Port­man’s pop-star dreams come to life in ‘Vox Lux’

Actress gets a chance to ex­pand her chops

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - An­drea Man­dell

LOS AN­GE­LES – This awards sea­son finds fa­mous faces trad­ing places.

As Lady Gaga morphs into a movie star un­der the lights of “A Star Is Born,” this week a glit­ter-doused Natalie Port­man will be anointed a le­git pop star in “Vox Lux” (in the­aters Fri­day in New York, Los An­ge­les and San Fran­cisco, ex­pands to ad­di­tional cities Dec. 14, in­clud­ing Bos­ton, Chicago, Den­ver, Detroit and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.).

Em­body­ing a pop queen was “kind of a child­hood dream, with a hair­brush in front of the mir­ror,” says the 37year-old Os­car win­ner, sit­ting in­side an empty theater just off Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard.

But “Vox Lux” is far from bub­blegum fare. The drama tack­les the dark un­der­belly of pop su­per­star­dom while si­mul­ta­ne­ously ex­plor­ing the preva­lence of gun vi­o­lence across the U.S.

“I think all of us as cit­i­zens are at the sort of tip­ping point of say­ing it’s enough – it’s too much,” Port­man says. “And it’s not pos­si­ble that our gov­ern­ment can ig­nore more than 12,000 peo­ple killed this year alone by other cit­i­zens.”

“Vox Lux” splits it­self into two parts: In the first hour, a teenage Ce­leste (Raffey Cassidy) ex­pe­ri­ences the ter­ror of a school shoot­ing. Ce­leste man­ages to sur­vive and cre­ates a bal­lad for her class­mates’ me­mo­rial, which goes vi­ral. Mu­sic scouts de­cide she’s in the right place at the right time to be­come a sen­sa­tion. (Cue Jude Law play­ing her dogged, if ques­tion­able, man­ager.)

Port­man picks up the story 18 years later as 30-some­thing Ce­leste, now a global su­per­star and bona fide hit­maker (Sia wrote Ce­leste’s songs for the film). In pri­vate, the char­ac­ter is bawdy and mer­cu­rial, a wealthy woman at the cen­ter of a fre­netic world that or­bits around drugs, sex, booze, scan­dals and fam­ily drama. The me­dia love it. Her daugh­ter hates it. It is so 2018.

Like her char­ac­ter, Port­man has been fa­mous since child­hood, but she opines that mu­si­cians have it worse. “Peo­ple who suc­ceed in mu­sic, their fan­dom is much larger than any ac­tor, and it’s them as them­selves whereas ac­tors are in char­ac­ter,” she says. “There’s a differ­ence in ex­pec­ta­tion.”

Push past the ador­ing crowds, and pain is the heart­beat of “Vox Lux” as Ce­leste strug­gles to get a han­dle on her demons. The film in­tends to paint a por­trait of what the early aughts have wrought, di­rec­tor Brady Cor­bet says, and grounds it­self in two at­tacks that gripped the na­tion: the 1999 Columbine school shoot­ing and 9/11.

Cor­bet views “Vox Lux” akin to a time cap­sule. “When peo­ple look back at the 21st cen­tury, they’re go­ing to re­mem­ber Columbine, 9/11, Don­ald Trump and Kanye West. And I think it’s im­por­tant to reflect on it,” he says.

So could “Vox Lux” land at the Os­cars? Port­man was last nom­i­nated in 2017 for the Kennedy drama “Jackie” and won her best-actress statue in 2011 for “Black Swan.” Her lat­est film has an 84 per­cent “fresh” rat­ing on Rot­ten Toma­toes, and crit­ics are cheer­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of Port­man into a diva-sized mon­ster. “It’s go-for-broke work from Port­man,” hailed Va­ri­ety critic Guy Lodge.

Th­ese days, Port­man says, it’s about push­ing her­self out of her com­fort zone.

“I’ve been do­ing things re­cently that are like child­hood dream jobs: pop star, as­tro­naut,” she says. (Port­man next plays NASA as­tro­naut Lucy Cola in “Pale Blue Dot.”)

“I al­ways want to try some­thing that’s like very differ­ent from who I am in real life.”

DAN MACMEDAN/USA TO­DAY

Natalie Port­man plays a pop star on the edge in “Vox Lux.”

AT­SUSHI NISHIJIMA

“Vox Lux” fea­tures Port­man singing orig­i­nal songs by Sia.

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