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From “Vox Lux” to “Annihilation,” she doesn’t shy from challenging performances. Here, she explains why.
Natalie Portman shows up in the second half of “Vox Lux” like a hurricane, bursting into writer-director Brady Corbet’s mesmerizing portrait of self-absorbed pop star and overtaking the story. As Celeste, a beloved singer who survived a mass shooting in her youth and has been corrupted by fame, Portman embodies the sheer lunacy of modern popular culture.
At the Q&A for the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival, Portman described her performance as “this commodification of everything, where violence becomes something you sell, news becomes something you sell, even private life does.” She singled out a scandal in the movie’s plot that finds armed gunmen wearing masks from one of Celeste’s music videos in a terrorist attack. “What brings a terrorist and a pop star in alignment is that people paying attention to them makes them valuable and gives them power,” she said. “That kind of commodification and attention is what we’re living through right now. It’s our politics, it’s our culture.”
It’s heady, challenging material — and not an easy sell. “Vox Lux” is one of the few major TIFF titles to arrive at the festival (after its Venice premiere) without North American distribution, and whoever picks it up will face a unique marketing challenge with Portman’s dyspeptic character. Major buyers attended the premiere, but largely agreed that Portman’s name brought the movie its sole commercial hook.
At the afterparty, the actress told IndieWire that Celeste’s uneasy attributes drew her to the role, citing Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes’ “Woman Under the Influence” and “Opening Night” as key reference points. “Those are some of my favorite performances,” she said. “Those are movies I really admire and I always feel like those are the easiest characters to relate to because they’re so human. The more broken, the more fallible, the more faulted the person is, the more I think I can relate to them.”
She added that she tends to stray from more likable types. “The hardest thing for me is characters you’re supposed to admire,” she said. “I don’t get it.” She laughed. “It doesn’t seem like a person to me,” she said. “I connect to someone who’s, like, having a hard time or not always the person they want to me, or messing up. That’s what feels human to me. It’s much more exciting for me to play.”
Her filmography bears this out. “Vox Lux” plays like a spiritual sequel to “Black Swan,” but the character’s psychological duress as she contends with the power at her disposal suggests aspects of “Jackie” as well.
Earlier this year, she starred in “Annihilation,” Alex Garland’s heady sci-fi thriller that put her at the center of a cryptic story where her motives were unclear throughout. The movie also faced tough commercial prospects: Paramount dumped the movie in theaters and sold international rights to Netflix. Portman shrugged off the potential risks of the two projects she’s tackled this year. “As an actor, you just start trying to help fulfill the director’s vision and really just try bringing everything you can creatively,” she said. “The rest is up to the business people. The most interesting thing for me is working with people who I feel push me creatively and intellectually, have great ideas, create a lot of freedom and the circumstances that you can really explore creatively.”
In “Vox Lux,” Portman upped her game from her “Black Swan” days with another dazzling onstage performance, this one requiring her to sing. Celeste’s music (actually original compositions by Sia) is unveiled at the close of the movie in dynamic stage performance that finds Portman dancing and belting out songs in a giant stadium. It’s the first time she’s carried a tune onscreen since Woody Allen’s musical “Everyone Says I Love You” in 1996, though she said of that movie, “I don’t really consider that one a singing role.” For “Vox Lux,” she underwent very little preparation. “I didn’t really prepare,” she said. “Brady wanted to show that you didn’t really have to be very good to be someone like this. I was like, ‘Shouldn’t I, like practice? Shouldn’t I perform?’ He was like, ‘Nope!’” She did receive some counseling from a vocal coach. “It was really very much like a production, with the sound producers doing their magic,” she said.
For the dance movies, she reunited with her husband, “Black Swan” choreographer Benjamin Millepied. “It was really fun because we got to prepare everything at home,” she said. As soon as the credits rolled on the movie, audiences started a guessing game to determine the real-life inspiration for Celeste’s character: Miley Cyrus? Lady Gaga? Portman declined to answer. “It’s definitely not based on one person,” she said. “There are little details taken from real people that I’m sure everyone will be able to intuit. I definitely stole little details that I found in different documentaries.”
The jarring performance matches a movie designed to keep audiences off balance. Corbet’s constant use of long takes propel viewers into a lively environment of tense backroom strategy sessions and unnerving arguments as Celeste clashes with everyone in her orbit. Portman said she loved the approach, used almost exclusively in her scenes.
“Long Steadicam takes are just the best as an actor,” she said at the Q&A. “We can just play. It’s not like little fragments. You kind of get to have the whole shape of a scene and go through it and try different things. …It felt very fun and alive in a way that’s very uncommon.” Corbet, standing by her said, chimed in. “Only really great actors love long takes,” he said.
In Vox Lux and Gloria Bell, respectively, a pair of best actresses show what they’re made of.
There’s nothing surprising, exactly, about Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria Bell, at least not if you’ve seen Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria. Gloria Bell is a remake of that great 2013 Chilean film (not a remake of John Cassavetes’s Gloria—that one already got a remake in 1999), about a woman in middle-age, divorced and an empty-nester, who’s struggling to find traction. It’s an almost exact replica, minus the setting (the action has been moved from Santiago to Los Angeles), and it’s equally amiable and sweet and sad. Gloria Bell does have some American movie star lift, though, in the form of a delicate but purposeful Julianne Moore.
