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V FOR VENDETTA: Talking with Natalie Portman

by  in Movie News, TV News Comment
V FOR VENDETTA: Talking with Natalie Portman
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    On June 1st, 2005, CBR News took part in a round-table interview with “V for Vendetta” actress Natalie Portman. The interivew lasted a little more than 20 minutes and the questions ranged from the many challenges her role posed, on shaving her head (which quite a big deal was made of in the mainstream press), working opposite a man wearing a mask, her upcoming movie work and much more. For more of our coverage of “V for Vendetta,” see the related stories box in the upper right hand corner.

    So what attracted you to this script? Have you read the graphic novel?

    I read the comic after I read the script and I really think it’s an action movie and a graphic novel that talk, that make you think a lot about violence, how we categorize violence, how we differentiate between state violence and individual violence, and how we define terrorism and all of that, and I think it deals with really relevant issues and after I read it, it just made me think so much about all of my pre-conceived ideas about all of these topics.

    So it’s a comedy then?

    Exactly! [laughs] There are actually comedic parts in it. I think you have to. It’s a world, and when you’re creating a world, there’s always light, you’re not gonna feel the heavy parts, unless you feel the light parts. too.

    When you look at the differences between the graphic novel and the final screenplay, what do you think are some of the improvements that they made?

    I don’t know about improvements, but it really keeps to the graphic novel, it keeps the integrity of the story and a lot of the dialogue is directly from it. I think probably the really impressive thing that Andy and Larry did when adapting the graphic novel into the screenplay was how to find just one story. You know, the graphic novel takes place in three parts. And there’s several different storylines that are wonderful in a graphic novel, but in a movie, you would have people sitting around all day, or you can make a trilogy if you wanted to, but to make it into one movie, I think, the effective thing with their adaptation had to do with, how to consolidate it, take out character threads that were distracting, that kind of thing. But I think it’s pretty true to the graphic novel.

    It’s a very British graphic novel. And it’s sort of more difficult in its British-ness than something that’s a period piece. Do you feel that the screenplay has preserved that?

    Yeah, I think it is definitely a British piece, but I think something that is strong about it, is that it also speaks to America, and the American political situation right now, not to mention everywhere else in the world where there’s political unrest or anything of the like. I think it’s important that it takes place in a specific time and place, and I think with the art direction, production design, and direction and acting, we are keeping it very British, in terms of where the story takes place, but I think, also trying to give it the feel that it has a universal story that isn’t specific, that it couldn’t only happen in England.

    A lot of times with movie adaptations of books, the original authors will say that they didn’t like it, but there’s something a little different happening with this one, as the writer of the graphic novel doesn’t want the movie to be made – if he could stop it, he would. How does that make you feel?

    I have no idea. I really don’t know about that. I know that all of us making this are obviously huge fans of the graphic novel and want to be as true to it as possible, and hope that it pleases Alan Moore because all of us are such fans of his, and obviously we’re so inspired by what he wrote to work on this.

    Have you read any of his other works?

    No, I’m not a big comic, graphic novel type of person, but I didn’t really know much about that whole world until this film. I never thought that they actually had…real stories [laughs[. I was completely ignorant about it. It was really impressive to see something that had such a serious intellectual side that was also, beautifully drawn and realized.

    The Shadow Gallery is a really impressive part of the graphic novel, it’s a surreal place. How was the set in Berlin?

    The set is incredible.

    Can you describe it a little bit?

    I’m a moron with architecture terms [laughs], so I’m not even gonna try, but it’s got these domed ceilings, and all of this modern stuff back to Rembrandt, with old records, pianos, chandeliers, this amazing huge world that they made, and obviously books everywhere, just like the graphic novel.

    What about the character really appealed to you? Evey herself is a pretty demanding part in the graphic novel.

    I think it’s because she starts off as this passive character, which is like the “everyman,” who’s just sort of like, “The government’s pretty horrible, but I’m just gonna try and keep my head down, go forward, go on with my life and let it work,” and she gets swept up into this by accident, and then slowly learns to understand the political situation and that she has to become active. So, it’s a really exciting arc, someone getting their political consciousness. And it’s strange, I mean it’s bizarre, the way that all comes about.

    Did doing this make you re-examine your own political ideologies or was it just a movie?

    Definitely. I think the biggest thing for me is we have so many ways of categorizing violence, which I talked about before. Look at our legal system and the difference between manslaughter and first-degree murder or the difference between a hate crime and a regular crime and what are the differences between these. And then you look at something like the difference between a terrorist act and George Washington blowing things up during the American Revolution, fighting against the British Army. These definitions are such fine-line definitions and ultimately, for me, violence is all bad [laughs], and it’s sort of weird to categorize it, as it’s arbitrary sometimes and obviously we have “good violence” and “bad violence.”

