It’s rare in the celebrity world that you get really, really good gossip, the kind where you feel like you basically know the people involved and exactly what the real story is—as though you went to camp with them.
While we can smirk and laugh about the many loves of Taylor Swift or the various permutations of la famille Kardashian, you never really feel like you know what’s going on inside their heads. Which is why an article in this week’s T Magazine, which took the form of multiple emails exchanged between Natalie Portman and Jonathan Safran Foer, is such an unmitigated and horrifying delight—like reading the diary of someone you know, and realizing you know them so much better than you even thought you did.
Accompanied by photos of Portman looking beautiful and melancholic in a gingham bikini and thick woolen socks, the epistolary exchange, written by Foer, is meant to serve as a profile of the star to promote her new film and directorial debut, an adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness. It also stoked (and quelled) some long-standing romantic rumors between the two platonic stars.
Why use the narrative device of email? Well, these are two very busy people, of course, far too busy for Foer, the putative profiler (because let’s not forget who this is supposed to be about) to engage in the usual ritual of “observ[ing] [Portman] at a farmer’s market—which would have felt ridiculous anyway.” (Um, what? And why?) Also, according to Foer, who’s releasing his first novel in a decade, being forced to write these missives back and forth would serve as a corrective to all of their previous e-mail correspondence (15 years worth, as we are made to believe) wiped out due to some vagary of Hotmail, with Foer being “the world’s last Hotmail user,” which “had finally caught up with him.”
Well, JSF, you’re wrong, because I am actually the world’s last Hotmail user (ask my esteemed editor) and in my lengthy experience with Microsoft’s much maligned server, I have never had so much as a single e-mail disappear after about 2005 unless I selected it, checked it, and then deleted it myself. What follows, however, might lead one to make assumptions about why this could have happened (not that I would blame Foer if it did), because the main narrative drift of their highly edited conversation in prose is this: Jonathan Safran Foer would very much like Natalie Portman to be in love with him; Natalie, as eager as she is to say smart things about her movie in limpid and only occasionally obtuse prose, is charged with the task of reminding him that she has a husband (a gorgeous French ballet superstar who eats duck stuffed with hay at fancy restaurants and makes her laugh, no less), and a mother-in-law (who calls guinea pigs “cochons d’inde”! Because she is from France!), while gently turning the conversation back to her film and herself, which was the point.
Foer responds by talking more and more about himself—breaking a cardinal rule of interviewing someone—along with his poetic observations about street cleaning, New York mayor Bill De Blasio, the games he plays with his children, the important of routine, and the definition of freedom; Natalie responds by describing a date with her husband. To whom she is married. In France.
And so on. I don’t mean to suggest that Jonathan Safran Foer was doing any of this consciously, but it does point to the kind of conundrum that effects women in the public eye, that they are supposed to be at least as interested in the men that take an interest in them as they are in their work, their relationships, themselves. Natalie Portman is an artist making a profound switch into the realm of directorial and authorial control, and yet, she’s somehow still an object to win over, a mirage of the “perfect girl” who can be swayed to Foer if he can just find the right words. I feel for her. And I hope someone, some place, lets her actually talk about her movie.