Hanging at a French château with Natalie Portman. Casual.
Natalie Portman knows exactly who she is.
“REBEL” AND “RULE BREAKER” ARE
not adjectives immediately associated with Natalie Portman—“considerate,” “soft-spoken,” “guarded” and “thoughtful” are—yet for the Israeli-born, U.S.-based award-winning actor, the no-rules rule applies. (Slasher generation, take note: Portman is the real deal, taking on, with absolute dedication, life as a director, screenwriter, activist, mom and wife...and not necessarily in that particular order.)
Hers is the sort of nonconformity that becomes evident in situations like this: When her son, Aleph, was two years old, Portman was asked about motherhood in an interview. With her signature considered approach to digesting a question and preparing an answer, she said that there are no rules about how to be a good mother and, equally, there are no rules about how to be a feminist.
Portman’s film career has spanned more than two decades so far, and she has an impressive body of work. She’s also the ambassador for the new Miss Dior, embodying the empowered, sensual, inspiring and mysterious woman the French couturier had envisioned when he launched his eponymous label in 1947.
Which brings us to today and Château de La Colle Noire, Christian Dior’s former country escape in France. Portman, dressed in Dior and barefoot, is standing on the expansive lawns of the enchanting Provençal home like it’s her own maison— for today, at least.
With breathtaking art (Dior immersed himself in art, and, as a young man, he and the then unknown Salvador Dali would go in search of art-nouveau pieces together) and spectacular views, the château’s tally of superlatives is infinite. And Portman looks ethereal. Her gaze is engaging, inviting.
With each look, a new Natalie steps forward: commanding in a black mod-inspired turtleneck by an elaborate staircase; contemplative in off-the-shoulder blue in Dior’s own office; carefree in laser-cut white by the pool. You get the sense that there are many more looks for many more characters beyond this hideaway. After all, the inner life of an actor is as richly textured as the wardrobes they wear while in character.
Everything about Portman feels effortless and natural, much like her career. You can’t ignore the hard fact that she remains one of the few child actors to have reached adulthood in the industry scandal-free and with numerous accolades (including an Oscar for Black Swan in 2011, which she accepted looking regal in a deep-purple Rodarte gown and very pregnant with her son). After finding fame as Queen Amidala in Star Wars: Episode 1 –The Phantom Menace while still in high school, Portman enrolled at Harvard to study psychology in 1999 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2003. That experience enabled her to just be Natalie Hershlag (her birth surname—Portman is her paternal grandmother’s maiden name) for a while—although she did complete two more episodes in the franchise while still in school. While she did act as a child, she had a normal upbringing with a doctor dad and artist mom in New York. She entered science fairs and attended theatre camps and was encouraged to follow her passions. h
“I REMEMBER AS A TEENAGER THINKING EVERYTHING ABOUT DIOR WAS SO CHIC.”
Now, as an adult, how she picks a role, and what resonates with her, is a visceral thing. The storyline and the character have to have meaning, purpose and a message. She found all of that in her directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness, based on the bestselling memoir of Israeli author Amos Oz, a book Portman read 10 years prior and with which she immediately connected.
As much as she tried to get experienced screenwriters to adapt it for her, it became evident that this was something she would need to tackle herself. She also took on the lead role of Fania (Oz’s mother), the nurturer and dreamer who, despite seeing her dreams fade, remains her son’s guiding force.
The life lessons that Fania imparts in this film are powerful, most notably in a scene where she addresses the delicate balance of speaking the truth and showing empathy. Lying next to her son, she says, “If you have to choose between telling a lie or insulting someone, choose to be generous.” Naively, her son asks, “I’m allowed to lie?” and her reply is universal and hits home: “Sometimes...yes.”
The complexity of that character is hardly a departure for the 36-year-old, who has previously stepped into the shoes of equally intriguing women: a power-hungry ballet dancer in Black Swan, royalty in The Other Boleyn Girl, a first lady in Jackie and a biologist in Annihilation, out next month. She’s also the narrator and producer of Eating Animals, a new documentary about factory farming that takes a hard look at the complicated moral issue of meat consumption today.