Gloria lives a quiet kind of life, working in insurance and tending to her adult children when they’ll let her. She has her small passions, particularly dancing, which she does most often at what appears to be a discotheque for the almost-AARP set. Gloria Bell’s soundtrack is full of disco and easy-listening stuff from the 1970s and ’80s, presumably the music that was popular when Gloria was in her salad days, and Moore slinks and grooves and sings along to these tunes with her usual natural expressiveness.
Though there is something a little self-conscious about Gloria when she dances, maybe because she’s also out to meet men. Twelve years divorced and maybe a little lonely—we can only infer that, as Gloria Bell’s script is sparing with its emotional exposition—Gloria could use some company. She finds that in John Turturro’s Arnold, much more recently divorced and still entangled with his ex-wife and dealing with difficult daughters. As much as there is a traditional plot to Gloria Bell, it’s in its tracking of that relationship, as the two—both laden with, and of course made wiser by, decades of personal history—negotiate their way into each other’s lives.
But really, Gloria Bell is more of a felt film than a strictly narrative one. Lelio weaves some casual visual poetry into the film, bursts of color and motion that briefly hint at something surreal just on this film’s margins. He mostly relies on Moore, though. With good reason! She’s such a precise actress that the most minor of shifts, in tone or pose or expression, communicates a whole internal arc. It’s one she rides all the way to the film’s glorious (heh) close, a moment when Gloria starts finding herself anew in all the fullness of what she already has. Which is to say, herself—her body, her life, her perspective on the world. This is a subtle Moore performance, and yet it still does a lot, offering a kind of permission to singleness that feels generous and kind.
Movies like Gloria Bell tend to be referred to as small. Which makes some sense, given that it’s set in the here and now and doesn’t go for any high drama. But there is expansive emotional terrain being explored here, a landscape of setbacks and disappointments and moments of cautious hope that Moore articulates beautifully. Moore won her long-overdue acting Oscar four years ago, and this is the first role she’s had since that’s allowed her to use the full range of the piercing intelligence that so animates her best work. Moore is a true empath, understanding how much the little details of a character’s life come to bear on the bigger picture. Her work in Gloria Bell is almost therapeutic in all its rich insight. We’re lucky to have her.
Existing on the whole other end of the acting spectrum, but in a good way, is Natalie Portman’s bonkers turn in Brady Corbett’s sophomore feature, Vox Lux. A dark and daring film about a pop star named Celeste whose public identity is forever tethered to a childhood tragedy, Vox Lux is not easy viewing. Indeed, there were many walkouts during the premiere screening in Toronto (at least in the balcony, where people could safely skitter away without the filmmakers seeing).
I can understand why, to an extent. Corbett is an ambitious provocateur, marrying ugliness with filmic beauty in a way that borders close to cruel manipulation. I’m thinking in particular of the film’s opening, which depicts a school shooting with harrowing bluntness. It’s an excruciating scene, and I’m not sure that what follows really earns all that initial torture.
Still, Vox Lux is worth keeping with if only to get to Portman, who shows up about halfway through the film. In the first stretch, young Celeste is played by Raffey Cassidy, as Celeste surfs a surreal wave of viral fame from a memorial service to the beginnings of major music career. She’s shepherded along, with kindness and a faint whiff of creepiness, by Jude Law. (His character is just billed as “the Manager.”) Cassidy is a curious creature, still and watchful with a slightly sinister, dark-eyed stare. I gather Celeste is supposed to be a little unsettling, as she turns what we have to assume is some post-traumatic stress into a quickly intensifying hunger for stardom.
Corbett and his cinematographer Lol Crawley stage some gorgeous and ominous moments in this first half, the film moving with a gliding, Kubrickian menace. There’s a particularly striking sequence, sped-up and grainy, in which we see Celeste and her sidelined sister traveling to Sweden, young teenagers on the make, living a whole riot of adolescence in just a minute or two. (All while Willem Dafoe narrates.) Corbett, whose first feature, The Childhood of a Leader, made a notable festival rumble three years ago, is definitely a talented technical filmmaker. Much of Vox Lux is arresting to look at and listen to (Scott Walker composed the film’s keening score).
It doesn’t come together, though, neither in form nor idea. The commentary Corbett is making on how fame and tragedy intersect, heroes and villains existing on different sides of the same coin, forever in perverse dialogue with one another, is muddled. (So muddled that I could be totally wrong about what Corbett is trying to say.) I appreciate the way he so violently insists that we confront the reality of school shootings—that they are frequent enough to become a cinematic trope, as device-like as a car chase. And yet Vox Lux’s aggression doesn’t push us anywhere profound, or even coherent. It’s a lot of flail with not a lot of payoff.
