Natalie Portman was only 11 years old when she auditioned for and won the role of Mathilda in Luc Besson’s “Léon: The Professional,” and after more than two decades making moves in Hollywood and abroad she has her own share of harassment and sexism stories. During a conversation at Vulture Fest in Los Angeles, Portman was asked about the many sexual harassment and abuse allegations coming out of Hollywood, to which she got incredibly candid about her own experiences facing similar issues.
“When I heard everything coming out, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m so lucky that I haven’t had this.’ And then, on reflection, I was like okay, definitely never been assaulted, definitely not, but I’ve had discrimination or harassment on almost everything I’ve ever worked on in some way,” she said. “I went from thinking I don’t have a story to thinking, Oh wait, I have 100 stories. And I think a lot of people are having these reckonings with themselves, of things that we just took for granted as like, this is part of the process.”
Portman remembered being invited by a producer to fly with him on his private plane, and when she boarded she discovered there was only one bed. The actress made it clear she was not assaulted in any way, but she expressed how uncomfortable the producer made her feel. “That was really unacceptable and manipulative and could have been — I was scared, you know?” she said.
Portman also said that as she grew up in the industry she would often turn down work that would have objectified her. “There was definitely a period where I was reluctant to do any kind of kissing scenes, sexual scenes. Because [for] my first roles, the reaction people would [give] in reviews [was to] call me a ‘Lolita’ and things like that, and I got so scared by it,” she said. “And I think that’s also got to be part of our conversation now: when you’re defensive as a woman against being looked at that way, that you’re like, ‘I don’t want to’ — what do we close off of ourselves or diminish in ourselves because we want to protect ourselves?”
For Portman, one of the major issues that allows harassment and abuse to occur on sets is the general lack of women. The actress explained how the lack of women on set creates a feeling of isolation, which prevents people from speaking out against acts of harassment and assault.
“The surprising thing is it almost feels strategic to keep you away from other women, because you don’t have the opportunity to share stories,” Portman said of the lack of women on set. “All these accusations are like, ‘Oh yeah, everyone was isolated from each other,’ people didn’t share. They didn’t realize that there were hundreds of people with similar stories. It prevents mentorship of women by other women because you’re just not exposed to it.”
The Oscar winner admitted she’s been fortunate enough to work with male directors who value her opinion, from Darren Aronofsky to Mike Nichols and Pablo Larrain, but she did recall getting yelled at and being told by one male director that she was “exhausting” to work with. Portman did not reveal the director’s name, but said it was frustrating to be criticized for speaking her opinion while her male co-star was allowed to speak freely.
“I was like, ‘I’m exhausting for telling you my opinion about my job?’ And it was completely different with male actors next to me in the same room,” she said. “To the point where one of the male actors I was working with stood up for me in that meeting, because he said, ‘You know, you’re completely not listening to her and you’re completely listening to me and we’re saying almost the same thing.'”
Portman most recently starred in “Jackie,” for which she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, and the Terrence Malick film “Song to Song.” She has two big 2018 releases thanks to Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” and Xavier Dolan’s “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan.”