Natalie Portman: Lauren Bacall ‘did not like me, but I loved her so much’


Here are some photos of Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied out and about in New York last week. I’m sort of surprised to see them out together – they’ve barely been photographed as a couple in months and months. Portman was in New York all last week to promote her feature-length directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness. Which means that there are a million new interviews with Portman! And some of the quotes are sort of interesting. She discussed the much-shaded New York Times piece with Jonathan Safran Foer (the piece was a series of pretentious and exhausting emails between Foer and Portman). She discussed how Lauren Bacall sort of hated her. And she talks about how only women in Hollywood get hit with the pejorative “vanity project” label. Some assorted quotes:

She directed Lauren Bacall in a short film called ‘Eve’: “I must be honest: She did not like me, but I loved her and admired her so much… She sensed in me what I learned later about myself … that I had a really hard time saying what I wanted and being the boss. It took me a few weeks to be comfortable saying ‘I want this,’ ‘I want that.’ When I was 26 on Eve with [Lauren Bacall] I was not decisive, and she called me out on it and was totally right. But she was a total pro, despite the fact that she was so unimpressed by me. She was amazing in every take.”

Her emails with Jonathan Safran Foer: “It’s like, I guess you caught me! I’m a nerd! It was clearly for an interview. I can understand that it would seem funny if those were our normal ‘hey Jonathan, what’s going on’ emails, which is not the case at all … It’s not what we write on a Tuesday afternoon. Obviously.”

The politics of making a film about Israel: “I wasn’t worried about it while I was making it, because you can’t have those kinds of fears while you’re making anything, but, of course you say “Israel” and it’s political. It’s innately controversial, whatever you say, in any direction. It’s definitely tense, but I think that’s also ripe for making an emotional story because it obviously touches people very strongly. It touches a nerve in pretty much everyone in one direction or the other. You realize it has this strange hold on people and invokes passion.

The ‘vanity project’ label being attached exclusively to female directors: “It’s always hard to say, because anyone is entitled not to like something. I do think the ‘vanity project’ concept is definitely used more against women. I found myself very affected by seeing reviews like that as a kid, growing up, when Barbra Streisand directed The Mirror Has Two Faces. I remember, as a 12-year-old, reading reviews saying it was a “vanity project” and talking about how she lights herself and stuff, and it made me reluctant to try taking on multiple roles on this film. To be a writer, director, and actress, I was like, “Oh my God, they’re going to kill me for this!” I remember seeing Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham’s film, and when the credits rolled I started crying because it was written by Lena Dunham, starring Lena Dunham, produced by Lena Dunham, and directed by Lena Dunham. This young woman has no fear of [saying] “I did it, I did all of this.” And it was so good. It inspired me to not be afraid of that [criticism], and I do think the “vanity project” thing can go in the bossy pile of words that are used more unfairly against women than men.

[From EW, Us Weekly & The Cut]

Re: Lauren Bacall… is it shady the way Portman describes it? Is she saying something mean about Bacall? I don’t think so. I think it was aiming for humble-bragging, as in “I didn’t know myself and the great Lauren Bacall called me out on it.” I didn’t have confidence until the great Emma Thompson told me to have confidence!

As for the “vanity project” label… I think it’s a double-edged sword. It’s a really mind-numbingly complicated issue to talk about how there should be more female directors and studios need to stress the importance of inclusion behind-the-camera too. But A Tale of Love and Darkness IS a vanity project. So was Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea. They’re films that cost real money, made for very small audiences. Those films lose money… and they sort of making it harder for other female directors to get their films funded. Then again, there shouldn’t be such limited resources allotted to female directors, like “we can only fund one small project by a female director and we’re going to go with the director with a marketable name as an actress.” Studios think “there can only be one.”


Photos courtesy of Pacific Coast News.

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28 Responses to “Natalie Portman: Lauren Bacall ‘did not like me, but I loved her so much’”

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  1. It'sJustBlanche says:

    I don’t think her as “nerdy” as much as pretentious. And awful.

    • QueenB says:

      yeah nerdy is totally different.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        Everybody wants to be a nerd…… *sung to the tune of “everybody wants to be a nerd”*

        Nice try, Natalie, but no.

    • paolanqar says:

      Me neither but compared to other celebrities and the average intelligence in Hollywood.. she is a freakin’ nerd and genius. I mean.. she has a degree and she managed to get it in another language.
      That means a lot in showbiz language.
      It’s like finishing high school for a Kardashian. In like, english, you guys.

      • lilacflowers says:

        Her degree from Harvard is in psychology.

      • Naya says:

        I agree, she is smarter than the vast majority of actors and actresses. I’ll go one step further and say that she is smarter than the average Joe too. So she has a good brain and she applies it to subjects that some people find snooty (obscure writers, artistic photography), I think that’s just fine. I’m not big on her international politics but the planet is pretty much divided 50/50 on that situation, so whatever. Imo, she is a nerd and more power to her.

      • paolanqar says:


        didn’t she study in Israel for her degree and studied hebrew in school too?

      • perplexed says:

        I think a lot of actors have degrees.

