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Film

How Scarlett Johansson helped Natalie Portman face her fears

Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson are two of the biggest names in contemporary cinema. Both actors made their big screen debut in 1994, with Portman playing the protegee of a hitman in Leon: The Professional and Johansson appearing in the fantasy comedy North. Both have gone on to have stellar careers, with multiple accolades being lavished upon them over the past three decades.

Johansson and Portman first appeared on screen together in 2008’s The Other Boleyn Girl, a romantic historical drama and a fictionalised telling of sisters Anne and Mary Boleyn as they both attempt to win the love and affection of King Henry VIII. The pair bonded during the film’s production and have since become close friends.

Johansson admitted that Portman’s involvement in the film drew her to take on the role in the first place, revealing: “A major part of why I joined the project, is because Natalie was involved. I’ve been a huge fan of Natalie’s for a long time, and I’ve always loved her choices and her performances. I’d never had the opportunity to work on such an even playing field with my peer. It was a great opportunity for both of us I think.”

Portman agreed with the sentiment of Johansson in the fact that it was a privilege to work alongside someone her own age, who had had a similar career trajectory, and ultimately, someone that she deeply admired and respected.

“I read the script and loved it and came on as Anne,” she said. “I said I only want to do it if Scarlett does it. I had watched her for so long, since we were kids, and she’s so true always, and so good. Like Scarlett was saying, you just never get the chance to work with someone your own age that you so admire. It was such a great, great chance.”

Later, Johansson revealed that whilst on the set of The Other Boleyn Girl, she helped Portman to face her fears of confronting directors and other seniors on set whenever she did not feel comfortable with something, claiming: “It was a real learning experience. We were in these costumes which immediately separate you. You’re in this garb, and it separates you from the guy eating the salami sandwich reloading the camera. It was so important for us to maintain the connection, even in-between shooting. It was hard work, but it paid off hugely.”

She added: “Natalie would be uncomfortable in her costume and not say anything. She’d tell me, ‘My rib is killing me.’ I’d be like, ‘Natalie, why don’t you say something?’ I’d have to be like, ‘Hello, someone, Natalie’s rib is hurting! Can you fix her zipper?'”

Portman was thankful to have someone like her equal, Johansson, around on set to address any issues that arose, for instance, costume. Portman admitted to having a British timidness about her, contrary to Johansson’s brash – though valid – American forwardness. 

“It’s impressive because a lot of women, and I am among them, will be very careful,” Portman said. “I might be like, ‘this might sound stupid but is this what they would do in the scene?’ She’s not like that at all. She’s very direct. Very opinionated and that was inspiring to be around too because I tend to be a lot more timid.”

She concluded: “My avoidance is a bit much. As an actor, you have to respect your position and know that you are fulfilling someone else’s vision. […] It was really, really one of my best, if not the best, acting experience opposite someone my age.”

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