Casting From The Heart

By May 16, 2012Nat-news

It’s strange to think that there was a time when Natalie was struggling to get any work. After Star Wars Episode 2 landed, she spoke about how everyone thought she was a bad actress and even getting directors to meet with her was proving difficult. Natalie talks about Cold Mountain as the turning point and it was Mike Nichols (who had directed Natalie in The Seagull) who wrote to Anthony Minghella and basically vouched for Natalie’s ability.

It was a great performance and her career was back on track, cemented by Garden State and then her Golden Globe winning turn in Closer, which Mike Nichols directed himself. During her acceptance speech she sweetly and awkwardly expressed how much Mike meant to her.

That’s a long intro but the setup is for a new piece by The Hollywood Reporter about Mike Nichols. It has some new quotes from Natalie and about Natalie, and you can read them after the jump.

First up, Natalie…

“He has an eye and an ear and a heart for the truth,” says Natalie Portman, one of Nichols’ favorites whom he directed in Closer (2004) and The Seagull. “He’ll tell you something that suddenly seems obvious but that you’d never have come up with yourself, which is probably the definition of genius.”

And Mike…

The comedies were very successful, but I’ve had failures, too, and you learn more from failure than success. I f–ed up Death and the Maiden. I was horrified by the author, Ariel Dorfman; there was something off-putting about him. He was the kind of communist who would say, “Where the f– is my limo?” And I also f–ed up The Country Girl. I cast actors whom I admired, but that’s not good enough; there has to be something more intimate. I have to be in love with them — like Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep or Natalie Portman.


Author Dazza

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Join the discussion 19 Comments

  • whenpukedries says:

    Closer, for me, was kind of a bust. It’s hard to be objective about a Natalie movie, considering how much we all love her, but IMO it was kind of overwrought. “Pretty woman” using foul language, haha, and the scene between the two ladies in the beginning and the two men at the end did not “move me.” I think the stage version probably seemed more organic, a word right up there with hipster, eh? Anyway, Garden State is my favorite adult Natalie film, it is so decided. Black Swan was art, but as far as entertaining, I don’t think it really acheived its mark either. I wasn’t THAT scared, I wasn’t THAT compelled by the suspense, and I wasn’t THAT intrigued or “behind” any of the characters; I think I was waiting for those emotions the entire film. Visually, it was an achievement and that’s why I like it and think the oscar is well earned. Again visually in Closer Natalie’s naked body was well “handled.” hehe I love Garden State. And I love Leon. And I think Star Wars was a great opportunity and that she nailed the genre. I have high hopes for an ace ensemble film, like we hope for the Malick films.

  • Mockingbird says:

    The Nichols-Portman relationship is really sweet and it’s great she had such an amazing director in her corner. You know, I definitely give credit to Natalie that despite the fact that Star Wars almost ruined her acting credibility she has never outright bashed the films or her filming experience like some of the tacky starlets around. She ‘s always tactful, if reticent, when she discusses the movies.

  • AMSSERME says:

    It seems Natalie’s time-out for Harvard affected her chances to find work since between her graduation from high school and her grad from Harvard she had done only two films Where The Heart Is and Star Wars Attack Of The Clones.Both films didn’t received great reviews from the critics although in the case of Star Wars it was a Box Office success.Natalie has taken a time-off due to pregnancy but this time it’s different,she comes with a Oscar win,she has proven herself and every director wants to have her in their proyects.The two Malick films and Thor 2 will no doubt seal Natalie as one of the hottest and sought after actress of the year.Natalie certainly has good reason to be grateful to Mike Nichols.

  • Dazza says:

    Closer is definitely a contender for my favourite Natalie film. And not far behind for fav performance as well.

