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‘Your Average, Everyday Jewish Mother’

‘Jane Got a Gun’ star Natalie Portman cares about others

Rachel Shukert
February 04, 2016
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Natalie Portman the New York premiere of 'Jane Got A Gun' at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, January 27, 2016. Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Natalie Portman the New York premiere of 'Jane Got A Gun' at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, January 27, 2016. Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Natalie Portman, the patron saint of this column (and I’d say this entire magazine, but I don’t want to speak for everybody), has a new movie out this weekend called Jane Got a GunIt’s that rarest of breeds, a feminist Western in which Portman plays a gun-totin’ woman defending her family from a vengeful outlaw (Ewan McGregor). The shoot, according to Portman, was riddled with challenges: a revolving door of actors and directors paired with all the physical and weather-related challenged of the Old West itself, including sandstorms, thunderstorms, and every other kind of storm. (And believe me, I can relate. I had to wear an actual coat to walk the dog this morning, so I’m expecting Mayor Garcetti to announce a state of weather emergency for Los Angeles County any minute now.)

How did Natalie deal with all this? According to Page Six columnist Cindy Adams, Portman brushed it off with a shrug and an expression of ceaseless concern. “I’m just basically your average, everyday Jewish mother,” she said. “I’d go around asking everyone: ‘Are you okay? Are you all right?’ ”

Adams, for her part, is skeptical of Portman’s claim (“OK, right. In a floor-length Valentino gown yet,” she wrote). But Cindy Adams grew up in approximately the 1870s when most Jewish mothers were still putting on the horsehair wigs to pose for the single-known photograph of them ever taken, a reproduction of which would one day hang over the bar area of the second dining room in Scarsdale, New York. So she can be forgiven for her incredulity.

For my part, I know exactly what Portman means, and I can’t help but contrast her attitude towards her difficult Western-related experiences with that of someone else currently working the publicity circuit: Leonard DiCaprio and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, the star and director of Golden Globe winner The Revenant.

I’ve made no secret about how much I hated that movieI love Leonardo DiCaprio even though everything about him as a person—save for his devotion to environmental causes—seems vaguely distasteful. But even that didn’t keep me from 1) Falling asleep during The Revenant, 2) Being annoyed that it is now somehow spun as a victory for Native Americans despite every Native character murdered within the first 20 minutes of the film, and 3) Convinced that the film’s ascendancy this awards season is evidence of the last dying throes of the patriarchy. The Revenant—a movie with no women in it at all— is, in fact about the survival of one man over impossible (and one might say, irrelevant) odds. Take that, Carol! And then there’s the fact that DiCaprio—who is well overdue for an Oscar win, let me say—and his surrogates seem to be constantly stressing the hideous sacrifices and horrendous discomfort he faced making his film. He crawled across snow! He lay nude in horse carcasses! He went four months making in Port-O-Potties and eating nothing except whatever craft services could provide! It was terrible!

Portman’s message, however, is much more outward. She knows she’s a wealthy celebrity who lives a life of extreme privilege and comfort, yet her main concern seems to have been with the welfare of others: the background players making $150 per 16-hour day, the crew who don’t have cushy trailers or personalized chairs to rest in between shots. If you’re happy, she’s happy. That’s what it means to be a Jewish mother. It should also be what it means to be the star.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.

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