John Miller: After big budget movies Garden State must seem a very different sort of film for you?
Natalie Portman: I think this movie doesn't really go into any genre. Movies now are so often made to mimic other successful movies in the past that we've created these genres, like the romantic comedy, the thriller, the action movie, that are so formulaic that you can guess the ending after the first five minutes. It was so nice to see something like this that was much messier, like life, that doesn't fit into any category, that doesn't go with anything we've ever seen before. It just has these unique experiences and unique characters.
Miller: Your character in Garden State spins fantasies. Have you ever felt compelled to tell lies?
Portman: I don't think I have a tendency to lie, but like Sam says, you don't really know that that's not a lie as well.
Miller: Is there an obvious contrast between doing big films and small films?
Portman: When you don't have money you don't have time to waste, so you keep going and there's no going back to your trailer for two hours while they do a lighting set up. That really conserves energy. I think when you go back and have a little nap, or talk to your agent, or whatever you do when you're waiting between scenes, that breaks the energy. It breaks the momentum and I think you really feel that. There are things that you might miss, like having a big comfortable trailer and having perks like that, but it was wonderful too, because you actually got to meet people much more and had a smaller crew and got to talk to people between takes. That was a really great experience.
Miller: What was it like filming the Garden State scene when you are caught in the rain?
Portman: That was an interesting scene. It was done with fake rain, but what Zach (Braff, writer/director) did to create a rapport between all of us before filming was to come and visit me at my university with Peter (Sarsgaard, actor) for a weekend. We all went out and partied together, which is a great way to start out because it breaks down all barriers when you get a little liquor together. We kept that sort of atmosphere on set, not drinking of course, we were all very responsible and professional and focussed on our work. But there was very much a party atmosphere, joking and hanging out. I think you feel that in the film, that there was this sense of friends being with each other.
Miller: Have you ever experienced the sort of awkward homecoming that we see in Garden State?
Portman: Actually, not really, because I never really left home. I live on my own now, but I live in the same neighbourhood that I grew up in. I have the same friends that I've had since I was little and I've been acting since I was 12. So all my friends have pretty much always known me as an actress, so it wasn't any big change.
Miller: What about your experience of working with Zach, as a first time director?
Portman: I didn't feel too nervous about it, probably because he wasn't nervous. He put me and everyone else at ease. He was very confidant and very much a leader and really knew specifically what he wanted to do. But he was very relaxed about it. A lot of directors, even experienced ones, get so stressed out, because it's such a difficult job. People sometimes have a hard time keeping their egotistical vision intact while being humane to the people they work with. Zach was really wonderful about that. He really made this very collaborative feeling that everyone had a part to play, but he was the leader. So it was really nice to work on.
Miller: How did you go about getting into the mindset of a character who is so unlike you?
Portman: It's very much a generation thing, and I think I see it around me. I was in my senior spring at university at the time and a lot of people at school were taking prescription medication to help them study, and recreationally. There's definitely a sense of confusion about your place in the world and a lot of disillusionment, even in people who, from the outside, might seem to be directed and successful and everything. That's very much a sign of coming of age, trying to find your place in the world.
Miller: It seems that your transition from child roles to adult ones, worked out seamlessly?
Portman: It's interesting because my generation of female actors is largely made up of people who started out acting as children. If you look at Kirsten Dunst, Scarlett Johansson, Christina Ricci, Claire Danes, we all started out when we were 11 or 12. I don't know what it is about our generation but I obviously have some good peers and we keep pushing each other, I guess.
Miller: Is it easier to do intense emotional stuff than fantasy stuff?
Portman: It is probably easier because you can relate to it more directly. You have to find more circuitous paths to emotions when it's not similar to something you've personally experienced. But that can happen in reality based movies, too. It doesn't just have to be in science fiction. I've obviously been lucky enough not to experience violence in my family, or anything, but the stuff that Sam goes through in this movie is probably more directly relatable to my personal experience. Star Wars is the most like being a child that I've ever experienced in acting. It's like taking a refrigerator box and pretending it's your space ship because you're literally working with nothing, pretending that it's the most outrageous thing. It's very imaginative and creative.
Miller: Why did you decide to take time out to go to university?
Portman: I actually worked while I was at university, but I only worked in the summertime, so it wasn't like I took a four-year break, or anything. I never worked during the school year, so it was really a case of keeping the same pattern of school during the year and working in the summer. That was never really a question for me. It was something I wanted to do. To be an actor first and foremost, you have to be a person who's engaged in the world. Whether that's through school or through travel or through meeting people and listening to them and learning about peoples' lives, I think that's the most important thing. You're trying to imagine other peoples' lives and where imagination takes you to a certain point. Having knowledge and first hand experience can feed that imagination. So it was never really a question for me. It was an amazing experience.
Miller: Are you keen to direct yourself?
Portman: Definitely. I admired what Zach did. You meet him and he's smart and confident and funny and usually I think I could never do something like that. I'm not smart, or focussed enough. And then I look at him and he's definitely extremely talented, but it's not like he has some magical gift of focus. It seems like something attainable, something that I could do, too. It did give me confidence to watch him and hope. But I hate talking about that, because I can remember as a 12-year-old saying in an interview that I wanted to be an astronaut and people sometimes ask when am I going into space. So I shouldn't talk about anything until I do it.
Garden State was out on May 3