If you ask Natalie Portman which performance was more daunting: dancing in Black Swan or mastering Jacqueline Kennedy's poise for Jackie, she might say the former was harder. But on the Jackie red carpet last night, she admitted to our camera crew and my friend and colleague Danielle Graham that playing "Mrs. Kennedy" comes with just as many challenges — or as much pressure — as getting en pointe, adding she knew "every single frame of the movie would be compared to the [iconic] photographs we all know so well."
The pink Chanel suit.
The photos of Jackie at Arlington National Cemetery.
It's Camelot. It's mythmaking. And Natalie's work in Jackie is just as much mythmaking of its own, about how incredibly immersed she gets in her characters, in "getting it right" and in further elevating what she's done in the past.
Natalie Portman gives a career-best performance in Jackie, a truly inventive, once in a lifetime movie which debunks all that we know about the myth of "Mrs. Jackie Kennedy."
Jackie's thesis? The Kennedys we know from these photos are a "fairy tale."
At no point does the film ever drift in to "camp" territory, when it's so easy for it to. This is, in part, because of director Pablo Larrain's decision to deliberately reference the iconic moments and pivotal parts of Jackie's life through angles we've never seen captured on film, or staging that deliberately subverts what we remember about the positioning of those "perfect" Americana photos. Imagine seeing those moments in 360, and getting inside of Jackie's head separate from the interviews she gave, which the movie reveals she almost always had final say over their portrayal of her and her family.
Producer Darren Aronofsky talked about this intentional subversion on the red carpet, prior to the film's premiere. He told us at etalk that you cannot even compare Natalie's work to the other actresses who have played Jackie.
"Come on. She's NATALIE PORTMAN!"
So, this is far from Katie Holmes' Jackie. And while he laughed at our Black Swan vs. Jackie challenges question, he noted that one of the reasons why this movie works is because, again, of how perfectly constructed the film is. He added that they did whatever they could to protect any images of Natalie in the pink Chanel suit from leaking, to avoid any camp cash-in comparisons. This film is about the (possibly fictionalized) reality of those photographs, and Jackie's life in the days leading up to, during and following her husband's assassination on 11/22/63.
Every shot in the film is deliberate. Natalie not only masters Jackie's voice, but also her eyebrow arch, her blinks, her grace, her poise and her fear that public sympathy for her and her children will permanently damage any attempts they would have at normalcy. Scenes in the film feel like they're shot in November, full of fog and not-quite-winter weather, while still retaining the chilly stand-offish air that both the climate and Jackie exudes. She wanted so badly for her husband to be remembered, and to have a legacy. Plus, Natalie's Jackie always has a game face on. But did you ever know the real her, or just what she spun for herself? She can outsmart any reporter, and if anything, is too in control of her own image.
The film, which runs for a bit more than 90 minutes, plays with these questions to sheer perfection. You do not see an "accurate" retelling of the assassination until one of the final scenes in the film, but you still see her horror amidst her seemingly unflappable demeanor when talking to a snide, sly reporter, played, again, perfectly by Billy Crudup. The film is structured in flashbacks around an interview she gives to Crudup's reporter after moving out of the White House. It shows the crassness of how LBJ assumed the presidency, how she had to fight to create the funeral she wanted for her husband, and shows how she breaks the news of the death to her children. Oh, and you also see her undress in that pink Chanel suit and remain haunted by the image of her pulling off her blood-stained nude tights.
There's an element of mania here, too. Jackie mourns the loss of her husband and in one scene, processes her grief by smoking cigarettes, prancing around the Oval Office in all of the gowns she never got to wear as First Lady and some that she did, all while listening to her husband's favourite song... again, all about mythmaking, and Camelot.
If it was not just shot so differently and if Natalie was not so committed, there's also the incredible supporting cast. Also, again, very deliberate. Greta Gerwig plays Jackie's chief of staff (more or less). The two previously starred together in No Strings Attached. Peter Sarsgaard, who was in Garden State with Natalie, also plays Bobby Kennedy with tremendous warmth. He even gets a showy, Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight-type scene that's perfect for awards season. A supporting contender. Natalie finds herself surrounded by peers in which she already had a relationship with, to further enhance how her character, whom we all think we know, is processing her husband's death. And the scenes between her and a priest, the only person she may have confided in honestly? They're bewitching. This movie asks us to consider whether anything we knew about the Kennedys was real. Who was the real Jackie, and why was she always so in control?
The night before the Jackie premiere, Natalie was in town to promote the premiere of Planetarium, which, like Jackie, also premiered in Venice. That night, she did not do interviews with every outlet. But at the Jackie premiere, we were told by her publicist that A) she was wearing Prada, so please ask about the movie (she did this last year to Danielle and me on the A Tale of Love and Darkness carpet) and B) she will not be answering pregnancy-related questions, but she will chat with all of the reporters on-hand. "Don't worry, she's doing everyone." (Lainey: ahem, Leonardo DiCaprio.)
And she did. And after the movie received a rapturous standing ovation, Natalie looked much more relaxed. In the Q&A with TIFF's Cameron Bailey, she debunked yet another myth about herself, and said, she's not a perfectionist. She loves to fail, but also loves to win. And she’s now a possible contender for Best Actress once again with this role.
When I was leaving the premiere, I noticed Gael Garcia Bernal was on-hand to support Natalie. I tried to suppress my nostalgia pangs for those Garden State on-set photos of the two from when they dated, knowing that Gael worked with Larrain on his film No. He looked elated. (And for those keeping score, that's two Garden State references. No regrets.) It's understandable. I had goosebumps the entire time. It's here where I should add that I'm Kennedy obsessed. My LaineyGossip avatar? It's from a scene in Seinfeld where Elaine asks, during a job interview, if she has any grace... just like Jackie. I visited the Kennedy Museum on 11/22/03, when I was 16. That day, I remember being shocked when I noticed that on the 40th anniversary of the assassination, the museum did not do more to talk about the impact JFK's death had on American and global history. But now, after seeing Jackie, I get it. They did not want to disrupt or destroy the myth. The myth is but an artifact, something that Natalie's Jackie constantly defends in the film - noting that spending money on historical items to decorate the White House is worth all of the costly renovations, as artifacts are our history, and last longer than any person.
In other words? I had goosebumps the entire time, and even with my obsessive knowledge of both Natalie's career and all things Kennedy, I still found the movie told a story about this woman I had never, ever seen in any form.
And seriously. Emma Stone may have won Best Actress in Venice but if Natalie keeps playing like this, it’s going to be one of the most competitive Best Actress Oscar races in a long time.