  • howdyoudothat says:

    It’s about time I wholeheartedly agree with “puke”. I think that Natalie was looking to play a more mature character to get her out of the goody two-shoes image that is so often applied to her, and because she trusts Mike Nichols’ vision, she agreed to play the “hooker with a heart of gold”. Unfortunately, Natalie did not get to the heart of the character and all her complexity and it looked like a very forced performance on screen with little acknowledgement of how the character “sits” in the world respective and irrespective of the people to which she is connected. Yes, kudos to Nichols for handling the nudity well, but the scenes with Clive Owen were almost painful to watch because of how stilted Natalie made them.

    I also look forward to the Malick films and hope that Natalie’s new growth as a wife and mother shine through in how she plays her future roles.

  • Nannina says:

    I find it interesting that people always focus on the fact that Closer had Julia Roberts saying bad words, and Natalie Portman stripping, when I find that neither of these things are handled in a provocative or unrealistic manner. Watching Closer I love the dance that is set up between the four characters, and really how subtle the movie is. It is a little stagy, but also incredibly natural at the same time. It is definitely in my top 5 Natalie movies, and Mike Nichols is a really brilliant director. Love his quote about making mistakes.

  • Dazza says:

    Hooker with a heart of gold? I think that’s a miss reading of the character. Sam in Garden State was probably closer to that archetype.

    Whereas the hooker with the heart of gold will seem like a sketchy figure at first but as the film progresses it gets revealed that she’s actually not what we expected and is a good person underneath it all.

    Alice is close to being the reverse. Initially we can sense that she’s already damaged but by in large we see her goodness and love. As the film progresses we see how cold and hurtful she can also be and how she even lied to the man we thought she loved.

    I loved that scene with Clive. They are so contrasted in that scene, even though they’re in the same place (being cheated on). Clive is searching, reaching, all emotion, trying to get reactions and answers. Natalie is completely aloof, blocking and evading and doing so with a smile that makes it all the more frustrating and painful. Clive feels, given her profession and the situation, that he should be in control, but despite her following his every command, it’s her that is fully in control.

    God I love that film. Time for a rewatch!

  • Dazza says:

    Errr…misreading. Miss Reading sounds like a character.

  • whenpukedries says:

    Howdy… thanks. The fact that Alice is really Jane is completely unrealistic, but I assume that was the stage material as well. I also didn’t root for any of these characters, although I think Julia’s character was the most believable. Meh.

  • howdyoudothat says:

    Tell me you don’t think her acting has improved since this movie. Her voice was paper-thin then, and she acts like the delicate flower that’s just been stomped on. It’s as if she was afraid to get to that gruff core that would be true to Alice’s self-sufficient “survivor” persona, but unfortunately Natalie tends to “prettify” her roles too much. And honestly, how can you blame her? Natalie has said herself she’s a softie who’s eager to please and afraid to be assertive. I love that about her; it means she’s human. But in the same breath, her life experiences-being coddled by her parents and her co-stars, her time spent in the Harvard “bubble”, and receiving adoration from many and criticism from few-these all point to an incredibly sheltered individual who wants to embody the good in her characters but often shies away from the bad. Alice is just one example of a role that should’ve been more illuminating in its embodiment of both good and bad qualities, but instead it fell flat.

    I’m sorry, but this is where you and I will have to agree to disagree. I love Natalie as a person, which is why I’m a frequent visitor to this site, but sometimes her acting leaves much to be desired. Natalie is unique in that her heart is as beautiful as she is, but when it comes to playing conniving and flawed individuals, she fails to impress. Then again, maybe her ignorance in this arena is to her benefit.

  • Dazza says:

    Please tell me you’re joking? This wasn’t some kind of improvised mumblecore film where the characters are half authored by the actors. If you don’t like Natalie’s acting in the scene, fine, I disagree completely (and a Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination means that I’m certainly not alone) but fine. But to want the character to deal with that scene substantially differently, well that’s ridiculous to put it onto Natalie. That is down to the writer and director of the film. If Nichols wanted Alice to be fierce in that scene then that’s what they would have done.

    Alice was never meant to be that way. Clive was the fierce one and his reaction to the news was intentionally a contrast to how Alice takes it.

