Venice: 'Planetarium' Actress Natalie Portman Talks Barriers of Female Directors

Planetarium Still 2 - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

Planetarium Still 2 - Publicity - H 2016

The actress says it's a "desire and a responsibility" to pick up the camera again.

In French director Rebecca Zlotowski's new feature, Planetarium, Natalie Portman plays Laura Barlow alongside sister Kate Barlow, as American spiritual performers who travel Europe on the eve of WWII, putting on shows through their ability to connect with ghosts.

In Paris they meet producer Andrew Korben, played by Emmanuel Salinger, who wants to film their act and ends up launching Laura into silver-screen glamour while further exploring the spiritual abilities of Kate. The two sisters are separated and must find their connection to each other again.

Premiering out of competition, it's one of the few films in the main lineup in Venice that is directed by a woman, a fact not lost on the film's star.

"It's crazy that in 25 years of making films, this is the first time I've been in a feature directed by a woman," Portman said of working with Zlotowski. "I don't think there's anything inherently different about a female director except that, at least in the United States, there's a lot less opportunity for female directors."

"At every level, I think there are barriers to female directors, despite, I don't think [there is] any essential difference in voice between genders," she continued. "It's just an individual difference between every director."

"And of course that affects the kind of stories that are being told because the interest of telling stories from a female point of view," said Portman, "from a female experience, which of course includes relationships between women, which is central to any woman's existence but of course is invisible to male's imagination of female life."

Portman explained that not only was it rare to have been directed by a woman, but it's rare that she got to work alongside another woman. "I found it very rare in films that I've acted in to even get to work with another actress. It's often that you're the only female on the set, in the cast," she said. "So it's always a joy when you get to work with another woman on set and not be like one of the boys, which is what you get used to as an actress in the U.S."

She said that it was a joy to work with Zlotowski on Planetarium, and she learned a great deal from her that she will take into her future work. "As an actor, she always pushed me and challenged me to be tougher than my instinct, which I felt really was a great step. As someone who started as a child actor, where you can go into cute things very easily, I find, and she really always urged me, encouraged me against that," explained Portman.

Throughout the shoot, Zlotowski didn't hesitate once in her vision, noted Portman, from the placement of the cameras to the specifics of the sets.

"It was a great example of desire in action," said Portman. "She also showed me ways of directing that I had never seen before. Sometimes she would have me say things to her to get my emotions in the right place, which was really amazing."

Portman, who directed last year's A Tale of Love and Darkness feels a pull and an obligation to get behind the camera again, not only because she enjoyed the experience but also because there are so few female voices directing today.

"In terms of directing, I was very lucky to get to direct for my first time, and I would love to do it again. It does feel both like a desire and a responsibility because we obviously need more representation of the female gaze," she said, "even though I don't really think that's a category, but just more diverse experience behind the stories that the world is exposed to."