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.
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.