    Look, I also tend to prefer her darker and more assertive roles. So I’m with you on that, but there haven’t been too many roles that I felt were simplistically good. Where The Heart Is for sure. Garden State definitely counts, although still a good film/performance.

    Ironically Nina in Black Swan spends most of the time in that goody mindset and the performance is the most precious…but of course that’s the point.

    Are there more assertive and broken characters in the second half of her career, sure, but she’s an adult now so that’s no surprise.

    Has she gotten better as an actress, I’m sure she has. Black Swan was incredible. However, she’s an actress who still needs a strong guiding hand behind the camera to truly excel. She’s capable of being amazing and capable of being average. That’s as much the case now as it’s ever been imo. But there are very few actors who knock it out of the park every time regardless of the director/material.

  • howdyoudothat says:

    All right then, terrible music aside, how is that scene I posted from Closer so much different from the scenes in this cry mash-up? You’re abosultely right that Nichols’ guiding hand was evident in the break-up scene (and I admit I somewhat failed to recognize that), but beyond his direction to “look sad, be vulnerable, cry a lot”, she did not stray far. In fact, she did not go the distance to set Alice apart from the other tropes that seem to plague so much of her acting. I guess what I’m trying to say is that subtlety is somewhat lost on Natalie.

    I agree that the “Black Swan” performance was a knock-out; it was the first movie I had seen since Garden State where she captivated me right from the beginning.

  • Dazza says:

    So any scene where she cries is exactly like every other scene? Some of those crying scenes are very effective in the context of the film that they appeared in. Others are not as effective. Since you like Garden State I might as well say how is her crying at the end of that film any different to the montage?

    Sorry, don’t get your point. All cries are not equal even if one can certainly say that Natalie has cried a lot on film.

    If Natalie had no subtlety to her performances she wouldn’t be even near the A list. She is not hitting a single note in the stripping scene with Clive. She’s flirty and playful and coy and cold and sad and excited and annoyed. Same with the final scene with Jude. She goes from in love to out of love. From happy to sad to angry and then just resigned.

    It’s funny you bring up Garden State and Black Swan. I enjoy GS a lot but that is the Natalie performance that is closest to what you seem to be complaining about. It even spawned the term “manic pixie dreamgirl”, as the defining role for that character archetype. And as wonderful as Black Swan is, even fans will agree that it’s incredibly theatrical and not a very subtle performance by design.

  • howdyoudothat says:

    You know what? Forget the past 20 years of Natalie’s career. Here’s to, at the very least, 20 more! And along with her maturation, I expect that her range will also increase. Hell, I’m just excited she’s working with Malick.

  • whenpukedries says:

    Dazza, the scene between Natalie and Jude breaking up the first time was very good. “She doesn’t need me…” and “I’ve been you…” are lines that were very revealing. The scene at the end between these two was stilted IMO. That they both had ephiphanies is just a little… well, gay. LOL

  • Dazza says:

    I think be careful of using “gay” in that manner. I’m sure you didn’t intend it but I’m sure many people might find offense, plus as an explanation for what didn’t work for the scene I don’t think it’s very effective. Maybe “implausible” was closer to what you meant?

  • whenpukedries says:

    But I am gay, I own the word. I think the closest definition of this meaning of g-y, lol, would be a really g-y word, which is hackneyed. trite – banal – commonplace – threadbare – platitudinous

    Lacking significance through having been overused.

    Ditto the power structure between Clive and Natalie in the stripper scene. The stipper having all the power is a new concept? Nay. An interesting concept, not really. I consider Closer to be more out of tune than Where the Heart is, which I found to be an endearing choice of hers. “For having my baby at the Walmart…” will live on in my heart.

  • whenpukedries says:

    Plus gay didn’t always mean homosexual, just like the word black wasn’t always applied to those of African decent. And we still use black to describe a despondent mood, ya know. I like when people say “that’s so gay” cause it’s usually followed up with “you know what I mean.” It’s cute.

  • Dazza says:

    I know, but some people take offense to the term being used as a negative, whether it has to do with sexuality or not.