Natalie Portman: ‘JFK was a great proponent of civil rights. Trump is taking us backwards’


The Oscar-tipped star of Jackie talks about playing the widowed first lady of the progressive president and why the new inauguration is an upsetting moment

Natalie Portman enters the screening room wearing black shoes, a black dress and a black cape. The effect is stylish, if sombre. She could be in mourning. Or maybe Darth Vader has lured her to the dark side after all.

The effect dissolves when she extends a hand, flashes a blinding smile and reveals a sizeable belly bump. She plonks down in the front row, taking the weight off her legs. Portman is seven months pregnant and taking the radiance business seriously. She looks great.

The actor is enjoying a collision of glad tidings. She has moved back to Los Angeles from Paris, is about to have a second child (her son, Aleph, was born in 2011) and is receiving rapturous reviews for her performance in Jackie. If the bookies are right, she might well top it all with an Oscar.

Hence the screening room. Earlier, a few dozen Academy members filed into this discreet Beverly Hills sanctum to watch the Jacqueline Kennedy biopic and hear why they should vote for Portman, as well as others who worked on the film. Its one small front in the PR-campaign blitz that consumes Hollywood during awards season. Now they are gone, the screen is blank and the room is nearly empty.

Campaigning while heavily pregnant youre a trouper, I say. Portman laughs it off. Its all good. Its not coal mining. After a two-year sojourn in France, Portman, 35, seems happy to be back in LA. Here is much more a place to make art. Its just very inspiring light. A lot of freedom.

Portman in Jackie. Photograph: Pablo Larrains/Twentieth Century Fox

Portman sips a herbal tea and holds court with grace and wariness, smiling often while weighing each word, with a guardedness that comes after decades in the public eye.

The solemn attire feels apt. Later in the day, there will be a joint funeral service for Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds, who died a day apart. In the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Portman played Princess Leias mother. Queen Padme Amidala was also, of course, missus to Anakin Skywalker before he became Darth Vader.

Portman is now also indelibly associated with the worlds most famous and enigmatic widow. Jackie, directed by Pablo Larran, is an intimate portrait that swirls between John F Kennedys assassination and the grieving first lady making funeral arrangements a week later.

The termination of a progressive presidency, the nation bewildered and anxious, the future uncertain: resonant themes on the cusp of the Donald Trump era. It certainly has taken on different meanings because of the context weve landed in, which was completely unexpected and unpredictable, says Portman. Noah Oppenheim, who wrote the script, has been saying that it shows our country has been through many difficult times, and weve managed to pull through and come out the other end of the tunnel.

Portman, a vegan and activist for liberal causes, campaigned for Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania. She warned in an October interview that a Trump presidency would be catastrophic, especially for womens rights.

Now, with the casino owner moving into the White House, the actor is more circumspect, though still emphatic. I dont remember saying it would be a catastrophe but I do think it is a very upsetting moment because of the way he has spoken about women, about minorities, about immigrants. I dont think that kind of discriminatory speech or behaviour is helpful to bringing people together in a positive way.

She campaigned in what turned out to be a decisive swing state but, like many of us, fell for the polls and punditry which dismissed Trumps chances. I didnt sense it myself, and thats maybe part of the problem. We dont interact enough with people from different political persuasions. People tend to hang out with others who think alike, and it makes you less aware.

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