NATALIE PORTMAN - Burning questions

I think being Israeli definitely influenced my desire to do V for Vendetta because being from Israel, terrorism and violence is a part of daily life. It might be a new thing for Americans in the past few years, but as an Israeli you live with it your whole life. It’s people you know, it affects people you love, so they’re issues that I have been thinking about and questioning constantly from a very young age. So it was something I wanted to work on because I feel like it brings up questions I never get answers to.

Like, what is the difference between state-sanctioned violence and individual violence? What’s the difference between someone who’s going to commit suicide with their act of violence and someone who’s willing to die for their country? What’s the difference between killing a soldier who has been drafted in to the army at the age of 18 or a civilian? All of these categorisations often seem so arbitrary, and the lines between them so thin, that it almost trivialises the impact of violence and how awful it is. 

How long did you have to think about cutting off your hair? 

“Um, not long at all. I auditioned for the part, I flew to San Francisco to meet with Larry [Wachowski] and James [McTeigue], and while I was doing my audition they were like, ‘Would you shave your head?’ and I was like ‘Sure.’” 

Could you have faked it? 

“I don’t think you can really fake a bald head with a wig. I think you can pretty much tell, especially with like just a little bit of stubble. So there wasn’t that consideration. And it’s something I always wanted to do. A few years ago I said to my friends, ‘I’m going to shave my head’, and I just never had the guts.” 

Can you talk about how your background might have impacted on your decision to appear in this film, whether it complicated it or made it easier? Was there something you wanted to say because of your Israeli roots? 

“I think it definitely influenced my desire to make this movie because being from Israel, terrorism and violence are parts of daily life. They might be a new thing for Americans in the past few years, but as an Israeli you live with it your whole life. It’s people you know, it affects people you love, so they’re issues that I have been thinking about and questioning constantly from a very young age. So it was something I wanted to work on because I feel like it brings up questions I never get answers to.  Like what is the difference between state-sanctioned violence and individual violence? What’s the difference between someone’s who’s going to commit suicide with their act of violence and someone who’s willing to die for their country? What’s the difference between killing a soldier who has been drafted in to the army at the age of 18 or a civilian? All of these categorisations often seem so arbitrary, and the lines between them so thin, that it almost trivialises the impact of violence and how awful it is.  

“Whether you committed the act of violence intentionally or not, had a good reason or not, or a state told you to do it or you did it on your own, you still had the same effect - someone’s losing their life - and those categories take away that. So it’s interesting and important to keep pushing those questions and pushing discussion about it. Not that we’ll ever reach the answers.” 

Is Evey close to your own character? 

“No, as when you’re playing a character you go with the character and don’t judge the character. But I mean, personally, I don’t want to put it out there because I want people to have their own reactions [to V for Vendetta] and not have me telling them what you should think when you’re leaving the movie. But I mean I tend towards pacifism, although I realise the impossibility of non-violence in a violent world.” 

The film talks about action and reaction and of course Israel was formed as a reaction to the Holocaust. There is Holocaust imagery in the film. Do you see yourself as kind of the link in the movie to these things? 

“No, I mean people see . . . it’s such a group of images and details from different governments across time, the graphic novel from which the movie is pretty faithful to was written in 1984, the script was written in the mid-1990s, and is obviously coming out now where it seems to be incredibly resonant for the moment and about a very specific thing. But the fact that it applies to so many different real-life situations, whether it’s Thatcher’s England or today’s America or today’s Iraq or, you know, Nazi Germany, probably the only thing you can gather from it is that governments have similar themes. There’s different totalitarian, or totalitarian-like, aspects even to governments that are democratic, and there’s always been a history of people rising violently against oppressive governments.

“The reason we have the right to bear arms in the United States is because the colonists, the settlers, didn’t like the way the British were oppressing them, so they wanted their citizens always to have the right to rise violently against the government. That’s from there.  Obviously there’s the Bakunin stuff in Russia, Von Trapp during World War 2, and there is Begin against the British in Palestine. It’s so constantly over time that to apply it to a specific thing is great but it certainly isn’t supposed to relate directly to a specific time and place. And it’s amazing to see different people’s reactions because depending on their own personal background is how they interpret the real life correlate.”   

Are you from a political family? It seems that you have been through these things in your head a lot. 

“Absolutely. My grandfather was a Professor of Economics in the developing world and before that was a Socialist-Zionist leader in Poland, in a group called Hashomer Hatzair, which was like a big youth movement that came over to Israel and built kibbutzes in the late ‘30s. So we had this real Socialist – he believed in an Israel that mixed Jews and Arabs, that would be a place that Jews could be safe, but where Jews and Arabs would be citizens and whoever could be heading it. He was from that strand of Socialism. When he died, his whole library was donated to the Druzes University in Israel, so I come from a very politically aware family.  

“But I have always, I think, viewed politics, political engagement and people being obsessed with politics as sort of a sad thing, because in Israel it represents the fact that it is so unstable that everyone cares about who is in power, because it affects their daily life and whether they’re going to get killed on the way to school or not. Whereas in the United States, no one really votes, because we’re really safe and pretty prosperous, and when a president changes, your life doesn’t change.  “So I am politically aware but it always makes me sad. It takes attention away from the really important things in life.” 

There have been a lot of political films lately. Do you think this might make people aware of what is at stake now? 

“I think it definitely makes people talk a lot more. I don’t know how solid the effects will be but it definitely makes people talk. The reason I say about solid effects is like Fahrenheit 9/11 was such a huge success financially, lots and lots of people saw it, but it didn’t have any effect on the elections. People expected it to push people away from Bush and it didn’t. There’s obviously the counter reaction that comes out so I don’t know if it really changes people’s minds if you make a statement film. But obviously this movie’s different; it’s not a documentary for the Left, like Fahrenheit 9/11 was.” 

Do you feel a little bit uneasy after the bombings in London, especially as you’re the one who ultimately sends the bomb on its way in the film? 

“No, no, this is part of a fictional story. There are no civilian [targets] in our story, it’s a year ahead of time so everyone in the country is aware and knows it’s going to happen, so it’s not targeting civilians, it’s not suicide, it’s not about that. It’s such a different environment that I don’t think it’s advocating any of that, or depicting anything that’s going on in our world in any exact way. Of course, a good movie you should be able to relate to real life experiences and feelings, or it should give you a new lens on your experience, and obviously all of the acts of violence today are really, really upsetting. Also, most of the terrorist attacks today are going on in Afghanistan and Iraq, that’s where most of the people are being hurt. It’s horrible and it’s something that everyone needs to talk about. Hopefully something like this will push people forward to discuss more, and think about more, what kind of violence we feel comfortable using, if any at all.” 

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