For Natalie Portma
n there was one over-riding factor that convinced her to jump on board and commit to Thor
– the chance to work with Kenneth Branagh. It was too good an opportunity to miss, she says, even though the timing could have been better.
“To be perfectly honest I wasn’t particularly looking to do a big movie at that time,” she says. “But then I heard that Ken was directing it and I thought ‘wow, that’s an interesting and daring idea..’
“Ken is someone that I’ve wanted to work with for a long, long time. I’m a huge fan of his work, both as an actor and as a director. I must have watched Much Ado About Nothing about 500 times!
“And I was intrigued by the idea Ken directing this. So I met with him and I knew it would be a fascinating three months working together on Thor. I thought it would be a gift to work with this person for that period of time.”
There were other factors, too, that could have counted Portman out of the film – not least, because she had just finished a gruelling, physically and emotionally demanding film, playing a ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.
“I had just finished shooting Black Swan two weeks before I started on Thor and I was really, really exhausted. Black Swan was harrowing and really, really draining.
“I love Darren and working with him was a deeply fulfilling experience but I just showed up for Thor spent. I slept maybe four or five hours a night during that shoot and I had been training for a year before, like five hours a day at least.
“And when we were filming I would be in point shoes from 5 in the morning until very late at night. I probably should have gone into rehab,” she jokes. “But working with Ken was too good an opportunity to miss.
“And he is so lovely – he’s very kind, very considerate and he gives you great guidance. He really kept me on track and, in fact, everyone on Thor was super kind. Also, Kat Dennings is one of my great friends and I got to hang out with her – another big bonus.”
Portman plays scientist Jane Foster and Dennings is her colleague, Darcy, who are part of a team investigating parallel dimensions, led by Professor Andrews (Stellan Skarsgard). When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is banished from the Kingdom of Asgard by his father, Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) he meets Jane Foster and the mutual attraction is instant.
“Thor is exiled from Asgard to Earth by his father as a punishment for being impulsive and petulant,” explains Portman. “Earth is a parallel realm to Asgard and the Asgardians are much more advanced scientifically and physically – they are like a higher species.
“So Thor arrives on Earth and has to deal with this backward, old fashioned place and he finds a kindred spirit in my character, Jane, who is on the fringes of this science and believes in these connections between different realms.
“Actually, there’s an Einstein theory from a long time ago about a bridge that can connect different dimensions – because most physicists believe that there are multiple dimensions, in theory.
“So Jane and Thor join forces to try and get him back. He also has to get his power back and all of that comes from learning humility and how to really be a man on Earth. But into that mix you have his brother who is secretly battling to replace him. It’s sibling rivalry.
“And then on Earth there are these corrupt government forces who want to take Jane’s research and Thor’s hammer – so there are plenty of bad guys on Earth, too.”
There’s a hint of romance too, she reveals. “There is a love story, but it’s very unconsummated,” she smiles. “It’s like they fall for each other and then they leave room for the sequel..”
In the comic books, Jane Foster was a nurse. But in Branagh’s story she’s an astro-physicist. “Yes, she’s got a different job,” says Portman. “She’s a career woman who has a passion for science. It’s like art for her. And she has a really great female friendship and work partnership with Kat’s character. I liked that. And it was great to play, because we’ve been friends for a few years and I loved bringing that to the story.
“And actually, to make a serious point, I think the women are portrayed in a really positive way in Thor. One of the first clues that I had that it was going to be a positive representation was when I went into hair and makeup for a test before we started shooting.
“They were like ‘no, it’s too much hair and makeup, tone it down..’ I was like ‘wow, they are not trying to hot me up! It’s about creating a character..’ It wasn’t ‘let’s get this chick and make her as hot as possible..’ The whole point was to make her a believable character. I was wearing a flannel shirt and sweatpants a lot of the time and there were no body hugging dresses.”
Portman is already a huge hit with the fans of sci-fi and action adventure films thanks to her role as Queen Amidala in three of George Lucas’s much loved Star Wars films. She also played Evey in V For Vendetta, which was based on the comic book by Alan Moore.
She has also starred in serious, contemporary dramas like Closer and Brothers. In the hands of Branagh – who has directed five of Shakespeare’s plays for the big screen – Thor combines the best of both worlds, she says. It’s a big action adventure film with stunning set pieces but it’s also a riveting drama filled with strong, rounded characters.
“Thor” is released and distributed by United International Pictures thru Solar Entertainment Corp.