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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Natalie Portman

Will 'Jupiter' be a stop on Natalie Portman's post-baby trip?

January 4, 2012 |  6:10 pm

A year ago, Natalie Portman was the hottest actress around. The “Black Swan” star was sweeping awards and earning the sine qua non of actor heat, the "Saturday Night Live" parody. She even survived an ill-timed dorky laugh.

But Portman didn’t get to indulge in the main perk that comes from winning an Oscar — booking a big, prestigious movie. Portman was five months pregnant when she accepted the golden statuette last February, and pretty much stopped working afterward so she and costar/choreographer Benjamin Millipied could have their son, Aleph, who was born in June. She hasn’t worked since. (Portman could be seen in several movies last spring — “Your Highness” and “Thor” — but she shot those before her pregnancy.)

Could Portman soon be coming out of her baby-induced hiatus? According to a person briefed on the project who was not authorized to talk about it publicly, the actress has been courted by Lana and Andy Wachowski to star in “Jupiter Ascending,” the science-fiction movie the filmmakers aim to shoot when they finish cutting their much-anticipated “Cloud Atlas.” Portman, the person said, was seriously weighing taking the part.

“Jupiter,” a Warner Bros. project whose plot details have remained tightly under wraps, would reunite Portman with the “Matrix” filmmakers after the two collaborated on the graphic-novel adaptation “V for Vendetta” back in 2006. And “Jupiter” tentatively aims to start production in the fall of 2012, which would give the actress more time with her infant if she wanted it. A representative for Portman did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

“Jupiter” wouldn’t be the first science-fiction film Portman has expressed interest in; for a time she was set to star in “Gravity,” Alfonso Cuaron’s space-traveling tale, before dropping out. (Sandra Bullock, who won the lead actress Oscar the year before Portman, wound up with the part.)

In the meantime, Portman also could be getting busy on a more starchy subject on the other side of the camera — she’s keen on making a documentary about veganism based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Eating Animals,” according to items posted Wednesday. She’s also attached to “Thor 2,” but there’s no word on whether Marvel will move forward with the sequel.

Of course, the larger question is whether Portman will be able to regain the heat she had a year ago. Producers and the public often don’t bat an eye at a year at a small maternity leave. But they also have short memories — just ask Julia Roberts, who for a time slipped down the Hollywood food chain when she took time off to raise a family.


Natalie Portman's 'Swan' baby

'Black Swan' gets a big mainstream push

Jim Carrey puts on his chicken wings

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Natalie Portman in "Thor." Credit: Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios


How should Natalie Portman and other celebrities react to the John Galliano scandal?

March 2, 2011 |  9:20 am

Numerous stars have worn or wear Christian Dior -- not just fashion-first fixtures but Oscar-level performers such as Michelle Williams, Marion Cotillard and Charlize Theron, the last of whom was once a fragrance spokeswoman for them.

Dior is, as everyone within smelling distance of a news site knows, a brand that has become charged after its chief designer, John Galliano, became embroiled in an anti-Semitism scandal. As my colleagues Adam Tschorn and Booth Miller write Wednesday, after the designer was accused by several people in Paris of making anti-Semitic remarks, a man who appeared to be the designer was shown on video saying he "loved Hitler" and had several off-screen women lived decades ago they'd now be "gassed ... and dead." Dior responded by saying it was going to fire Galliano. (Associates of Galliano said Wednesday morning that he has plans to enter rehab.)

In a stroke of unfortunate timing, the actress currently associated with Dior -- and in fact whose commercial for the brand is currently airing on national television -- also just happens to be in the spotlight for her Oscar win. Natalie Portman, a spokeswoman for Dior's Miss Cherie fragrance, severed her ties with Dior as the Galliano scandal picked up momentum.

A designer is, of course, different than an actor. When Mel Gibson sparks controversy, even longtime friends can remain quiet, suggesting, essentially, that's his problem to deal with. If John Gallliano makes racist or anti-Semitic remarks, an entire brand goes with him.

Portman did not remain quiet. "I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video," the actress said in a statement Tuesday. "In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way."

She may -- or may not -- have made those comments earlier had a representative for the motion-picture academy not stepped in.

