‘Knight of Cups’ is an experimental drama written and directed by Terrence Malick, it stars Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman who all return for Malick’s next movie ‘Weightless’, which is currently in production. Below Natalie Portman talks about working with the visionary film-maker and returning to acting after time off to have a baby.
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What was it like to work with Terrence Malick?
It was an amazing experience, and I did a film right after, also with Terry, so it was really lucky just to get to experience his style of working, and his humanity. I learned immensely from him. What did you know about the film before you went into it?
I didn’t know much about the story before I went in. Terrence told me quite a lot about my character and the relationship I would be having with Christian Bale’s character, but otherwise, nothing. I didn’t know where I’d fit into the larger story, and I didn’t know what the larger story was, and I didn’t know what Christian’s character was like, so yeah, there’s a lot of trust and openness that obviously he merits. In that case, did this feel like a different role for you?
I don’t know. It’s hard to be objective about myself, but I hadn’t worked in two years before I did it. I had been off having my child, and then taking time with him, and I’m sure that affected the intensity of everything I was feeling. Did you miss acting when you took time off?
I did miss acting and it was good, because it made me really hungry to go back for it, and really excited to go back, whereas when you’re working a lot it can just sort of feel like a job sometimes, which is not a good way to go to work. How has motherhood changed your relationship to your work?
I guess the big thing is that you want everything you do to really matter to you, because it means time away from your child. I think sometimes I used to get bored, like, ‘I want to do something, so what’s the best thing that I can do right now?’ Whereas now there’s not room for that, which is wonderful. It distils your purpose, workwise.
What’s the most important thing about your character?
Well I think that you’re always thinking about your motivations as a character, and the fact that she’s motivated by love and not by a contract. She feels that she’s doing the right thing because she’s following who she loves, even if she is obviously breaking her marriage contract. Of course, when it ends the way it does, that puts all of that reasoning and self-justification into question. What movies and books did Terrence ask you to see and read?
He had me watch La Strada, and Il Posto, the Olmi movie. I was sort of prepping for both of his movies at the same time – so I read Van Gogh’s letters, and Lermontov’s Hero For Our Time, and Eliot’s Middlemarch – it was such an amazing group of works to be exposed to, and all of them had different elements that he wanted to bring out. Were you surprised by the final cut of the film, knowing so little about it?
I knew from some of the stuff we shot that this was wilder than a normal Terry movie. That club scene, I was shooting that day, and it didn’t end up in the movie, but I saw what was going on. I was like, ‘Oh, okay, this is certainly a different subject matter for Terry. This isn’t like a beautiful meadow of wheat (laughs).’ I think it’s amazing. I think he’s one of the – if not the – most fearless, young-spirited filmmakers out there today, and we’re lucky.