    Something that George Lucas was saying when we were doing all the press for “Star Wars” was, “Bad people usually think they’re doing something good, they usually think they’re doing it for the right reason.” It’s not like they’re like, “I’m bad!” [laughs]. They usually do have their reasons for it. So, if we can justify violence for our reasons, we have to understand that other people justify violence for their reasons. I think it our whole conception of violence very ambiguous. For this film, I re-watched “The Weather Underground” documentary and there’s an interesting part where a member of “The Weather Underground” was talking about how in America, we tend to think of state violence as the only legitimate violence, and any violence other than a government-Army type violence, we think of as criminal or insane, only criminals or insane people commit that type of violence.

    And obviously, at that exact same time, our history is littered with martyrs that we’ve created, of people who just as our so-called enemies have right now, people who we say are fighting against injustice and used violence to overcome injustice. So, at the same time it’s an accepted means and the most detested means to overcome injustice.

    How was it for you, as an actress, to deal with a lead actor being replaced during shooting? [Actor Hugo Weaving replaced actor James Purefoy (“Rome”) about a month into shooting.]

    It’s difficult because James, who was originally playing V, is a wonderful actor and a really wonderful guy, and Hugo obviously is amazing as well. They’re both just fine people and fine actors, so it’s difficult, but it’s been smooth and it’s been a very calm transition. It wasn’t as traumatic as it was just that stuff wasn’t working, they were trying to figure it out and it happens sometimes on movies.

    And for you, as an actress?

    Well, obviously they’re both amazing, but each in their very unique ways, so it’s challenging and it’s also hard, because it’s surprising, but it’s been wonderful with both of them. Also, I think the Director’s relationship with both actors is also very good and kind. I mean, it wasn’t like there was any nastiness involved, they were just trying things out because it’s so tricky – I mean, the guy is in a frozen mask during the whole movie, it’s virtually impossible to pull off. I think they needed to try out different things.

    How was it for you, acting against a mask?

    When you have a great actor beneath the mask, it’s amazing how much can come through. Also, it’s part of my character that she’s also dealing with someone in a mask, it’s different than working, for instance, in “Star Wars” with a blue screen and an “X” tape, because then you’re trying to imagine something actually moving. With my character in this film, she’s always wondering “What’s going on behind there? What does he look like? Who is he?” That whole feeling is always there, so you use it.

    Is there a lot of CGI in the film?

    Not for me, there was virtually no blue screen in the film. But there will be a lot of effects, but I think a lot of it will be put in later. There’s some blue screen stuff, but I can say that I only did about 3 or 4, shots even, not even whole scenes. There’s a lot of action, but they’re shooting it “for real,” most of it.

    How did the comic book influence how you see the character and how she moves?

    You definitely get a sense of her physicality and facial expressions and all of that from the comic book. Then again, my character is probably the most changed from all the characters. First of all, I’m older. In the graphic novel she’s 16, and now I’m 22 in this, so that’s one big difference, obviously. First night as a street walker in the graphic novel, but in the film, she just has a regular job at a television station. So, I can take clues, but not base it exactly on her, since the character has been altered somewhat.

    It seems like a lot of actresses after they get Oscar nominations, they move into more genre type films. What informed you to take this kind of role, although you probably signed on to this before your nomination?

    Yeah, I had signed on to this before the nomination. I just want to do something different because I get bored really easily and I need to something completely new and interesting to stay as focused as I like to be with my work. I always try to do something different. Every film that I do, I try to make it the opposite of the last thing I did, or as far as the last thing I did as possible.

    Any truth to the rumors about “The Professional 2?”

    No, but I wish there was! I would love to do it, but as far as I know, as far as anyone has talked to me about it, it’s only from online rumors. Cause I talk to Luc [Besson] all the time, the director [of “The Professional”] and he has never mentioned it to me. And I tell him that if he directed it, I would do it in a second, but –

    When is he going to direct again at all?

    I think he’s directing a children’s film right now…an animated film called “Arthur and the Minimoys.”

    Are the reconditioning scenes as grueling as they were in the book?

    They’re pretty tough. It’s always hard to say before you see a movie cut or anything, since I don’t know how much will be left in or anything like that. But what we shot, is pretty rough.

    How did you like the attention that “Garden State” received?

    I was really, really proud of it and it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever worked on, and I mean Zach [Braff] is so talented, it was all him, obviously – he wrote it, he directed it, he starred in it. It speaks to his talent that people connected to it so much.

    The ending is a little controversial, how did you feel about that?

    Why is the ending controversial, because it’s happy? [laughs]

    Pretty much.

    Whatever. If people don’t want to be happy, they can, you know. They’d also complain if it was sad, because then they’d be like “I’m sad and it made me sadder.” [laughs]

    Do you know what you’re doing next?

    I’m starting “Goya’s Ghosts” with Milos Forman in September, which is very exciting. And then I’m doing a film next year which is called “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” which is a children’s film, directed by Zach Helm, who wrote “Stranger Than Fiction,” which is shooting right now. He’s a really wonderful writer.

    Thanks, Natalie!

    Thanks, guys. See you later, nice meeting you all.

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