A More Mature - and Sexy - Natalie Portman Shines in "Closer"

Natalie Portman on Working with Mike Nichols, the Nude Scene, and "Closer"

Natalie Portman Closer
Natalie Portman stars in "Closer". © Sony Pictures

Director Mike Nichols worked with Natalie Portman on "The Seagull" back when Portman was still a teenager. Since that time, the two have remained close with Nichols playing a second father/mentor role in Portman's life.

Reunited for the movie "Closer," Portman and Nichols were comfortable around one another and completely trusted in each other's artistic decisions. Trust, and the ability to speak bluntly with one another, helped make Portman's job easier as her character, Alice, is a stripper who joins Clive Owen's character in a very sensual, very intimate encounter in a strip club.

Though much has been made of Portman's nude scene, which was filmed but not included in the movie, both actress and director feel the right decision was made to not include the very brief shot in the final cut. And while her brief nude scene isn't included in the finished film, it has certainly helped spark interest in Natalie's emergence as a more mature, more sexually evolved actress.

Portman fans who take in "Closer" may be quite surprised the innocent-looking beauty has left the path of what's tried and true and ventured into deeper waters. But as director Nichols says, "People don't quite realize how remarkable an actress she is, because she looks so amazing, but she is." Joining her "Closer" co-stars Jude Law and Clive Owen to talk about her role as the conflicted, honest, tough-yet-vulnerable Alice, Portman refuted claims "Closer" marks her transitional role into more adult fare:


This is a pretty serious drama but director Mike Nichols said you were laughing a lot on the set.
Well, because Mike was there.

So it was a fun shoot?
Not always.

When wasn’t it?
Well, I mean…some of the things are really hard to do to each other, especially because all of them - I think I can say this for all of [the cast], we got along well and liked each other a lot.

To be really awful to each other was very difficult at times.

Is this role a conscious effort to change your lovable girl image?
No. It wasn’t conscious, but I try and keep it interesting, try and do different things every time. And I haven’t done a role like this before so it was a good challenge.

Does “Closer” mark your arrival as an adult actress?
I disagree. I don't know. I don’t really feel like an adult yet myself, so I don’t really think I can play adults. I think it’s always a proportion, adult to child within you, and even when you’re 85 you’re still going to have that proportion. It changes with mood and with time. It’s an arbitrary distinction between adult and child.

What’s the difference between working with Mike Nichols on stage and in films?
…It’s [a] different comparison because they were different pieces so it’s not a direct comparison. But Mike’s technique was a little bit different. With the play, he gave us more [freedom]. He let us find everything a little bit more ourselves, I think, because we had a much longer time. And also the theater is like every time you do it, you find new things and it sort of builds up and builds up. Whereas on film, you do it and that’s it.

That’s it for eternity. So I think he directed us when we were sitting together in our rehearsal period, he sort of laid out very clearly the structural theme of the film. We were all sort of aware of the shape of it as opposed to when we worked on the play, it sort of came together.

Did you learn how to do pole dancing?
Yes. [Clive Owen jokes they all learned how to.] They’re very good. They’re very good, these boys.

Did it hurt to do the splits?
No, I’m extraordinarily flexible.

How did you feel about the decision to remove the nudity?
Well, back to the trust issue, when you trust someone, you’re willing to do everything and make mistakes and really expose yourself inside out. So we made sort of a pact that before… While we would shoot, we would just do everything and then he cut it the way he cut, showed it to me [to] see if I agreed, and that’s what happened.

We both kept our parts of the deal.

Why did you decide not to show the nudity?
I didn’t think it was crucial to the scene. I thought it was distracting, if anything, to have it at the head of the scene.

Why are women more willing to forgive than men?
I don't know. First of all, I don't think that four characters necessarily extends to their entire gender. I think there’s variations within humanity that aren’t - these aren’t epitomes or types that represent their entire sex. And second of all, if that’s the conclusion you come to, you can think about it. I don’t need to teach you or tell you, you know. That’s the beauty of a piece that’s full of the inspiration of questions like this that makes you go home and think about that. I could talk for hours about why, but…

PAGE 2: Natalie Portman on the End of "Star Wars," Future Plans, and Becoming an Internet Sex Icon

How do you physically get into a character like Alice?
Personally, your physical self fits. [It’s] inescapable whenever you're playing a character. That, and imagination and everything. It's always a sign that I should do something if it scares me.

How did you see your character? Did you see her as a little girl lost?
Well, the way I saw her is what I did. People can take away what they want. I came to it.

I don't know. I had a lot of ideas and had a lot of people I sort of stole from.

Do you see her as damaged in some way?
I don't know. The way I see her is how I did it. So, I don't know.

With your beauty, and in particular after this movie, you’re going to become an Internet sex icon. What are your thoughts on that?
Just my ass... Yeah, I'm not scared. I'm brave, I think. I think I've reached a point that I'm not so reliant on my… I think I've gotten to a point in my life where everything I do is active rather than reactive. I'm not doing things to prove anything that I'm like or unlike what other people think of me. That makes me comfortable with whatever people walk away with. I can still carry on my own life without being hurt.

How do you feel about “Star Wars” being over?
It was a big chunk of my life - 10 years from the time I [first started working on “Star Wars”] to the time the next film comes out.

So, as with all phases in life, it's both sad because you're not going to go back and see the same people and then exciting as to what is ahead.

Is the last film of the trilogy more intense?
As far as from filming, yes. It's darker. Yeah, it was really intense. We worked really hard - Hayden [Christensen] and Ewan [McGregor] were both amazing.

And Ian McDiarmid. We all worked hard and hopefully we'll see a good movie when it comes out.

Was it refreshing to get back to acting with sets and not green screens?
Oh yes, definitely.

Now that you’re done with school and open to other things, would you commit to a career in acting?
I really love acting, but I just want to do interesting things, not just through my characters. So there's many things I'd like to explore and try and see.

Will you take time off to do other things?
I take time off all the time. I only do like one or two movies a year. It's a very, very lucky job to have because it's wonderful, but also affords you a great deal of time to live and to see.

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Murray, Rebecca. "A More Mature - and Sexy - Natalie Portman Shines in "Closer"." ThoughtCo, Aug. 15, 2012, thoughtco.com/natalie-portman-shines-in-closer-2422563. Murray, Rebecca. (2012, August 15). A More Mature - and Sexy - Natalie Portman Shines in "Closer". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/natalie-portman-shines-in-closer-2422563 Murray, Rebecca. "A More Mature - and Sexy - Natalie Portman Shines in "Closer"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/natalie-portman-shines-in-closer-2422563 (accessed December 11, 2017).