Venice: Natalie Portman, 'Jackie' Director Pablo Larrain Talk Mystery of Famous First Lady

Jackie Still 1 - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

Jackie Still 1 - Publicity - H 2016

The actress' performance, in the aftermath of the assassination of JFK, is already picking up rave reviews.

Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s new film Jackie had its world premiere Wednesday in competition at the Venice Film Festival. Natalie Portman stars as iconic former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the film, which is set after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Billy Crudup plays a journalist who interviews Jackie Kennedy in the week following the death of the president. In a carefully constructed interview, she relives the image she gave to the American people from the White House, how she handled her husband’s death and funeral and how she developed the myth of their time in the White House as a period of “Camelot.”

Peter Sarsgaard co-stars as Bobby Kennedy and Greta Gerwig plays Jackie’s press secretary Pamela Turnure. And John Hurt teams up with Portman again (they worked together on 2005's V for Vendetta) as the priest to whom Jackie speaks after her husband's death. The reception to the film so far on the Lido has been outstanding, with prolonged applause at the press screening and whispers of awards buzz for Portman. The Hollywood Reporter calls the film in its review “a shattering reflection on loss and legacy.”

For the filmmakers, it was the intrigue of the first lady and what she meant for the country that drew them to tell her story. “I believe Jackie was someone incredibly mysterious. She was probably one of the most unknown of the unknown people. It was a beautiful challenge just to get there and use the tool of cinema,” said Larrain on portraying the story.

“I don’t think the movie will deliver all the answers,” he said. “Natalie achieves what we want her to do so beautifully in the movie. You don’t completely get who [Jackie] was because it’s just not possible. And that beautiful.”

For Portman, the complexity of portraying the role was something she openly embraced. “There are so many things she’s dealing with at once. The loss of someone always leads to a questioning of faith,” said the actress. “The spiritual part was incredible, and it was incredible to work with John Hurt on it.

“There are so many different feelings at once that she’s going through, and that’s why Pablo’s approach is so exciting to work on because it comes at her from all different aspects," Portman continued. "She’s a young woman. She’s a symbol for all these people. She’s a mother. She’s a wife. She’s a betrayed wife. She’s a person who’s trying to figure out her way in the world.”

Larrain was careful not to label his film a biopic. “What we tried to do, through fiction and cinema, is to create an illusion. And that illusion talks about pain, beauty and desire,” he said.