Then again, enter Natalie Portman. As adult Celeste, Portman immediately makes clear what was not at all apparent in Cassidy’s stiff portrayal of the character: Celeste is a tough-cookie daughter of Staten Island, with a swagger to match her gnawing egomania. Portman strides into the movie with such a burst of broad energy that it feels like she quite literally walked in from another movie. It’s a go-for-broke kind of performance, as full-tilt as her actorly brinkmanship in Jackie, and nearly as successful. Portman’s Celeste is outsize and theatrical, and yet like Moore’s far quieter work, there’s also a lot of specific stuff going on.
As Celeste yaws wildly from rage to drug-addled self-pity to steely straight-talker, Portman steers the performance with a beguiling control. It’s a thrill watching her dive into something like this, continuing her startling and exciting transformation from ingenue to nervy character actress. (At the moment, Vox Lux feels like the third performance in a trilogy, begun with Black Swan and followed-up by Jackie.) I’m sure there are some who think it’s all too much, that it doesn’t fit the context of the movie. On the latter point they’d be kinda right. As for the former, maybe my tolerance for “much” is higher than others, but I love the scale that Portman is working at in Vox Lux. It’s fun and perceptive, a well-observed embodiment of a certain kind of brassy person, encased in fabulous pop star clothes.
Vox Lux ends with an extended concert scene (the song snippets were written by Sia) that goes on for too long and suggests Portman’s dance abilities are perhaps better suited to ballet. She’s still there, though, going hard at this fascinating performance in a movie that can’t quite keep up with her frenzy. Corbett is certainly one to watch, so long as he hones his inquiry and becomes a bit more discerning about his eager creative impulses. Portman, on the other hand? I hope she keeps dancing as fast as she can.
Source: Vanity Fair
Natalie Portman’s “Vox Lux” dazzled critics at the Venice Film Festival and continues to draw crowds in Canada. At our Variety Studio presented by AT&T at the Toronto Film Festival, the actress joined co-star Jude Law and director Brady Corbet to discuss the darkness behind all the glitter and glam of “Vox Lux.”
After the Venice and TIFF premieres, Portman claimed that this was the most political film she’s ever made. The actress explained this statement to Variety exclusively.
“Brady’s writing was such an accurate portrait of our moment, like nothing I’ve seen,” she said. “Where it’s not any sort of political message, or anything like that, but it has such a, ‘This is the culture and the political situation that we’re living in where everything is for sale.’ And how much attention we pay something, whether it’s a pop star, or a terrorist attack, gives it its importance and gives it its value. How much you can sell it is what makes it important.”
Her character, Celeste, discovers fame at the age of 13, shortly after her school is attacked by a rogue shooter. The atrocity, and the song it inspired her to sing, rockets the young girl to stardom. Portman herself understands the glare of the early Hollywood spotlight, having starred alongside Jean Reno in the 1994 movie “Leon: The Professional.”
“It is a weird thing to have a public persona and a private persona so young,” Portman said. “Because you’re kind of aware of keeping those separate. And there’s a weird splitting of self, ‘This is what other people can know about me, this is what’s valuable for me to have just for myself,’ and that can be strange, but important to keep separate. Which, this character doesn’t really do.”
There was a time when you could barely see a movie without catching a glimpse of Brady Corbet. The actor seemed to be in every arthouse favorite of 2014, with supporting roles in everything from “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Eden” to “Force Majeure” and “While We’re Young,” but he hasn’t so much as made a cameo in the four years since. The reason why: He chose to step behind the camera rather than in front of it, making one of the most impressive debut features in recent memory with 2015’s “The Childhood of a Leader.” Corbet won two prizes at Venice for his haunting look at a future totalitarian’s early years, and returns to the Lido in highly ambitious form with “Vox Lux.”
He didn’t come alone. Natalie Portman stars as the mononymous Celeste, a pop star whose musical stylings were composed by Sia, with a supporting cast led by Jude Law and Stacy Martin. Her name is no coincidence: As explained by the narrator (whose identity remains best left unspoiled), Celeste comes from the Latin word for “heavenly” and, in her case, signifies that her fate may have been written in the stars. This young woman was born for great things, which, it turns out, may only be tangentially related to music.
To call “Vox Lux” a pop-star drama would falsely suggest that it in any way resembles “A Star Is Born” or is at all interested with the music industry, especially when you learn, in its opening minutes, what compels our heroine to start singing in the first place. The film begins in 1999, at which time a 13-year-old Celeste is in music class when a classmate opens fire in her classroom, killing several and leaving her with a spinal injury that will cause her pain for the rest of her days. It’s a horrific sequence, coming out of nowhere and filmed in such a way that puts you closer to the violence than you’d ever want to be; this is Celeste’s life, and for the next two hours it’s also ours. “Vox Lux” is a powerful, haunting film in part because Portman is a powerful, haunting presence — you can’t turn away from her, even if you occasionally want to.
School shootings have loomed large in America’s collective imagination for the last 20 years, and it’s likely no coincidence that this film’s massacre takes place in the same year as Columbine. Corbet, who turned 30 last month, is among the first filmmakers to make a movie exploring the aftermath of such a tragedy who was himself a young student when that era-defining shooting occurred; he’s also the first to convey how these incidents have crept their way into nearly aspect of young people’s lives. Celeste’s career is kickstarted by a mournful ballad she composes after her near-death experience, and “Vox Lux” is more concerned with her post-traumatic stress disorder than how many chart-topping singles she releases.
