Oscars: 'Jackie' Star Natalie Portman Reveals What Surprised Her Most About Jacqueline Kennedy

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Natalie Portman in 'Jackie'

The nominee also opens up about what she learned from the late director Mike Nichols.

Natalie Portman had been showered with nominations and wins before, but never for playing a historical figure. Now the 35-year-old actress has her second Oscar nomination for her evocative portrayal of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy — in Jackie, directed by Pablo Larrain. She spoke to THR's Stephen Galloway about the pressures of re-creating an icon, Jackie's powers of observation and memory, and her own lost mentor.

You played a real-life character you couldn't meet. Did you feel an extra historical burden?

It's different if they're still alive — then you have this responsibility to them. So maybe it was freeing, in a way, knowing that she wasn't going to watch it, you know? It's got a different challenge — you have to get to a threshold of believability before anyone can ever relate to you emotionally. If you don't look enough and sound enough and walk enough like her that we can buy her as this character, then they can't lose themselves in this story no matter what story you're going to tell.

As you researched Jackie's life, what surprised you most about her?

I always had this impression of her as smart. But when you start looking at her interviews post-assassination, when she was really trying to define her husband's legacy and create an oral history of his presidency, she knew every single name and party affiliation and lobbying position of every person that ever walked into his office. She was like a human recorder or something. She was encyclopedic in her knowledge. And she was never invited into the room, you know, this was her in the hall watching — and she understood everything that was going on.

You were close with the late Mike Nichols. What did he teach you about acting?

A lot. I feel like he taught me a lot about life. I think one of the things that most surprised me was how, when he passed, there were so many people [for whom] he was the most important person in their life. You felt like, "Oh, if I put that much energy into someone, I could do that for one person" and he did that for like 50 people, maybe more.

This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.