Backstage at the Oscars on Sunday night, a reporter said she noticed Portman wasn't wearing Dior that night (she was wearing Rodarte, which makes sense given that the designer was behind the "Black Swan" costumes, but no matter), and  went on to ask how she felt about Galliano's alleged anti-Semitic remarks (this was before the video surfaced). The actress actually didn’t look that bothered by the question, and in fact may have been ready to answer it, but before she could, the person from the academy in charge of calling on reporters jumped in to say that we were going to move on to the next question, and the reporter sat down with Portman not saying anything.

The academy spokesperson got Portman off the hook of a thorny issue. For actors, reacting to a scandal like this is almost less a question of how but when. Respond too soon and you risk being tainted by that scandal; wait too long and you risk looking spineless.

The Charlie Sheen circus currently playing out presents its own issues for big-screen actors -- no doubt Colin Farrell, Sean Penn and even Mel Gibson are grimacing at being outed for an association with Team Winning. But the fashion and movie worlds are now so intertwined that when a controversy hits, some of the trickiest questions are those that confront Hollywood actors.


John Galliano fallout: Christian Dior takes steps to fire the designer

Oscars: Natalie Portman on baby names and life changes

Natalie Portman: an actress sacrifices for her art

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Natalie Portman (in Rodarte) at the Oscars. Credit: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

Oscars: What's next for the winners?

February 28, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Yourhighness They might have stood on the most prestigious stage in Hollywood on Sunday night. But this year’s Academy Award winners won’t necessarily be in Oscar mode when they next pop up on a movie screen.

Because they took jobs before the awards angel landed on their shoulders — or because they simply want to perform in  diverse roles — many of the winners will star in more commercial films than the ones that netted them their statuettes.

In April, Natalie Portman will appear in the (not exactly Oscar-like) stoner comedy “Your Highness" (and opposite Oscar co-host James Franco). Just a month later, she’ll star as a scientist in a Marvel superhero movie, "Thor," the new take on the Norse god. (She'll also appear in a supporting role in the independent drama “Hesher,” which is expected to get a limited release.)

After that? It could be a while before we see the pregnant actress on screen again; Portman said backstage at the Oscars on Sunday that she had no idea how impending motherhood would affect the roles she takes. “One of the exciting things about becoming pregnant is that I’m expecting a complete unknown,” she said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Candid quotes from the red carpet and beyond

Melissa Leo, the “Fighter” costar who provided the, er, most colorful moment of the Oscars during her acceptance speech for supporting actress, will next make more niche appearances on the big screen. She’ll play a gun-toting member of a homophobic cult in Kevin Smith’s “Red State,” which the filmmaker is self-distributing in October, and she’ll star in an independent golf dramedy titled “Seven Days in Utopia,” which does not yet have a theatrical distributor. (She also has a recurring role on HBO’s post-Katrina New Orleans-set series “Treme.”)

After years of romantic comedy roles leading up to his turn as George VI in “The King’s Speech,” lead actor winner Colin Firth is skewing a little bit more commercial than the film that landed him his statuette — but only a little bit.

The English actor will next be seen in the adaptation of John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” a film he was shooting while promoting “The King’s Speech” this season. He plays a British intelligence officer (code name Tailor) suspected of being a Russian mole. The espionage drama, whose rights have just been acquired by Universal Pictures, does not yet have a release date.

 Firth this summer also aims to shoot Park Chan-Wook’s “Stoker,” a mystery drama that will put him in a film with another 2011 award-season personality, Nicole Kidman.

PHOTO GALLERY: Behind the scenes of the 2011 Academy Awards

And Christian Bale? He's spent the last part of his Oscar campaign in an artistically rigorous place: in China shooting a part as a heroic priest in the Asian period piece “The 13 Women of Nanjing." But blockbusters aren’t too far from the actor’s mind; Bale will reprise his superhero role in “The Dark Knight Rises,” which is scheduled for the summer of 2012.

“When I finish the movie in China,” he told reporters Sunday, “it’s straight to Batman. Much more Batman.”

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Natalie Portman, Danny McBride, center, and James Franco in "Your Highness." Credit: Universal


Oscar speeches: navel-gazing or proper thanks?

February 28, 2011 |  2:08 pm

Every year, Oscar nominees are admonished: If you win, make your acceptance speech memorable. Few, though, seem to be listening.

At the luncheon for Academy Award nominees held annually a few weeks before the show, the broadcast’s producers deliver the message. You’re facing a global audience of millions, they advise, so think very carefully about what you want to say. Don’t recite a list of people no one outside of Hollywood has heard of.