Raffey Cassidy (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) plays her in these early scenes, with Portman not appearing onscreen for nearly an hour. “That’s what I love about pop music,” she says, shortly before recording her breakthrough single. “I don’t want people to have to think too hard. I just want them to feel good.” Corbet doesn’t share that desire in the slightest, and one shudders to think what CinemaScore this film might receive — it couldn’t be less of a crowdpleaser, and is almost certainly the only movie about a pop star you’ll ever see whose own soundtrack inspires people to stick their fingers in their ears.
Scott Walker’s booming orchestral played an integral role in setting the ominous tone of “The Childhood of a Leader,” and so it’s unsurprising that Corbet would go overtly musical in his follow-up — even if it is surprising that he would collaborate with Sia. By turns discordant and catchy, their contrasting efforts are emblematic of “Vox Lux” as a whole: Celeste is a cross between goth and glam, and Portman holds nothing back in a histrionic performance that sees a damaged woman teetering on the brink of collapse. She shouts, curses, drinks wine from a plastic cup, and snorts who knows what off a table; occasionally she even finds time to perform, but not before being hounded by the press over her many misdeeds. Portman is fearless, going all out in a role that requires nothing less.
Her portion of the film begins with a mass shooting on a Croatian beach, the men responsible wearing masks first made famous by one of Celeste’s music videos. Though she doesn’t feel responsible for the bloodshed, the singer can’t help being reminded of the event that continues to inform, and perhaps even define, her very existence. “Vox Lux” doesn’t find any grand truths in its exploration of the nexus between pop superstardom and terrorism — how the one might inspire the other, how violence on a grand scale might be another way to get one’s name in lights — but that feels less like a failing and more like a reflection of its heroine’s fractured state of mind.
Celeste is described as a “prisoner of a gaudy and untenable present that had reached an extreme in its cycle” by that same narrator, who goes so far as to suggest that her talents may be the result of a deal with the devil she brokered during those moments between life and death. That’s heavy stuff, and Corbet makes you feel its full weight. His film isn’t fully realized, and the writer-director can’t possibly tie such far-flung ideas as Faustian bargains and pop ballads into a fully coherent whole — but “Vox Lux” is so grandly ambitious, so unabashedly its own experience, that it’s impossible to dismiss despite its flaws. You may not want to play it on repeat, but this is a song that demands to be heard at full volume.
“Vox Lux” world premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.
In “A Star is Born” and “Vox Lux,” the actresses offer very different perspectives on fame.
Fame is a tricky subject for established actors, especially ones with such recognizable faces that they can never fully immerse themselves in a role. In “A Star is Born,” director-star Bradley Cooper’s grimy and soulful installment in a decades-spanning tradition of tackling the rags-to-riches saga, Lady Gaga embraces the opportunity to endow a familiar showbiz drama with renewed intimacy. The established performer becomes a veiled weapon for her fragile character — a rising phenom named Ally — whose uncertainty about her talent is upended by our knowledge that she has it in spades; it doesn’t take much needling from Cooper’s renowned hard-drinking rocker Jackson Maine to drag it out of her.
“A Star is Born” may be a timeless formula, but the subject has particular resonance when our crazed media circus exploits creativity at any opportunity, only to spit it out the moment the juices run dry. And so, that remake has landed on the fall film festival circuit with an evil twin: “Vox Lux,” writer-director Brady Corbet’s fascinating, bleak enigma about the self-destructive path of a pop star who epitomizes the shifting temperaments of a country at odds with itself.
As the coarse, moody singer Celeste, Natalie Portman deliver a stormy interpretation of an icon saddled with a culture that projects its sentiments onto her. Beginning with a traumatic high-school shooting and culminating in a performance that feels like a very different sensory assault, “Vox Lux” is a jarring deconstruction of the industry that “A Star is Born” explores in more familiar terms.
Both movies deliver on vastly different ambitions. As a director, Cooper borrows more heavily from the John Cassavetes playbook than the story’s precedents, with a naturalistic drama that sticks close to its tearjerker potential without overplaying its sentimental hand. Of course, he’s mining a lot of obvious territory here, and from the moment Ally wanders out of the garage from her service job singing a gentle tune and the title card comes up, “A Star is Born” telegraphs its intentions hard and fast. There’s nothing particularly shocking about a story that finds the disheveled Jackson drawing Ally into his orbit, developing a touching romance, and catapulting her to unexpected new heights of appreciation. His substance-abuse problems enter the movie right on cue; as Ally’s career gains momentum, his own begins to wane. It’s a straightforward disconnect that gives these effective performers room to play, but Gaga’s dynamic screen presence elevates it beyond the realm of cliché. Her own cultural evolution in the public eye imbues the archetype with renewed authenticity.
