Natalie Portman has faced challenges in her career before.
To play a ballet dancer in the process of a mental breakdown in Black Swan, the Oscar-winning actor had to endure an intense routine that left her drained.
And while she didn’t break any ribs during the production of Vox Lux, she did have to try on something she didn’t think she could do to play another troubled and emotional scarred artist, this time a pop singer.
“It was scary and I don’t think of myself as a singer,” Portman tells news.com.au.
“And I’m not.”
Portman spent five or six days in a recording studio, working with producer Chris Braide, feeling intimidated at having to match Sia in the songs the Australian singer had written for the film.
“I kept apologising and they were so sweet and we always telling me, ‘don’t worry, we can fix everything later’.
“But it was really fun and it was exciting to see how they work — they’re so talented.
“Pop music often doesn’t get the respect it deserves and it really is incredible, being able to create that perfect hook.”
In Vox Lux, Portman plays the adult version of Celeste, a superstar pop singer whose career was forged in the ashes of an unthinkable tragedy that propelled her young teen self into the headlines.
Written and directed by Brady Corbet, a 30-year-old American actor-turned-director, Vox Lux is a maddening but brilliant takedown of the fame machine and what it does to those trapped within.
The adult Celeste, played with a manic and antagonistic energy by Portman, is the product of personal trauma and an industry that exploits her pain for profit.
Even though Portman herself started professional acting at 12, she says the demands made of actors versus musicians are quite different.
“Musicians are expected to be a version of themselves all the time whereas, of course, actors are expected to be quite different from themselves,” she says.
“I think there’s a different expectation to how you are in your private life.”
Vox Lux also features Portman as Celeste in a full-works concert — glitter, lights and background dancers galore — in exactly the kind of manufactured scenario that Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine railed against in A Star is Born.
For this, Portman had to put her dancing shoes back on, though it was “less extreme” than what she went through on Black Swan.
Portman met her husband, French ballet dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, on Black Swan and the pair worked on the moves for Vox Lux as well.
“It was nice because we got to do everything at home where we have a dance studio,” she says. “Also, I trust him so much and he knows exactly what I can and can’t do, how to make me look my best.
“It made me feel confident.”
Even though Corbet crafted Vox Lux to explore pop music as part of the cultural degradation of the current generation — his harbinger of doom — Portman sees the value in musical escapism.
The younger version of Celeste, portrayed by British teen Raffey Cassidy, says that she wants to make music people could escape into. For Portman, that includes artists such as Solange, Stevie Wonder and James Blake.