"Reading a long list of names only shows us your bald spot," Tom Hanks said in a video filled with bad speeches shown at this year’s luncheon. Oscar producer Don Mischer even cautioned that whenever a winner unfurls a piece of paper, hundreds of thousands of viewers tune out of the show.

PHOTO GALLERY: Candid quotes from the red carpet and beyond

Colleen Atwood, who won the costume design Oscar for “Alice in Wonderland,” was at the luncheon, but didn’t seem to heed the warning Sunday night, pulling out a long roster of people to thank.

A number of winners acknowledged parents, children and significant others. But the 2011 broadcast was also notable for how many people thanked their agents, managers and publicists — who of course are paid richly to promote their clients’ careers. 

PHOTO GALLERY: Best and Worst of the 2011 Academy Awards

Some may blame hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway for the show’s ratings, which according to early projections were off 7% from a year ago. But perhaps there’s another reason: No one in America knows — or cares — who an actor’s agent is.

Some excerpts of the inside-Hollywood thank-yous from Sunday’s winners:

Natalie Portman, lead actress for “Black Swan”: “…I want to thank my team who works with me every day. Aleen Keshishian, my manager, for 18 years and my agents Kevin Huvane and everyone at CAA. Bryna and Tamar at ID, my friends who are everything to me no matter what's going on in my career.”

Aaron Sorkin, adapted screenplay for “The Social Network”: “There are a lot of people who've worked hard in my corner for a long time, it seems like the right moment to thank them. My assistant Lauren Lohman, my researcher, Ian Reichbach, my long suffering press rep, Joy Fehily, and all the women of Prime, Rich Heller, Bill Tanner, Andy Forshay, my agents Ari Emanuel and Jason Spitz who never blow my cover and reveal that I would happily do this for free….”

Christian Bale, supporting actor for “The Fighter”: “…My team, led by Patrick and Boomer and Carlos and Jen and Anna and Julie, thank you so much for everything that you do.”

--John Horn

Photo of Natalie Portman at the 83rd Academy Awards. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times


Oscars: Natalie Portman and Colin Firth win top acting awards

February 27, 2011 |  8:46 pm

Natalieosc Yeah Natalie; Ye-ye-yeah Colin!!!

I guess the surprise would have been if Natalie Portman hadn't won for her soul-destroyed ballerina in "Black Swan." It may be the defining performance in her career, so visceral it was, so true did it feel. It was one of my favorites of the year the moment I saw it. She came into the night on a tsunami of support -- Indie Spirit award, Golden Globe, SAG, she even got the British vote from BAFTA. That girl can fly.

How wonderful is Colin Firth? He had racked up a whole bunch of gold too -- Globes, SAG, BAFTA too. Stepping onstage to accept his trophy, he came with the threat of dance moves, as only the still stiff upper-lipped Brit so winningly, wryly could. What can you say about the performance? So moving, so much dignity. Onscreen or off, in character or not, he is such a class act.

Though considering the performance this year, maybe next year the academy should consider ties....


Red carpet photos

Oscar scorecard

Complete coverage: The Oscars

-- Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Natalie Portman and fiancee Benjamin Millepied arrive at the Academy Awards. Credit: Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press/MCT 


Critical Mass: 'No Strings Attached'

January 21, 2011 |  2:17 pm


Back in December, when critics everywhere were lavishing praise upon Natalie Portman's performance in "Black Swan," she appeared to have a lock on the best actress Oscar. But then the trailer for "No Strings Attached" was released, and a chill wind blew through Hollywood. Suddenly, pundits everywhere were calling this Ivan Reitman-directed romantic comedy "Natalie Portman's 'Norbit' " and predicting that Portman's award season fate would parallel that of Eddie Murphy in 2007, when the "Dreamgirls" star had his award dreams shattered by the trailers for him in drag and in a fat suit. (The double death!)

So now that "No Strings Attached" is out and in the wild, how is it faring among critics? Is it the atrocious train wreck that Portman supporters feared it would be?

Well, it's bad. But Portman's awards team can rest easy: It's not nearly as bad as "Norbit."

The problem, at least according to The Times' Betsy Sharkey, is that "an obsession with raunchy one-liners trips everything up, turning a clever conceit into something closer to a sleazy, cheesy affair."

Sharkey makes sure the blame is spread evenly, with the burden not landing too heavily on any one player. But she does bring up the specter of "Norbit," however subtly, when she writes, "this will not be the performance that Portman is remembered for (though it does make for some interesting coupling comparisons coming as it does amid the Oscar push for "Black Swan.")"

Continue reading »

Black Swan Theory: Watch movie. Drink tequila. Then what?

January 7, 2011 |  6:20 pm

Marketers frequently piggyback on movies they have nothing to do with. But of all the tie-ins floating around out there, this one, from a tequila bottler, has to be one of the most tenuous:

"As Black Swan prepares to dominate the box office again this weekend," began the press release that landed in our inbox this afternoon, "and with news of stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis’ dark, tequila induced sex scene making waves around the internet, the folks at DOBELTequila have created this one of a kind BLACK SWAN COCKTAIL, inspired by the psychological thriller. After this one part sexy, one part sinister scene, you’ll need a strong drink."

Forget the barely noticeable relationship between drink (amaretto, black raspbery liqueur and tequila, in case you're curious) and movie. We're not sure how many marketing benefits there are to connecting your drink with the Portman-Kunis scene in the first place. Drink our product and you too will have lesbian sex in your childhood bedroom while your mother angrily waits in the next room? Some associations are best left unmade.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Mila Kunis. Credit: Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times


Natalie Portman's 'Other' movie, now on screen

January 3, 2011 | 11:44 am


It's been a busy few months for Natalie Portman. First there is the awards campaign for her performance in "Black Swan," for which she is considered by many to be the front-runner for the Oscar for best actress. Then there was the recent one-two announcement that she is engaged to her "Black Swan" choreographer, Benjamin Millepied, and the couple is expecting a child. Next is a full slate of upcoming releases, starting with the rom-com "No Strings Attached," the comic-book adaptation "Thor" and the action-comedy "Your Highness." That's not to mention "Hesher," which premiered at Sundance in 2010, and in which Portman costars and has her first credit as producer. (And what have you been up to lately?)

Add to that pile "The Other Woman," which has reemerged with the release of a poster and trailer that appeared online and the sudden announcement that it would be available on video on demand starting Jan. 1 before hitting theaters Feb. 4. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2009, where it was shown under the title "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits," after the Ayelet Waldman novel from which it is adapted.

Anyone looking to chart how Portman arrived at her performance in "Black Swan" would be interested to give "The Other Woman" a look. In the film, Portman plays a young woman dealing with the grief of losing a newborn while struggling to fit in with her husband (Scott Cohen), dodging the scorn of his first wife (Lisa Kudrow) and learning the ropes with her new stepson (Charlie Tahan). In many ways, a more accurate re-titling might have been "The Second Wife," as the film explores the emotional minefield of moving from being an awkwardly tolerated outsider to part of an actual working family unit.

"The Other Woman" also marks something of a departure for director and screenwriter Don Roos, as adapting someone else's work for the first time seems to have tempered his tendency toward acidic camp as seen in "The Opposite of Sex" and "Happy Endings." Prior to the film's premiere in Toronto, Roos introduced the movie by perhaps inadvertently pointing the way forward in Portman's career trajectory and "Black Swan" when he told the audience, "I hope you like challenging women."

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: Natalie Portman and Charlie Tahan in "The Other Woman." Credit: IFC Films

Natalie Portman's 'Swan' baby (and its wings)

December 27, 2010 |  3:00 pm

So it looks like the Black Swan is getting a visit from the stork.

People magazine reported this morning that Natalie Portman, the star of the sexy ballet thriller, is pregnant and that the father is her on-set coach and trainer Benjamin Millepied, to whom the actress is also engaged. She has since confirmed the report.

The pregnancy, of course, wasn't arranged by distributor Fox Searchlight (we hope), but the news could boost the film just the same. Portman's movie is at this moment rolling out in a big way -- in fact, the art-house hit just nearly doubled its number of theaters as it tries to cross into the mainstream -- and having an actress in the news for a romance that began during the film's production will likely only help it.

It won't hurt, either, that there are some parallels between Portman's real-life story and the story of her character, Nina Sayers. No, not the hallucinating-about-a-doppelganger part. But the movie is, after all, about the transformation of a young woman's life and body while she pursues her career in the arts. Symmetry -- everyone loves it. (By the way, if you're doing the math, the baby wasn't conceived while they were actually shooting; production ended last winter.)

