Natalie Portman as Jackie

Natalie Portman: Playing Jackie After JFK’s Assassination

April 19, 2017
One of the world’s great actresses speaks about playing one of the most fascinating women in America’s history.  

In Jackie we see her within the marriage as being a sad, lonely, dutiful woman who had no outlet for her intellect or much else. Did you see her that way?

We’re seeing her at the saddest moment in her life, so I’m not necessarily sure that would characterise how she was in general. She is having an identity crisis. For a woman of that time, your identity is Mrs. Your Husband’s Last Name. She is Mrs. Kennedy. And when he’s killed, Who are you? What are you? 

To have a crisis in faith and a crisis in identity, and to have to leave your home and mourn a person you loved very much, and stay strong for your children, and also make the country feel like it’s not going to be World War III – that’s a lot to experience at once. It is an overwhelming moment for this woman that, hopefully, brings out her character. She has many aspects to her.

If after years of being the wife of a senator and president, does his death allow her to again be the dynamic woman she was before the marriage.

In regard to her identity as a woman changing after the assassination, she would probably look back to ‘who was I before I married?’ She even says that to [White House Social Secretary] Nancy Tuckerman [Greta Gerwig], because she’s the character in the movie who knew her when they were in school together. It’s like, ‘Nancy, remind me of who I am, remind me who I was before I became this thing.’

Her life prior to marrying JFK was really interesting. She was a journalist. She was catching photos on the street of fashionable girls, that sort of thing – it wasn’t as probing as the kind of journalism she was later on the other side of, but it definitely gave her a lot of insight. She and her sister Lee went on a trip to Europe when Jackie was 20 and Lee was around 18, and they made this book together for which Jackie drew all the pictures and Lee wrote all the stories. They sent it to their parents and published it when they were in their fifties. My parents gave me that book and it was an amazing gift. It’s beautiful and funny and gives great insight into two single girls travelling alone in Europe and how much the art and history influenced them.

Jackie spoke French fluently. She spent a year in France and it’s well known she was influenced by French fashion and culture. As First Lady she was completely influenced by what she experienced in France. She saw how important it was to have all these objects in the White House that reflect our country’s identity, and art and history were a big part of that. She asked, ‘Why is Abraham Lincoln’s desk in a garage sale in the middle of nowhere?’ So she tracked down all of these pieces of furniture and art and said this is our legacy and that we need objects to tell us who we are and what our values are.

She also spearheaded the effort to preserve important historical buildings [including the Executive Office Building and those in Lafayette Square, a residential area across the street from the White House]. Also she helped create a commission for the arts in Washington and was the first to invite important artists to the White House and say that the artistic identity of this country is important. That came from her time in France as a student, when she really got that understanding of how much art is important to government.

Pablo emphasised a lot her love of beauty. He always had me say: ‘I love beauty.’ She was so aesthetic, she loved clothes and fabrics, and apparently she was always getting in trouble with Kennedy because she was spending a million dollars a year on clothes. He said that the American people are gonna lose their minds, ‘you gotta chill out’. When someone who loves beauty that much has the ugliest thing in the world happen to them, how does that affect her?

I’ve never seen a character walk so much in and out of rooms, as Jackie does in this movie.

“The walking – that’s really interesting. We did do a lot of that. It’s part of one of the really interesting things that Pablo brought to his concept. We filmed on a stage in Paris. They actually built the White House in Paris, which is quite amazing. And almost every day, we filmed moving scenes. What happened was they would build up a room and then tear it down and build something else. And so before the rooms were torn down we did these moving scenes. Some of them were of her just walking through her house on her last day there, some of them were about her packing or directing packing. It was a beautiful and tragic and awful thing to consider that at the moment you lose someone you love very much you also have to leave your house. That’s a crazy thing.”

We already knew a lot about Jackie and now this film gives a different perspective. What is the one thing you hope resonates with viewers?

“We still haven’t given Jackie her due if you consider how she went through something so tragic in service to the country, and then pulled herself together again in service to the country. That was just astonishing.”

Jackie is available on DVD and Blu-ray from April 19, 2017.

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