        I think what’s unusual in Portman’s case is that she’s way more famous (probably because she started off as a child star like Jodie Foster). The ones that get massively famous like Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise don’t have degrees. But I do think a fair amount of lesser famous actors (i.e Mira Sirvino went to Harvard as did Rashida Jones and Chris Pine went to UC Berkeley) did actually study in university. And then there are some educated actors who hardly talk about their degrees or where they went (i.e Hugh Grant went to Oxford and studied English literature, but he hardly every mentions it and even seems to downplay his intelligence. A lot of British actors seem to have gone to Oxford or Cambridge, but they don’t seem to talk about it as much like the American actors do about having gone to Harvard. I usually only realize they’re educated when I go to their IMDB pages.) Tommy Lee Jones went to Harvard, but I think I only realized that went he was mentioned in connection with Al Gore.

        I do find it a little odd that Portman is painted as the only case of an actor who studied. Miayim Bialik talks less about her Phd than Portman does about going to Harvard.

  2. Patricia says:

    She’s trying quite hard to be relatable.

  3. Barrett says:

    Pregnant dresd

  4. Neelyo says:

    Lauren Bacall hated everyone, ask any waiter in NYC. Once she got old she became a curmudgeon.

    Portman’s assessment of that sounds pretty fair. Bacall first worked with Howard Hawks, known for his no-nonsense style. She probably had little patience for wishy washy hemming and hawing.

    • Konspiracytheory says:

      Haha, yes – very true. I worked in her building years ago, and she did appear to hate everyone.

    • OhDear says:

      Yeah, if anything, she’s saying that Bacall didn’t like her, that Bacall’s assessment was correct, and that she learned from it. It’s a good (job) interview response!

  5. littlemissnaughty says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with her Lauren Bacall story. How else was she supposed to tell it? The woman wasn’t impressed with her because she saw her as a little girl who had so much to learn. I think most women in their 30s can relate to that because I look back more than 5 years and I go “Oh yeah, you thought you were confident. You weren’t.” I think you grow up a lot in your late 20s/early 30s. Especially when it comes to saying what you want. Knowing it in the first place and then going for it. I had to learn that being demanding is rarely seen as a negative thing. But the line is blurry for women when it comes to the question of what’s demanding and what’s “difficult”. I always notice I have to be more polite than the men in order to come across as equally “nice”.

    • HoustonGrl says:

      Yup. The reason women sometimes don’t get ahead is exactly for this reason, being told we can’t do something because we are too young or inexperienced.

    • perplexed says:

      Yeah, I thought that was a good answer to the question.

      I was kind of hoping Lauren Bacall disliked Portman for the same reasons that I do, but clearly that wasn’t the case and I have to grudgingly admit that Portman answered that question appropriately.

  6. InvaderTak says:

    So Bacall didn’t enjoy working for an amateur? Shocking. Wonder if anyone on the set did. And yes, this is a total vanity project. Amazing how the golden actresses turned directors can get those green lit regardless of quality while talented no names who might not be as pretty struggle. Also shocking. /sarcasm.

  7. Betti says:

    Not surprised Bacall suffered no fools and Natalie is as foolish as she is pretentious.

  8. Natalie S says:

    Whatever. Natalie had no problem being assertive with Sarah Lane when she wanted an Oscar or dating Millipied when he was still with his ex.

    • Alexi says:

      yes….and any celebrity pretty much can get into an ivy league by the way….it’s great branding and they don’t have to provide financial aid. Some celebs are quite bright I am sure. Celebs have it easy. Angelina who never went to college I believe if guest lecturing at Georgetown, meanwhile talented academics can’t get hired. Yawn. Of course BACALL was annoyed be being directed by a pretty young thing who seemed decisive! Bacall was such an icon, a legen really. Her passing got next to no coverage. I loved her work in one of my favorite films “Birth” – which also taught me that Nicole Kidman (ms frozen face) can deliver a stunning performance. Agreed dress looks pregnancy – don’t get the Millipede attraction. AT ALL!

      • Bridget says:

        Honestly, I’d rather hear from someone who has extensive real life experience and connections like the Jolie than another academic.

  9. poppy says:

    disdain for vanity films is certainly not limited to gender.
    the article she is referring to with babs is one tiny example and babs is well known for being extremely controlling regarding how she is filmed whether it is her film or another’s.
    many men have been criticized for their vanity projects. as well as having an absurd care for personal appearance. brad pitt wouldn’t wear sandals for Troy because he has a hang up about his feet.

    as for bacall, she was right to be impatient with a 26 year old.
    and isn’t bacall the progenitor of resting bitch face? because she has the voice, the no bullsh!t policy, the gravitas etc? that’s where i think the sexism is, women aren’t allowed to be serious or stern or refuse to indulge nonsense without someone calling them unpleasant or worse a flat out bitch.

  10. Crumpet says:

    Is there anyone who doesn’t dislike Natalie Portman? Other than (presumably) her husband and herself.

    • Birdix says:

      oh dear. I like her a little because I like Millepied. He’s doing so much for dance in L.A. and has so many interesting projects. As an artist he has thoughtful, different projects, and has a rare ability to get things done, projects pushed through, companies started, etc. I missed LA Dance Project at the Joyce and was so sorry not to see it.

  11. perplexed says:

    This interview was okay, maybe even good. The only part I found really annoying was that Lena Dunham brought tears to her eyes.

  12. Bread and Circuses says:

    I love that floaty little white dress she’s wearing. That is all. :)

  13. Bella says:

    Mayim vs Natalie in the brains Dept – the PhD I think would win. Professors at Harvard were raving about her smarts but I think Mayim is much smarter. Natalie’s movie looks really annoying too, because she’s in it. Her breathy, ingenue way of talking is bad enough in English but in Hebrew it’s just awful.