Portman, on the other hand, brings a near-cartoonish intensity to her monstrous singer that elevates the movie to surreal heights. Corbet’s fascinating narrative unfolds across two time periods: In the first, set in the years leading up to 9/11, the teenage Celeste (breakout Raffey Cassidy, terrifically subdued) survives a near-death experience that leaves many of her classmates dead; when she sings a gentle ballad at a memorial service, it goes viral, instantly propelling her to national attention. Under the guidance of her foul-mouthed new agent (a wacky Jude Law), she travels to New York and Europe with her sister (Stacy Martin). The girls are eager, wide-eyed neophytes, dragging the narrow worldview of their Christian background on the road even as they discover the prospects of a hard-partying lifestyle. Corbet, whose daring stylistic approach shifts gears every few minutes, represents this process in sped-up home video footage as narrator Willem Dafoe deadpans about their experiences. Then 9/11 hits, and Dafoe puts national circumstances in context: While the nation mourned the school shooting through the youthful purity of teen Celeste, in the wake of 9/11, it lost its innocence along with her.
Enter the next chapter: Portman careens through 2017 scenes, where Celeste has become a jaded, hedonistic trainwreck. No matter how she’s put the attack behind her, the darkness comes in waves, and now she’s dealing with the fallout of a media whirlwind when terrorists wearing masks from her music video engage in a violent mass shooting. Considering her response while rolling her eyes, she swears and flaunts her attitude at anyone in vicinity, including her estranged daughter — played by Cassidy again, highlighting the surreal meta-commentary at the movie’s startling, provocative core. These aren’t really people; they epitomize a cycle of spoiled virtues that never really ends. While Gaga may be channeling Judy Garland in her role as a natural performer, Portman resurrects the unruly force of Gena Rowlands in “A Woman Under the Influence,” elevating the concept of an energetic train wreck to metaphorical terrain.
As a result, the two movies stand at a significant crossroads: “A Star is Born” explores the intimacy of stardom often obscured by the spotlight, while “Vox Lux” unearths its mythological ramifications. Their effectiveness depends on which experience audiences prefer to engage. “A Star is Born” offers emotional depth to spare, and delivers the musical goods time and again, in large part due to Gaga’s booming voice and raw screen presence. Portman, however, often looks as though she might pop off the frame alongside the movie’s big ideas. In a mesmerizing climax, her character performs the title album in a colorful set overloaded with blinding lights and glittery costumes. Ironically, Celeste looks markedly similar to Gaga’s stage appearance years before she polished up her act. Together, they illustrate dueling relationships to the celebrity machine. Whereas “A Star is Born” celebrates the perseverance of a beloved figure in the public eye, “Vox Lux” illustrates the psychological toll of being starved for attention.
Actor-turned-director Brady Corbet’s devilishly entertaining Vox Lux premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Tuesday to a strangely polarized reaction. Some were delighted by the film, which tracks the rise and attempted reboot of a glittery, Lady Gaga-esque diva; others walked out of the press screening, which was met with scattered boos. Everyone agreed, though, that nobody could fault the 35-mm. musical drama with a lack of ambition.
Divided into two chapters, the film follows Celeste (Raffey Cassidy in part one), a sweet and musically gifted 14-year-old who survives a school shooting reminiscent of Columbine and parlays her newfound notoriety into music-biz stardom. When we pick up with her in part two, now played by Natalie Portman, Celeste has slugged it out atop the pop charts for the past 15 years, with all the scars and addictions to show for it—and an arsenal of all-new tunes by songwriter extraordinaire Sia.
On the day she’s meant to kick off her comeback tour, news footage emerges of terrorists wearing Celeste-inspired garb while killing innocents. Violence gave the singer her name, and now threatens to take it away.
We spoke with Portman and Corbet about the film, their respective careers, and why directing is like sex, shortly before Vox Lux’s red carpet premiere on Tuesday.
Vanity Fair: Natalie, I saw that you have an executive-producer credit on the film, as well as an acting credit. What has your relationship with this project been like over the years?
Natalie Portman: I do? [Laughs] That’s awesome! I didn’t have a relationship—I guess that’s something my agents added in, and I didn’t realize. [Laughs]
Brady Corbet: When you’re putting a film together, you always have to start with the cast—the film wouldn’t exist without Natalie’s participation, Jude [Law]’s participation, Sia’s participation. And so I would assume that was the producers’ reasoning. But I don’t know; I didn’t negotiate the deal.
Portman: [Still laughing] That’s hysterical! I totally didn’t know that.
Raffey Cassidy plays the teenage Celeste in the first half of the film, and Celeste’s teenage daughter in part two. Did you work with her to develop your shared character?
Portman: Not really. It was guided by Brady, because everything was fast and furious, shooting-wise. It was a bold choice of Brady’s that was really interesting, because it’s a constant reminder of the first half of the movie and what that character’s been through and that story, next to what’s kind of a different person 15 years later. It sort of reminds you of the past that brought her to where she is. Also, I think Raffey is such a strong actress.
