Natalie Portman: It's so human to see someone so high-functioning be fallible

Natalie Portman soars to new heights in Lucy In The Sky, a drama about a woman whose determination and drive take her to space. We spoke to the Oscar-winning actress, co-star Jon Hamm and director Noah Hawley

Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola in Lucy in the Sky
Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola in Lucy in the Sky Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola in Lucy in the Sky

IT'S not the first time Natalie Portman has ventured into outer space. Not literally, but certainly as far as her acting career goes.

The 38-year-old has Star Wars credits to her name, as well as roles in projects like 2018's sci-fi film Annihilation.

Her latest role sees her play astronaut Lucy Cola, who, following a mission into outer space, struggles to land her feet firmly back on Earth on her return.

Portman explains: "To be an astronaut, you obviously have to be the best of the best – the brightest, the hardest working, the most physically fit, the most mentally capable, the most socially apt.

"And then she just kind of falls apart. I think it's so human to see someone who's so high-functioning be fallible."

Lucy In The Sky draws inspiration from the real-life story of Lisa Nowak, who made headlines in 2007 after she was accused of the attempted kidnapping of another woman who was reported to be vying for the affections of the same man. She denied the charges.

Starring opposite Portman is Mad Men's Jon Hamm who describes the film as "sort of a philosophical drama". He plays Lucy's romantic interest, Mark Goodwin.

He says: "Much more than the story being about a love triangle or a relationship, it's really more about how we, as human beings – and especially as people that have seen the Earth from a different perspective – have to adapt to that in our daily lives, and how difficult that is."

For Oscar-winner Portman, there's the added layer of looking at gender stereotypes. In a scenario where the guys "typically have been really daring and done crazy and courageous things," she muses, "that's what made them fit to be astronauts."

And then you see a woman, showing some of the same kinds of behaviour, but she "might be called erratic or crazy, where[as] the guys get high-fived for it."

Someone who was firmly in her corner was the film's director, Noah Hawley, who makes his film directing debut with Lucy In The Sky but has TV credits including Legion and Fargo under his belt. He will also write and direct the next Star Trek film.

"What I needed for Lucy was an actress who was transparent. An actress who could both embody the swagger and confidence of the Lucy we needed at the beginning of the film, but then also take us on the psychological decline and to be so transparent we can't help but understand what she's going through and empathise with her," he explains.

"And Natalie, that's her unique skill, having worked with her. And Jon is an enigma, right? He is this solid, handsome mid-western guy who hosts legions inside him. He has that swagger to him, but there's a vulnerability to him, as well as a kind of haunted quality that is critical.

"That helped us feel not just that Lucy is crazy, but that these astronauts are processing something bigger than they understand."

Something Hollywood as an industry has been processing over the last year is representation on screen. It's a subject Portman does not shy away from.

She says: "There just needs to be better representation in general to make movies that reflect what the population actually looks like, which Hollywood has not been doing a good job of.

"Of course, acting is about imagining other people's experiences – you don't have to be a serial killer to play a serial killer. But I don't think we've represented enough types of backgrounds and people, so there needs to be opportunity for people of all different kinds."

Co-star Hamm is in agreement: "It's amazing to me whenever a movie comes out that features an underrepresented group, particularly, and it does well, [that] the powers that be in Hollywood are amazed that Asian people wanna see movies about Asian people and Crazy Rich Asians is a thing. And you're like, 'Yeah, that's a thing'."

An element that has grabbed attention in regards to Lucy In The Sky is the decision to leave out some of the more sordid allegations surrounding the real-life drama that unfolded.

Hawley says: "What appealed to me about this movie was to remind the audience what's behind a tabloid story. A tabloid story, by definition, is a story about human beings with dignity who have been reduced to a punchline. But Lucy Cola isn't a punchline.

"All she is guilty of is a yearning that she doesn't necessarily understand, and actions she thought were right at the time. And it's a story about redemption in the most literal sense – and there is no redemption without a fall.

"So my hope was that the audience might have a moment of realisation. They thought they were going to a movie about a tabloid story, and they ended up in a movie about human beings."

:: Lucy In The Sky is in cinemas now.