet...ssssh." I want to be like her so much when I grow up because she's just like a child.