With the awards season in full swing, Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman took time out of their busy schedules to sit down for Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series to discuss their current projects and share some of their views on acting and directing.
“Manchester by the Sea” starring Williams and Casey Affleck has gotten rave reviews so far, and the actress attributes much of the success of the film to writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, who she had wanted to work with for years. “He has this gift for making things feel natural and normal, like there’s nothing happening. But then in the end something transcendent has just occurred,” she explained.
Portman obviously felt the same admiration for her “Jackie” director Pablo Larrain, revealing that she didn’t commit to the part for five years until Larrain signed on to direct.“You see that he has such a strong vision, and his films have such a strong point of view, and he was just very daring about it,” she stated.
The two went on to talk about mastering different accents for their parts and the difficulty in playing roles like Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe, since their mannerisms and voices are so universally known. While filming President Kennedy’s assassination scene, Portman talked about how important it was for her to bring herself to the part, despite being restricted by making sure to get all of Jackie’s actions correct. “You obviously have to be there emotionally, but then you can’t be hysterically crying, because she wasn’t or screaming, because she wasn’t. You’re very constrained.”
The most touching moment came when the pair talked about their tendency to play very vulnerable and emotional roles that are based on true events. Williams spoke about what keeps her grounded when playing a part like that. “It’s a difficult place to go, but I am, at the end of the day, pretending to go through it… There are people who have gone through this, and it’s for them.”
You can see the season premiere of “Actors on Actors” on PBS SoCal Jan. 3. You can also see Portman’s performance in “Jackie” starting this weekend, or catch Williams in “Manchester by the Sea,” which is out now.