Natalie Portman on Her Cannes Directorial Debut, What’s Next and Hollywood’s Gender Gap

When Natalie Portman made her directorial debut on Saturday night at the Cannes Film Festival with “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” she joined a small group of actresses who took the leap behind the camera. “There’s absolutely a disparity,” says Portman, 33, of Hollywood’s gender crisis. “That’s a statistical fact. Why that is, I don’t really know. I am excited, though, that there are so many wonderful women emerging now and directing.”

A Tale of Love and Darkness” is based on Amos Oz’s best-selling memoir about growing up in Jerusalem in the ’40s and ’50s. Portman shot the film, in which she also stars (as Oz’s mother), in 40 days in Jerusalem and the northern regions of Israel. She spoke to Variety about the project, how the late Mike Nichols helped her with it and if she’ll direct again.

You’ve been in the business for most of your life. At what age did you start to think about directing?
Actually, quite early. I think I was like 13. It’s really such an incredible opportunity as an actor to be on so many directors’ sets. Most directors don’t get to observe so many directors in action. There’s an element of apprenticeship to it.

Were you always studying other directors?
I don’t know about studying, but absorbing is more accurate. It becomes second nature when you literally grow up on film sets, the ritual of filmmaking. You know all the little pieces. Not all the pieces. There were certainly surprises. Post-production was completely new to me.

Did you reach out to some of your director friends for advice?
Yeah. Darren Aronofsky was great about reminding me to remember my reason for making it throughout the entire process, which was really helpful to always have the voice I had [from the beginning]. Terry Malick was very supportive, reminding me not to listen to anyone who was trying to make it more conventional. He said, “Don’t listen to people who tell you to have a three-act structure.” And Mike Nichols was very supportive. I had my dream team of people I was calling and asking for help.

How did Mike Nichols help?
He looked at my script when I finished it and gave me feedback. He watched my film in the editing room. I was very lucky.

Were there other features you had wanted to make before this one?
No, this is definitely the first. When I read the book 10 years ago, it was the first time I read a book and saw it as a film in my mind. I’m sure that’s in large part thanks to Amos’ writing, but also I think I connected so personally with my own family’s mythology and I felt a kinship with the material.

When did you meet Amos?
It was probably 2007. I originally was talking to other writers about adapting it for me. I had such specific ideas about it, all the writers I talked to were like, “I think should do this yourself.” So I started. I’d write and leave it a little and come back and rewrite. It was one of my favorite parts of the process. It’s sort of the only part of the process that you do alone. There’s something special in that.

Are you going to direct again?
I would love to, and I do intend to. I’m going to act a little first. And then yes, I will go back and direct some more.

Could you see yourself making a big-studio movie?
I have no idea. You start with the story and the story informs the budget. I would never say no to anything. I’m open to anything.

You’ve had a handful of projects announced this week at Cannes. What are you doing next?
“Planetarium.” I’m putting my energy on working on my French.

And you’re also playing Jackie Kennedy.
It’s obviously a fascinating subject material and also Pablo Larrain is a phenomenal director that Darren introduced me to. I’m a big admirer.

You’ve appeared in the first two “Thor” films. Do you think you’ll ever be in an “Avengers” movie.
I have no idea.

They offer an excuse for why your character isn’t in this one.
Oh really? I haven’t seen it yet. I’m embarrassed.

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