Portman is also set to start promoting her Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy "No Strings Attached," a title that, with today's news, helps prove that there is a God, and that he has a sense of humor.

And let's not even talk about that raunchy single-girl comedy she's been shopping around.

Portman is a strong contender for the best actress Oscar for "Black Swan." We don't know which seems harder: the physical training she went through for the movie, or slogging through awards season with a little cygnet on the way. Of course, a healthy pregnancy glow can really light up a red carpet, what with paparazzi and the tabloids' penchant for gushing over celebs-with-child. 

At the film's L.A. premiere, Millepied discussed his on-set collaboration with Portman -- you can watch the video interview below. “I had to use the qualities—if Natalie used her head beautifully or if her arms were very good at a certain angle—I had to really find what those things were and use them and choreograph around them,” he said.

When we interviewed Portman in mid-November, she was not showing any signs of pregnancy. But she did allow that she hadn't been feeling well. She said she had just recovered from a recent illness, which she said she suspected to be a case of food poisoning.

“I did a photo shoot, and I think it was whatever they served at lunch,” she explained, cautiously sipping from a bowl of vegetable broth. “I don’t even think I’m sick right now. I think I could probably eat anything, but I’m just like, an interview would not be the place to experiment.”

Portman also said at the interview that she had tried to conceal how ill she felt at the premiere the night before.  “Yesterday, I was on the red carpet like, ‘Please don’t throw up.’   I went home after the red carpet last night and had a saltine and applesauce and was, like, asleep by 10.”

--Steven Zeitchik and Amy Kaufman



Photo: Natalie Portman. Credit: Warren Toda / EPA


Natalie Portman pregnant, engaged to dancer Benjamin Millepied

Black Swan gets a big mainstream push, but how far can it go?

Natalie Portman writing a raunchy comedy

'Black Swan' director ruffles actresses' feathers

'Black Swan' gets a big mainstream push, but how far can it go?

December 18, 2010 |  7:14 pm

At nearly $10 million in domestic box office, "Black Swan" is already a hit on the art-house circuit. But can Darren Aronofsky's supernatural drama defy the odds and become a mainstream sensation?

Swan The film's distributor, Fox Searchlight, is making a big bet that it can. The studio had initially planned on releasing the Natalie Portman film, which tells the story of a ballerina who may or may not be hallucinating, on about 800 screens over Christmas weekend. But buoyed by the movie's performance in three weeks of limited release, it has decided to nearly double that number to 1,400 screens.

"After seeing the opening grosses and realizing we were crossing over to the commercial multiplex theatres, we decided to quicken the pace," Searchlight distribution chief Sheila DeLoach told 24 Frames.

The movie already has some of the hallmarks of a cultural conversation piece, with David Letterman and other prominent types riffing on it. But the road to crossover success won't be easy. Two years ago, "Slumdog Millionaire" became a national sensation, while five years ago "Brokeback Mountain" pulled off the feat. But most indie dramas eventually hit a ceiling (Aronofsky's previous effort, the buzzed-about Mickey Rourke movie "The Wrestler," topped out at a respectable but not groundbreaking $26 million).

Because of their more limited marketing budgets, independent films can't browbeat their way to mainstream acceptance. And because of their dark and difficult subject matter -- something "Swan" has in spades -- most independent dramas need to induce people to get over their natural reluctance to come out to see it ... and then have those people enjoy the film enough to recommend it to others.

Key to "Black Swan" getting anywhere in the same stratosphere as "Brokeback" ($80+ million in domestic box office) or even considerably ahead of "The Wrestler" will be Searchlight convincing older audiences to overcome a possible innate skepticism about the movie's outrageous and ambiguous elements -- while also getting a younger crowd to see a movie about ballet.

There are other obstacles. While the horror elements bring a built-in audience, they also could preclude a larger base; it's rare for a horror movie to become a mega-hit. And the film could be hampered in more conservative quarters by its salacious lesbian love scene (ironically, the very scene that made the movie such a conversation piece in the first place).

This weekend brings the first test of the film's broad appeal, as "Black Swan" goes from the very selective precincts of 90 theaters to 10 times that number, including multiplexes in a host of suburbs. As of Saturday afternoon, the figures look solid, but it's still far too soon to say whether hopes for a mainstream hit are real or, well, an illusion.


How deep is the Black Swan age divide?

Black Swan has bravura debut in limited release

Black Swan's passionate dance

-- Steven Zeitchik




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