Portman’s pop-star dreams come to life in ‘Vox Lux’
Actress gets a chance to expand her chops
LOS ANGELES – This awards season finds 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 first hour, a teenage Celeste (Raffey 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 fide hitmaker (Sia wrote Celeste’s songs for the film). 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 difference 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 film 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 reflect 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 film 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 different from who I am in real life.”
Natalie Portman plays a pop star on the edge in “Vox Lux.”
“Vox Lux” features Portman singing original songs by Sia.