Hang­ing at a French château with Natalie Portman. Ca­sual.

Natalie Portman knows ex­actly who she is.

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - By Tidi Ben­benisti


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


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

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