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Playback: Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky on ‘Jackie’

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

On this week’s show, Jenelle Riley and I discuss Peter Berg’s “Patriots Day,” which wrapped up AFI Fest last week. Many consider it Berg’s best work to date, and a possible best picture play, but can it penetrate? And given the climate it’s opening into, how will it land with audiences? Releases on the way include “Moana,” “Allied,” “Lion” and “Rules Don’t Apply,” so we reflect on those as well, and we bat around Ben Affleck’s “Live By Night” as much as we can, given the embargo that’s in place. (We recorded prior to the announcement of the Spirit Award nominees on Tuesday so we’ll have to put a pin in that for a bit.)

Later in the show we’ve got a pair of interviews to tide you over during the holiday, first with “Jackie” star Natalie Portman (22:55) and then with the film’s producer, Darren Aronofsky (45:50). The two, of course, collaborated on the 2010 Oscar winner “Black Swan” and find themselves teaming up in a different creative way on Pablo Larrain’s art house biopic.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

Portman didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the performance so she jumped into everything at once — dialogue coaching, reading biographies, scouring YouTube for content that would help. It’s a heady role because so much is going on inside the character during the film, so many layers mixed with an outward self-awareness.

“Through the process with Pablo, who really had such an incredible approach creatively, it felt very fluid and open and we were always able to throw things in and try different approaches,” Portman says. “He really had an intention to show her as a human being and, I think, succeeded, because it’s a real refraction of a person, all the different roles we play and the different selves we have in different situations in our lives.”

And as we’re saying goodbye to one of the most inspirational First Ladies of our time in Michelle Obama, what does Portman think of FLOTUS’ legacy?

“She makes you admire the president even more for choosing someone like her to be next to him,” she says. “And what she’s done for health in this country and bringing a spotlight on eating properly and exercise and all of that work she’s done so well, she’s had such a clear agenda.”

We also talk about other projects, like her early work in Michael Mann’s “Heat,” lessons learned from “Closer” director Mike Nichols and being a part of the ever-expanding “Star Wars” universe.

“Now having a child, you see the ubiquity of everything ‘Star Wars’ in a child’s life, just the joy it brings,” Portman says. “Even if they haven’t seen it, by five they already know all the characters’ names and what light sabers are and Jedi mind control. It’s incredible how much of that infiltrates everyone’s minds. It’s really a big part of the culture and a lucky thing to be a part of.”

Aronofsky, meanwhile, was originally set to direct “Jackie” himself for a time. But then he served on the jury of the Berlin Film Festival in 2015, where he saw Pablo Larrain’s film “The Club.” Talking to the Chilean filmmaker at an after party one day, he discovered Larrain was interested in making an English-language film.

“It was clear to me this guy could do anything,” Aronofsky says. “But there were these titles [he was considering] that were completely wrong. And I was like, ‘No, no, no,’ and I started to think about what’s the best piece of material that I have that I haven’t made, and it was ‘Jackie.’ Sometimes someone from the outside who’s not dealing with the same perspective can bring incredible insight.”

Meanwhile, perhaps Aronofsky’s most towering achievement — “The Fountain” — is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Does it feel like that project, which was a difficult one to deliver into the world, is a decade old?

“Time is a strange thing, and that film is about time, so it’s a very strange thing,” he says. “It’s interesting because I think Rotten Tomatoes, it’s a pretty bad score, but the people who come up to me, probably more than any film I’ve done, that’s the one they can’t stop talking about. Film is about compromise and surrendering to the reality that’s put in front of you. So the film is, at that moment, the film that I was meant to make.”

Also, I tried my best to pry some more details out of Aronofsky about his upcoming film, “Mother,” which didn’t even have a title when we first recorded this discussion a few weeks back. No such luck.

“One of my favorite career moments was showing up in Venice with ‘The Wrestler’ and it was after ‘The Fountain’ and everyone said the career was over and no one knew what to expect, and it was great,” he says. “I like flying under the radar and giving as much surprise as we can.”

So between the turkey and the pumpkin pie, enjoy this week’s jam-packed episode via the streaming link above.

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

Natalie Portman photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety
Darren Aronofsky photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

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