Corbet: I think the idea is that Natalie is having a dialogue with herself, in a way. And yet it’s someone who has advanced a little bit, is a bit further along than she was at that age, 15 years [prior]. The idea was that the first half of the movie is minimalism, and the second half is maximalism. So you have this character who is like a seed in part one, and is not a fully realized character until part two.
Portman: She’s like a man-eating plant in part two!
When we return to Celeste, she’s spent the past 15 years in the public spotlight. You’ve been there even longer than that. Has the nature of fame changed in recent years?
Portman: It’s changed a lot. In some ways, it feels a lot more invasive, because of things like camera phones and the Internet, which did not exist when I was first starting, of course. But, also, it feels a lot more dissipated, because there’s just so much information and so much out there that every little bit seems less valuable and less important. So it’s also become more relaxed, in a way.
How did you get into the mind of a pop star?
Portman: I watched a lot of documentaries. I don’t want to reveal them, because I don’t want people to think it’s based on particular people, which it’s not. The writing was so specific and inventive that I don’t want people to say, “Oh, it’s a mix of this-meets-that,” or whatever. I watched all of them. [Laughs] All the documentaries about pop stars.
What about the music? What was your collaboration like with Sia?
Corbet: I needed so much material, and so basically we mined through tons and tons of musical ideas—unreleased material, etc.—and mixed and matched, putting lyrics and music together to make the soundtrack. So some of these songs, especially the songs in the first part of the movie, were written a long time ago. And we tried as much as we could, because sometimes we had trouble recovering the elements, because they were written and produced a long time ago. But we tried to keep as much [of] the original production as possible. And then the contemporary songs were, you know, contemporary.
Did you go to Sia and say, “I have this character. I have this movie. What can you do?”
Corbet: Absolutely. Yes. I went and sat down and listened to many, many, many different songs, or parts of songs, or demos. And I started to identify something that would function really well for the character. But, then, everything was reproduced and the vocals were recorded, or in some cases re-recorded [gestures towards Portman].
Portman: It was really fun and surprising to just see what they could do in the studio—how you can layer your voice. The whole process was completely new for me. We recorded with Sia’s people, so that was really fun. You’ve got the headset on, and you’re in this recording studio . . .
Celeste survives a school shooting. She becomes the face of it, and that fuels her rise to fame. Has it been surreal watching reality imitate fiction this year, seeing the Parkland survivors chart a similar course?
Corbet: Here’s the thing: the film is not that prescient. The writing’s been on the wall for this stuff for forever, right? I mean, we have a reality star in the White House. Parkland is just one of the many, many, many tragedies that seems like we’re repeating on a weekly basis. I wasn’t more cognizant of the Parkland attack than I was everything else that’s happened this year, or San Bernardino a couple years ago. [However, with the Parkland kids,] it seems like maybe things are getting healthier. We finally are giving a face to the victims, as opposed to only the attackers.
Celeste loses control of her image in the second half of the film, after terrorists use visuals from her music videos while committing unspeakable acts. As film artists, do you worry about people appropriating your work and image?
Portman: I don’t know if that’s a fear in my life that I think about a lot. But it is something interesting for the character—to have her external perception so out of her hands. She obviously wants to control the narrative a little bit more.
Corbet: I think any time you’re portraying acts of violence on-screen, it can be argued that they immediately become iconic. I was mostly focused on doing something that was quite banal. I tried to make sure that it was not an iconic act of violence in the film . . . The creative process is something very insular, so, really, all you can focus on is doing the work as well as you can, and try to do it with integrity, which is what I tried to do. I’m not particularly worried about there being any acts of violence that are associated with this film.
Both of you began your careers as actors, and have moved toward directing. How does such a background help you as filmmakers?
Corbet: Hopefully, it makes us especially sensitive to whatever everyone who’s in front of the camera is going through. The more radical and dramatic the material, the more vulnerable it is for the cast. So, hopefully, it made us very patient and understanding. Every time a day player comes in—even if they only have two or three lines—they come with so much responsibility and stress because they don’t know everyone; they’re not familiar with the group. I’ve been in that position many times, where I’ve come in and just have one or two scenes in the movie. So I especially felt for people like that, and so I think we achieved something that was even better than if I had been not patient and not understanding.
Portman: I think it’s lucky to come as an actor to directing. Mike Nichols always used to say to me that directing is like sex—you don’t know how anyone else does it. And you look at other people and just kind of imagine, “oh, they must be really good at it!” [Laughs] As actors, you know how everyone else does it, cause you’ve had sex with all them! [Laughs] Obviously not actually had sex, but you’ve worked with all of them. You’ve had the experience working them, of course, so you know how everyone does it.
What lessons will you take from your first experience as a director, now that you’re beginning to work on your second film?
Portman: I think you [better] know the editing-room experience, of seeing what you are missing, or what you wish you had done. I imagine—because I haven’t done my second yet—that that will be a big change. Also, the music—I feel like I would start [working on] the music much earlier. I feel like music happens so late in the process, and I realized that it takes a long time to find the right stuff, and you almost want to shoot to music sometimes. I just realized that for the next time I would do it, I would want it much earlier in the process, rather than something to just add on at the end.
What can you tell us about your next project, which is about the relationship between Dear Abby and Ann Landers?
