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NEW YORK — When Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited” expands Friday to about 600-700 screens, moviegoers will get two unexpected treats: his 13-minute “Part 1” intro to the film, “Hotel Chevalier,” and the first big-screen glimpse of star Natalie Portman’s bare derriere.
Aside from providing a distraction from publicity over “Darjeeling” star Owen Wilson’s late August suicide attempt, the big-screen “Chevalier” bow capitalizes on Portman’s decision to do nude scenes after years spent resisting it. She asked director Mike Nichols to remove the nudity from her portrayal of a stripper in “Closer” and used a body double in Milos Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts.”
When asked why she agreed to do the brief scenes, Portman said: “I don’t know why, exactly. Sometimes you make rules for yourself and sometimes those rules are made to be broken. You have to test things out and see what works for you, and this felt right.”
“I begged Wes to work with me and show me a script” since they met more than three years ago, she said. “I really loved it. He has the finest taste possible.”
Clearly, money wasn’t part of Portman’s motivation. Unlike the $12.5 million Demi Moore received for her topless role in 1996’s “Striptease,” Portman and co-star/co-screenwriter Jason Schwartzman weren’t paid anything for the low-budget, two-day shoot filmed with two cameras donated by Panavision.
There’s nothing prurient about the two nude shots — aside from the rear, another shows her like a statue from the side in a pose that wouldn’t be out of place in an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot.
Anderson shot “Chevalier” on his own dime a year before the feature as the back story for Schwartzman’s character. He debated incorporating the tale of a reunion between two estranged lovers into the feature, showing it with the film (as it screened during its New York Film Festival premiere) or keeping them separate. He eventually decided to release it for free on Apple’s iTunes Store three days before “Darjeeling’s” limited release Sept. 29 and slot it as a DVD extra.
“Darjeeling” has taken in nearly $4 million in its limited release. But while critical reaction has been mixed for Anderson’s reunion with his “Rushmore” star Schwartzman, the short has received more widespread acclaim.
Portman’s brief, wordless appearance near the end of “Darjeeling” has been as mystifying to many moviegoers as the promotional intro before showings to date, which suggests that they download the short to get some background on the film they’re about to watch.
At the Apple Store Soho premiere of “Chevalier” in New York, Anderson voiced several concerns on how to present the short, ideally mirroring the jump in time between Schwartzman’s character’s Parisian romantic interlude and his train trip across India.
“Ideally, I wanted someone to watch the short, take a break, think about it for a week and then watch the feature,” he said. “That’s kind of hard to organize at a multiplex.”
Carl DiOrio contributed to this report.
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