Natalie Portman admits she was more than a little nervous about playing such an iconic figure as Jackie Kennedy.
Directed by Chilean director Pablo Larraín, Jackie examines the assassination of President John F Kennedy through the eyes of his young widow Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Dallas shooting, the film shows how a First Lady struggling to cope with her own grief while trying to establish a lasting legacy for her husband.
To prepare for the lead role of Jackie, Portman availed herself of countless articles, biographies and newsreel footage, including several enlightening documents and tapes released after Jackie’s death.
“It was really scary taking on such a well-known figure because of course people know so well what Jackie looked like, how she spoke and how she moved,” confesses Portman. “On the other hand, there were a lot of resources to pull from so I had hundreds of hours of video footage of audio tapes and transcripts of interview and biographies so I could soak it all in.”
One challenge that loomed for Portman as she prepared was Jackie Kennedy’s highly distinctive, whispery voice. “She had such an amazing voice,” Portman muses. “It was truly from another era. She had a finishing school sort of way of presenting yourself – very demure, where you bat your eyelashes and speak in a breathy voice. Her accent was posh but also mixed with a real New York accent and also a little British. Her dialect is an unusual combination of sounds that were completely unique to her. The first time I did it on set, I think Pablo was terrified!”
For Portman, one of the chief attractions of the role was that the film offered a fresh perspective on an iconic yet enigmatic American figure.
“I thought Noah Oppenheim’s approach in the script was really smart,” she says. “He took this one short piece of Jackie’s life, this incredibly traumatic event, and excavated it for how Jackie composed herself in front of the world while dealing with everything that was happening to her privately. We’ve mostly known Jackie as an almost unapproachable icon, as someone we’ve seen as a facade, not ever as a real human, so I love that this story gives you new insight into her humanity.”