Portman: It’s very, very early. We’re still working on the script, and I think it’s going to be a while. I’m really interested in how you can become your own worst enemy, and how identical twins [are] kind of a personification of fighting yourself.
“‘Vox Lux’ is the most political film I’ve made,” said Natalie Portman, discussing “Vox Lux,” which world premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Tuesday and will next play at Toronto.
In Brady Corbet’s film, Portman plays Celeste, a dysfunctional American pop star who survived a school shooting as a teenager. Dealing with fame, gun violence and pop culture, “Vox Lux” has earned mainly positive reactions from critics but also some boos during its early press screenings.
“I don’t think any two people will leave the screening with the same feeling. It will leave people debating,” said Portman, who also revealed that financing the project wasn’t easy.
“It almost fell apart financially. They called me when I was at the airport as I was leaving to travel to New York and told me ‘we can’t make the film because we’ve lost the financing,’” said Portman, who said she decided to “stick with the project” no matter what.
“It all worked out eventually and the delay allowed me to let it sit, take the time to get into the character,” said Portman, who added that she shot her part in only 10 days. “It was a very fast shoot but I loved working with Brady — he understands the necessity of freedom and created the time and space to make us feel free,” said Portman.
The Oscar-winning actress said she watched documentaries about pop stars to prepare for the role. She said she also watched videos of people who survived school shootings, but was already familiar with the enduring trauma that mass violence can cause in people because she has “very close friends who have been victims of terror.”
Portman said she was not concerned about the fact the film didn’t yet have U.S. distribution in place. “‘Jackie’ (which earned Portman an Oscar nomination) was the same. Producers want to go to festivals first because if you get a good response it will help you sell the film to the best possible distributor,” said Portman.
Portman, who has just wrapped “Pale Blue Dot” (working title), said there seemed to be more role opportunities for actresses today but it was “still complicated.”
“I still feel that it’s hard to find good parts. I’ve had several roles recently which I feel very proud about but I don’t think ‘Oh, I’m reading so many good things and I have to pick one,’ it’s more that I’m searching to find roles that I can work with,” said Portman, who nevertheless noted that streaming services have opened up many opportunities for new content to get made. “There’s so much stuff happening right now. Streaming outlets have created so much demand for content.”
“TV is allowing women to access roles that show their different colors, behaviors and feel more human,” said Portman. Although she doesn’t have a TV project lined up, she’s looking into it. “I just need to find something,” said Portman.
Following her feature debut “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” Portman said she was working with a screenwriter and the production banner Big Beach Films on a project about the twin sisters Ann Landers and Abigail van Buren, who were famous advice columnists and became bitter rivals. Portman said she didn’t know at this stage if she will only direct or star as well in the film.
A school shooting, a teen pop idol and Portman’s jaded diva raise questions about fame and notoriety in Brady Corbet’s social satire
It’s part satire, part social comment, all fragmented and downright inconclusive. But the biggest hint as to what Brady Corbet’s second feature actually is comes right at the end, as the credits scroll fashionably downwards instead of up. It’s “a 21st-century portrait”, we’re told. This might have been more useful at the beginning, but that’s not this director’s style. As he proved with his debut, the Michael Haneke-esque period drama The Childhood of a Leader – a study of the roots of fascism that seemed baffling when it debuted in Venice two years ago and made more sense three months later with the rise of Donald Trump – Corbet prefers to play the long game, and favours opening a conversation over narrative closure.
Corbet has always been an old head on young shoulders, and it should come as no surprise that his film about the pop world shows the spirit of the Danish provocateur Lars von Trier, for whom Corbet acted in 2011’s Melancholia. Split into chapters, with a dry narration from Willem Dafoe – another Von Trier favourite – Vox Lux charts a journey through recent history, starting in 1999 and ending in 2017. The start date proves immediately significant: in a veiled recreation of the Columbine school massacre, a troubled boy appears at a music lesson, killing the teacher instantly and spraying bullets at the teenage pupils. One girl, Celeste (Raffey Cassidy), refuses to be cowed and tries to talk the shooter down. For a second they seem to connect, then more shots are fired, catching Celeste in the neck and leaving a scar that will never heal.
The incident has unexpected repercussions. Recuperating in hospital, Celeste practises her music, tapping away on a keyboard with her sister Eleanor (Nymphomaniac’s Stacy Martin), who feels she somehow let Celeste down by not being in school that day. At a vigil for the victims, Celeste is unable to speak and instead offers a raw, plaintive, self-penned song. It immediately captures the nation’s mood (becoming, as The Narrator notes with amused disgust, “a hit”) and Celeste is thrown into show business at the age of 14.
Guided by her manager (Jude Law), a scruffy, even seedy-looking character who nevertheless always seems to have has her best interests at heart, Celeste takes the first steps into becoming a teen idol, dabbling with drugs and having a seemingly innocuous affair with a grungey rock star that will turn out to have consequences in the second half. So far, it’s been a freewheeling affair; Celeste and Eleanor’s first trip to Europe is a whirling, speeded-up Super 8 montage (a device Corbet uses throughout, to increasingly darker effect), and the girls are the best of friends. That is, until 2001, when a seismic shift in their private lives is echoed in the unseen aftermath of 9/11, where this particular chapter ends.
