Portman takes shape | Otago Daily Times News Online
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has come a long way since its beginnings when Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was the only female heroine and most other women with substantial screen time were relegated to love interests and damsels.
For example, Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), which was first introduced in 2011 Thor and returned two years later to Thor: The Dark World. She’s an accomplished astrophysicist and astronomer, but is best known for being Thor’s ex-girlfriend. With Thor: Love and ThunderFoster’s first substantial appearance in nine years (she made a whirlwind appearance and you’ll miss it in Avengers: Endgame), director Taika Waititi hopes to infuse Foster with a new sense of agency.
“It was really important for us to bring Jane back because people were asking what happened to her and where she went,” the director said. “It’s nice to be able to respond to that and bring her back, but in a more meaningful way. She’s not Thor’s girlfriend on the sidelines anymore. She comes back as her own person, as a strong, powerful woman who holds the hammer now and is actually a superhero herself.”
In the film – as in the Mighty Thor comic it’s based on – Foster assumes the power of Thor as she battles cancer and is deemed worthy by Mjolnir, the fragmented hammer the hero carried for five movies before it was shattered into Thor: Ragnarok.
Portman says the opportunity to return and revamp the character was “really exciting.”
“Being a superhero is such a rare opportunity. [for an actor]”, she said. “Definitely becoming one when you’re 40, that’s pretty much unheard of. It’s not something I dreamed of doing.”
During filming, Portman leaned on Chris Hemsworth for advice on how to portray a superhero. “He would help me figure out how to do certain things with the hammer,” she said. “A lot of times you don’t use anything, you pretend to catch the hammer in the air. And so he was demonstrating and helping me figure out how to do that, as a 10-year-old expert.
“The suit is what made him realize this was happening for real,” Portman said. “I called Taika straight away saying, ‘I hope I told you how grateful I am’.”
Joining the franchise at this point in Thor’s journey also allowed Portman to work with real-life friend Tessa Thompson, who plays warrior leader Valkyrie. The two met in 2018 while working on the sci-fi horror Annihilation and became fast friends, a bond that was strengthened by their work with the Time’s Up movement.
“My favorite scenes were definitely the ones with Valkyrie,” Portman said. “Working with a friend is so amazing because you bring all of your real affection and experience with that person to the characters. You don’t just pretend you have that relationship. She’s so fierce and talented and brilliant and that’s also just fun to see your friend.”
Going from astrophysicist to god presents quite a steep learning curve for Foster. “I think she’s a little too impatient,” Portman said. “She jumps on things. She has to learn a lot of information and luckily she has Valkyrie and Thor to help her catch up on what’s going on.”
Likewise, despite a career spanning nearly 30 years, Portman found herself facing new challenges and turned to her co-stars for guidance. The first hurdle was figuring out how to get strong, fast. “I learned a lot from Tessa and Chris,” she said. “About how nutrition plays such a big role and how you gotta do the protein shakes and lose water weight, you gotta do the saunas. There is everything that happens there that is really interesting to learn.
With the help of trainer Naomi Pendergast, Portman found herself in the best shape of her life during 10 months of grueling training. “She did a lot of weight training to make me stronger, but she was also very focused on my balance as well as my [targeting] the small muscles that support the bigger muscles,” Portman said. “It was really great to turn 40 and feel the best of my life physically. Being tasked for the first time to take up as much space as possible, when most of the time as women we are asked to be as small as possible. Even things that had been aches and pains were healed by strength training which evened me out and allowed me to balance my body.”
This training came in handy during the film’s action sequences, in which Portman performed many of his own stunts. “I loved doing everything on the wires,” she said. “It was so much fun flying and doing flips. Learning choreography reminded me of learning dance choreography. Obviously I had stunt doubles doing most of the really difficult stuff, but I learned a lot of choreography.”
Shooting a series of flashback scenes about Thor and Jane’s relationship was much lighter. “It was so much fun imagining it as this romantic comedy,” Portman said. “And we shot it in a very independent style too. We shot about 40 different things in one day…getting the vibe of that kind of movie.”
Switching between action scenes, romantic comedy moments, and Jane’s very personal battle with cancer gave Portman the opportunity to explore her character from all angles. “I really like Taika’s ability to have no rules on how [a comic book movie is] meant to be,” Portman said. “Having that kind of free form and free possibility is so lucky, and really lucky for [Jane as a] female character, in particular. He really made room for her to be ridiculous and weak, and she didn’t just have to be this badass girl all the time, which I think is sometimes the interpretation of what a feminist character.
“For me, a feminist character is capable of being everything: sometimes you’re vulnerable, sometimes you’re strong, sometimes you fall flat on your stomach. It’s nice to have the ability to be human like that.”
— Guardian News and Media