Natalie Portman on the Power of Women and Feeling Like a Superhero
The actress and Dior ambassador mulls a few of her favourite subjects: motherhood, women supporting women and the pleasure of a long-wearing lipstick.
Natalie Portman is universally loved — which I now know, having casually mentioned to a few people that I would be interviewing her. Friends tried to find excuses to drop by my house at the time of the interview, couples gave each other that knowing look (she’s clearly the “hall pass” person) and my 13-year-old daughter, who named our car Padmé (Portman’s iconic Star Wars character) in her honour, momentarily thought I might be cool. All this adulation might explain why Portman chose to do the Zoom interview with her camera off — no surprise digital drop-ins from her vast fan base. This proved slightly awkward for me because instead of focusing on Portman, who is rather more practised than I am at being on camera, I had to hold the floor. (There were three invisible PR people on the call as well.)
Despite the challenging format, the minute Portman starts to talk, she puts me at ease. She has a warm, low voice with a hint of a smile in it — a voice that’s informed, in part, by her ability to speak several languages (Hebrew is her native tongue) and by the depth of intelligence behind it. We’re ostensibly here to chat about lipstick — specifically Rouge Dior Forever — but she deftly steers the conversation into deeper waters, acknowledging the frivolous fun of lipstick but also its shape-shifting powers. When I mention that I interviewed women in a war zone who talked about carefully putting on their lipstick each morning to maintain their sense of self, she is keen to discuss how empowering lipstick can be. “It really is a way to bring out sides of yourself and experiment with different ways of being and presenting yourself to the world,” she says.
Portman, as both a graduate in psychology from Harvard and an actor, has a deep understanding of the human psyche and how we all play different roles in our lives, whether out of necessity or desire. She has been a Dior ambassador for a long time and finds herself aligned with the values of the brand. “From the very beginning, Christian Dior has been creating something that celebrates women’s individuality and power — how you can combine femininity and power — and the values of the house are still very much in line with that, especially under Maria Grazia Chiuri’s leadership,” she expresses. “It’s really committed to expanding the possibilities of how we can be as women.”
Portman reveals that she usually keeps two shades of Dior lipstick in her bag, each reflecting different aspects of herself. “I have the 100 Nude Look, a neutral greige, and the 999 Forever Dior, a really classic red. I like having both for the most prominent sides of myself: earthy, natural, quiet me and bold, brash me.”
She is constantly exploring different ways women can be in the world, but all her roles have a common link: power. “There are so many women I’ve played who have power in different ways,” she says. “For Padmé Amidala, to be a young leader and to be advocating for democracy and freedom was one expression of it. Nina in Black Swan was quite powerful because she managed to kind of break free from her own prison and express herself for her own pleasure. And Jackie Kennedy was able to craft a legacy for her family largely by writing mythology. There was not much of a legacy because JFK’s presidency and life were cut short, but she managed to create this legend that has persisted so long through her storytelling.”
Portman herself has become a powerful figure in Hollywood. An advocate for closing the gender pay gap, she went public with her fight after discovering that Ashton Kutcher had been paid three times more than her in the romcom No Strings Attached. For the 92nd Academy Awards in 2020, she used her long-standing collaboration with Dior to create a visual protest. Her columnar black dress with a sheer gold-embroidered layer and a gold rope tie at the waist was topped by a black cape that had the snubbed female directors’ names elegantly embroidered in gold along one side. “I think we’ve been socialized so much to compete with each other; we need to come together as a team,” she explains. “One woman’s success is all of our success, and similarly one woman’s pain is all of our pain. It is something I try to practise in my life.”
It is these multi-faceted aspects of her character and her authenticity that make Portman’s appeal so enduring and multi-generational. She doesn’t take herself too seriously and happily acknowledges that her way of earning a living is privileged and fun compared to most. For the Rouge Dior Forever advert, she collaborated with artist and photographer Viviane Sassen and choreographer Madeline Hollander. “Viviane is such an extraordinary photographer, and Madeline is so inspiring with her work,” expresses the 41-year-old. “I later collaborated with Madeline on a music video I directed. And then Yara [Shahidi, Portman’s co-star in the advert] of course is someone I so admire and am inspired by. It really gives me a lot of optimism about the generation that is rising right now. Yara is brilliant, talented and focused on the right, good things.”
Until recently, Portman’s focus had been on her latest role as Jane Foster in Thor: Love and Thunder; it was an opportunity to play a superhero for the first time as her character gets to wield the hammer as the Mighty Thor. But this wasn’t her first taste of being a superhero. “I think that being a working mother sometimes makes you feel like a superhero,” she says. “It might not be the same as being the Mighty Thor, but when you feel like you can get the kids to school, make their lunch and dinner and do your meetings…it just feels like you can do anything.”
Portman embraces the changes her children have brought to her life and to her psyche. She is also incredibly appreciative of tools that make her life run more smoothly, like the 16-hour staying power of Dior’s new lipstick, which she’s the face of. “It’s not easy for me to keep my lipstick together during the day,” she says. “Of course, having children changes so many things. It makes everything matter more — you really care about the fate of the world, for better or for worse, and environmental concerns are very real. It also puts things in perspective: When you have something that matters so deeply in your life, you brush off the things at work that might otherwise seem like a bigger deal.” She pauses to sum it up. “You have new things to think about and appreciate; it’s a beautiful adventure” — a perfect summary of Portman’s life so far and one we’re all lucky enough to play a part in.
We asked the actor quick-fire questions about books, travel and more.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s October issue. Find out more here.