You might be wondering where the much-vaunted Natalie Portman figures in all this, and at around the midway point Lux Vox dramatically changes tone. It’s now 14 years later and Celeste is an adult with a teenage daughter (also played by Raffey Cassidy) from that casual fling. The transition is jarring; the meek, curious Celeste is long gone; in her place is a jaded thirtysomething diva, trying to hold on to her pop stardom after a scandal that her manager paid, apparently unsuccessfully, to go away. The colour palette is more aggressive now, and Celeste seems almost entirely transformed – a mash-up of chameleonic Lady Gaga, streetwise Madonna and autotuned Katy Perry – her hair hacked into a rock-chick quiff that will become more sculpted and artificial as the film unfolds.
This Celeste is a woman on the verge of yet another nervous breakdown, and there are hints, possibly unintended, of John Cassavetes’s Opening Night as she embarks on a series of comeback shows, starting in her hometown. Wavering between imperious arrogance and pathetic petulance, Celeste’s faltering confidence is further undermined when a terrorist cell in Europe starts to use part of her trademark iconography – a bejewelled mask – in their operations.
It all suggests that something major is coming, a finale that will finally bring these elements together with a payoff amounting to a sizeable scene or revelation. But Vox Lux is not about to resolve anything. Instead, it seems to be a series of equations, dealing most distinctly with the notion of fame in the modern world. It’s a film that asks, what is fame: promotion, manipulation or hero-worship? Can it really just be the end result of massive popularity? And how do we separate it from notoriety? It’s a good question to ask, even though, as the film readily shows, we’re far from getting the answer.
Source: The Guardian
Alright, alright, alright . Matthew McConaughey made quite the entrance last night at the RBC House for the premiere party toasting his latest TIFF offering, White Boy Rick . As he strutted into the room, in a way that only the Dazed and Confused star could, the energy immediately shifted to what can only be described as an uproar. Cameras flashing everywhere, people rushing at the invite-only event to get their snap and catch a sight, and boy, was it a sight to be had.
GALLERY: All the red-carpet fashion at TIFF 2018
Matthew wore a perfectly tailored burgundy Dolce & Gabbana suit and cozied up to his wife Camila Alves. Fellow cast members Richie Merritt, Bel Powley, RJ Cyler and Jonathan Majors were also all in attendance, as was rapper Joey Badass. I caught Matthew taking a call, clasping his phone with his heavily ringed fingers during the brief time that he was there (Perhaps a ghost call to deal with all the attention?)
Before the fever pitch of Matthew’s fete, I chatted with Jude Law at a late-afternoon cocktail hosted by Grey Goose vodka and Soho House Toronto to celebrate the North American premiere of Vox Lux, in which he reunites with his former Closer co-star Natalie Portman. In perhaps his most convincing role yet, the actor was so charming in our convo that he had me convinced his next role would be my husband. And unlike the stars who make quick cameos at their soirees, he enjoyed working the room, chatting and nibbling thin-crust pizza with Natalie before opening their circle to other attendees.
Natalie – who was wearing a sweet-as-can-be soft blush Dior couture gown – got her groove on as soon as the DJ started playing Cardi B. In a well-played move, he transitioned into “Natalie’s Rap 2.0” by The Lonely Island , a recurring SNL skit that sees the pint-sized star rap – and she couldn’t help but sing along and dance with her friends!
Meanwhile the Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott were at the IT House x Producers Ball Gala presented by NKPR and Scott Brothers Entertainment, where they were mingling with producers, talent, directors and attendees. Newlywed Drew had wife Linda Phan by his side, and the brothers were quick to charm the selfie-snapping crowd by hamming it up with props from around the room (like a ping pong racket).
In what was no doubt the grandest event of the eve, Hugo Boss and Amazon Studios hosted a star-studded bash at Soho House Toronto for the cast of Beautiful Boy. All four floors of the house were in play for “it boy” Timothee Chalamet, Steve Carelland Amy Ryan, who were feted by fellow notables like Amber Heard, Armie Hammer and his wife Elizabeth Chambers, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Hari Nef, Joe Zee, Joel Edgerton, Maika Monroe, Pablo Schreiber (Yes, Lievs bro!) and Sam Taylor-Johnson. A room-stopping/you really had to be there moment occurred as former Call Me By Your Name co-stars Timothee and Armie joyfully reunited.
Before 22-year-old Timothee left, I caught him in another moment entirely: After being escorted down the stairs by a handful of security, he was taken to the closed front door of the house, where fans were waiting behind a barricade outside in great anticipation. I saw him take a deep breath as his body guard looked at him for approval, then Timothee gave the approving nod, the door was opened for him and flashes and screams erupted. Fade to black.
Source: Hello! Canada
Actress Natalie Portman opens up about her new film “Vox Lux”, sharing how she prepared to play the role of a pop superstar who overcame tragedy through music.
Source: ET Canada