Ultimately, Portman hopes that whatever she brings to the big screen—as actor, director or producer—inspires, resonates with and evokes emotion in the audience. Caring about other people’s lives and journeying with them through their highs and lows—even if only for the duration of a film—shows empathy. That’s a core value that Portman and her French dancer/choreographer husband Benjamin Millepied are teaching Aleph and daughter Amalia.
There have been other roles in Portman’s 20-plus-year career, and there will be many more, but, increasingly, one feels her focus is beyond the gilded glory and accolades that may accompany each character depiction; it’s about purpose, kindness and meaning—in real life.
WHAT go to the WOULD ends of the YOU earth.” DO FOR LOVE? “I’d WHAT I S YOUR FAVOURITE LOVE STORY? “My own, with my husband!” WHAT LESSON ABOUT LOVE WOULD YOU LIKE TO PASS ON TO YOUR CHILDREN? “To treat others with love and respect.” WHAT SMELL FROM YOUR CHILDHOOD HAS ALWAYS MADE YOU FEEL FULL OF LOVE? “Jasmine.” IF LOVE WERE A FLOWER, WHICH ONE WOULD IT BE AND WHY? “Roses. They have a subtle scent under the surface that feels so internal.” WHAT LIKE? “Like DO Miss YOU Dior, THINK of course.” LOVE SMELLS DESCRIBE GRANCE IN THE THREE NEW WORDS. MISS DIOR “Sensual. FRAPassionate. Rebellious.” HOW DO YOU THINK THE NEW CAMPAIGN EXPRESSES THE IMAGE OF THE MISS DIOR EAU DE PARFUM? “Miss Dior has always symbolized a strong and confident woman, and I think this campaign in particular illustrates that side of her.” M I S S DIOR HAS ALWAYS BEEN KNOWN AS THE FRAGRANCE OF LOVE. HOW DOES THE NEW EAU DE PARFUM CONTINUE THIS ROMANTIC STORY? “I think that this one presents a more rebellious side of love. It shows all the different aspects of love—the passion and the tenderness and the joy and the ferocity.” WITH THE APPOINTMENT OF ITS FIRST FEMALE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, DIOR IS EMBRACING FEMININITY MORE THAN EVER. DO YOU SEE THIS EVOLUTION ALSO REFLECTED IN THE COMPOSITION OF THE NEW FRAGRANCE? “Yes, I do. I see it reflected in the duality of the fragrance. While the perfume has sweet, soft and loving notes, it also has deep, earthy undertones that represent the different facets of the modern woman. We can be both elegant and strong.” IF YOU THINK BACK, WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU GOT IN TOUCH WITH MISS DIOR? “I remember as a teenager thinking everything about Dior was so chic.” WHAT IMAGE DO YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE BUILT WITH MISS DIOR, AND DOES IT REFLECT AN ASPECT OF h
YOUR OWN PERSONALITY? “My favourite part of being involved with the Miss Dior campaign is being able to represent a woman who is smart, sexy, strong and feminine all rolled into one.” DOES THE SCENT OF MISS DIOR EVOKE A PARTICULAR FEELING OR MEMORY
FOR YOU? “It was pretty incredible to visit Grasse in the South of France with [perfumer] François Demachy. We witnessed the harvesting of the rose de Grasse, which is used to make Miss Dior, and it was a magical experience that helped me understand the art of what goes into making the perfume.” WHAT I S YOUR RITUAL WHEN IT COMES TO WEARING FRAGRANCE? “I like to spritz it in the air and walk through it so the scent settles subtly.” WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU WORE PERFUME? “I was given a bottle by Jean Reno when I worked on The Professional [as a child], and I thought it was so incredibly special. I never wanted it to run out.” WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SMELL? “Jasmine or orange blossom.” CHRISTIAN DIOR WAS PASSIONATE ABOUT FLOWERS. HE ONCE SAID “AFTER WOMEN, FLOWERS ARE THE MOST DIVINE CREATIONS.” DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE BLOOM? “Peonies, because they open so magically, like a closed fist to an outreached hand.”
All clothing and accessories by Dior. For details, see Shopping Guide. Stylist, Kate Young; makeup, Peter Philips, using Dior makeup; hair, Bryce Scarlett; manicure, Nelly Ferreira