With her raw performance as wounded waif Alice in “Closer” and an unexpectedly oddball rendering of an animal-loving epileptic in “Garden State,” Natalie Portman had crix in a tizzy about her “coming of age” this year.“It’s always gratifying to see that people are responding, but it’s nothing you can ever expect,” says Portman, 23, on the attention. “I don’t perceive myself as a full adult yet. It’s funny to hear people say that. I don’t think either of the roles are very adult. I think of them as still part child.” Because she was unsure about tackling the part of Alice, Portman knew it was a challenge worth attempting. “That’s always the best sign to do something — when it scares you. You can be assured you’ll go new places,” she explains. One such place: a strip club scene that had everyone abuzz. Thesp credits director Mike Nichols for keeping her at ease. “Not only did I trust his talent and intelligence and prudence,” she says, “he also created a safe environment for me so that during difficult scenes — and I mean emotionally and physically vulnerable scenes — I felt comfortable to just try everything.” Despite the hullabaloo over the scene, Portman points out that it can be more difficult to be emotionally revealing. “Physical intimacy is so much easier for us to achieve than emotional intimacy,” she relates. “I’m not an exhibitionist, but at the same time, I didn’t get anxiety before doing it. But being emotionally bare in front of people you don’t know that well — that’s what the movie talks about. It’s easier to show someone your physical side than to go deeper than that.” Pic’s tight-knit cast of four prepped by spending weeks together, figuring out “how to deliver the seven million emotions that are in each of these lines” says Portman. “They’re complicated words because they’re not expositional.” Given the script’s brutal wordplay, it was a good thing all four got along so well. “It’s so hard, especially when you like people, to have to say those things. Everyone was so caring and gentle to each other as soon as the scenes were over,” says Portman. “Like those games where you fall back and have to catch each other. We all had to do that for each other; each of us had to do things that were terrifying. “I repeatedly needed to be hugged after the scenes.”
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