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How Natalie Portman Found the Woman Behind the Icon in ‘Jackie’: Awards Spotlight

For her latest Oscar-nominated turn, Portman went beyond historical assumptions and expectations.

Natalie Portman

Daniel Bergeron

Jackie Kennedy has been portrayed plenty of times, but in Pablo Larraín’s daring and thoroughly original “Jackie,” Natalie Portman had to shed the expectations and assumptions attached to the perennially pillbox-hatted American icon.

Mostly set in the weeks immediately following President Kennedy’s assassination, Portman was tasked with portraying a mourning, heartbroken Jackie who is also hellbent on establishing a legacy for her husband and family. Larraín’s film neatly shifts between past and present, providing rich and often unexpected looks inside Jackie’s life and psyche. The result is one of the year’s finest performances, and a new high-water mark for the Best Actress-winning performer.

Portman recently chatted with IndieWire about crafting a character whom so many people thought they knew already. For her, the key was finding the woman beyond “the fashion and the hair” and unearthing the sensitive soul who enchanted the nation. Portman “focused on her as a person” and sought to answer one simple question: “Who is Jackie?”

That simple question required plenty of research. The actress turned to the work of former Special Assistant to the President, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who conducted a series of intimate interviews with the real Jackie during the time period portrayed in the film (his work inspired the part played by Billy Crudup in Larraín’s feature).

Portman used Schlesinger’s work to access Jackie’s “private self,” one marked by wit and humor. Those characteristics are on full display in “Jackie,” with Portman playing Kennedy as a whip-smart and wry woman who always knew the best thing to say (even if it hurt).

Although Portman clearly walked away from the film with a new admiration for Jackie, she’s adamant that the film itself doesn’t worship her. Instead, it shows her as a real, multi-faceted human being.

That’s no small feat in the often overly glowing world of biopics.

That aim came from the top down, and Portman has nothing but admiration for the director that made such a film possible.

To Portman, Larraín provided “such an incredible creative force,” the kind that seeped through every part of the film’s production. Larraín’s dedication suffused the film with an energy that inspired her to great work.

This year’s Awards Spotlight series is produced with help from our partners at Movies On Demand, who shot and produced the video interviews, and from Hollywood Proper, who provided location services for our Los Angeles shoots.

You can find all Contender Conversations at our Awards Spotlight homepage.

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