“Pop stars are just so much more famous than actors,” says Natalie Portman. “It’s a different level of fame – of not being able to go anywhere and have people treat you like a regular person.”
We mere mortals might imagine Oscar-winning movie stars inhabit roughly the same exalted plane as chart-topping singers, but Portman insists not.
“The majority of my day is spent with people who have no idea who I am,” she says. “There are many places I go where I am just treated like another human being, and that’s the best thing. To have a kind, anonymous interaction with a stranger is the thing that gives you hope around humanity.”
Portman is expounding on the differences between these respective types of celebrity because in her latest film, Vox Lux, she plays a former teen pop star on the comeback trail.
“The opportunity to play a pop star was so fun,” she says of the film, which is part A Star is Born and part Bowling for Colombine.
It starts with a schoolroom massacre and ends with 15 minutes or so of concert footage, in which Portman’s single-name pop star Celeste struts her stuff in leotard and glitter make-up, flanked by dancers and singing her heart out.
Over a day and a half of shooting, they repeatedly filmed the entire concert scene, just down the road from her childhood home in Long Island. “We did it a lot, the whole 12 or 15 minutes of dancing, singing, everything together,” she says. “It was really hard but fun. I felt my age for sure.”
We first meet Celeste as a 13-year-old high-school student. She emerges from the shooting with a bullet permanently lodged in her spine and an urge to put her feelings about the situation into song, helped by her older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin).
When she sings the song at a memorial service, she seems to encapsulate the nation’s grief. Soon, she’s signed to a record label, has a manager (Jude Law), and is on her way to being reshaped as a viable pop product.
The young Celeste is played by Raffey Cassidy, who resurfaces in the second half of the film, set 18 years later, as Albertine, daughter of the grown-up – and thoroughly messed-up – Celeste (Portman).
While Stacy Martin and Jude Law play the younger and older versions of their characters, Portman says writer-director Brady Corbet had two different actors play Celeste because he wanted to show how the music industry can take a person and transform them “into this whole different human being … [who] turns into this creation, a kind of monster”.
Did that aspect of the story have special resonance for Portman, who burst into the public eye as a 12-year-old in Luc Besson’s hitman drama Leon? After all, she has spoken recently about her experience of being exposed to the industry’s sexualisation of young women at such a tender age, and of receiving rape fantasy “fan mail” as a 13-year-old.
“I hope I’m not very similar to Celeste,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t feel very similar to her in my real life. And also I think the pop music and acting worlds are quite different.
“In pop you have this persona who is sort of an extension of your own personality, and in acting you’re really supposed to be very different. You’re more commended if you transform from what people perceive to be your real personality.”
Vox Lux is on limited release from Thursday February 21.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald