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A More Mature - and Sexy - Natalie Portman Shines in "Closer"

Natalie Portman on Working with Mike Nichols, the Nude Scene, and "Closer"

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Natalie Portman Closer

Natalie Portman stars in "Closer"

© Sony Pictures
Director Mike Nichols worked with Natalie Portman on "The Seagull" back when Portman was still a teenager. Since that time, the two have remained close with Nichols playing a second father/mentor role in Portman's life.

Reunited for the movie "Closer," Portman and Nichols were comfortable around one another and completely trusted in each other's artistic decisions. Trust, and the ability to speak bluntly with one another, helped make Portman's job easier as her character, Alice, is a stripper who joins Clive Owen's character in a very sensual, very intimate encounter in a strip club. Though much has been made of Portman's nude scene, which was filmed but not included in the movie, both actress and director feel the right decision was made to not include the very brief shot in the final cut. And while her brief nude scene isn't included in the finished film, it has certainly helped spark interest in Natalie's emergence as a more mature, more sexually evolved actress.

Portman fans who take in "Closer" may be quite surprised the innocent-looking beauty has left the path of what's tried and true and ventured into deeper waters. But as director Nichols says, "People don't quite realize how remarkable an actress she is, because she looks so amazing, but she is." Joining her "Closer" co-stars Jude Law and Clive Owen to talk about her role as the conflicted, honest, tough-yet-vulnerable Alice, Portman refuted claims "Closer" marks her transitional role into more adult fare:

INTERVIEW WITH NATALIE PORTMAN ('Alice'):

This is a pretty serious drama but director Mike Nichols said you were laughing a lot on the set.
Well, because Mike was there.

So it was a fun shoot?
Not always.

When wasn’t it?
Well, I mean…some of the things are really hard to do to each other, especially because all of them - I think I can say this for all of [the cast], we got along well and liked each other a lot. To be really awful to each other was very difficult at times.

Is this role a conscious effort to change your lovable girl image?
No. It wasn’t conscious, but I try and keep it interesting, try and do different things every time. And I haven’t done a role like this before so it was a good challenge.

Does “Closer” mark your arrival as an adult actress?
I disagree. I don't know. I don’t really feel like an adult yet myself, so I don’t really think I can play adults. I think it’s always a proportion, adult to child within you, and even when you’re 85 you’re still going to have that proportion. It changes with mood and with time. It’s an arbitrary distinction between adult and child.

What’s the difference between working with Mike Nichols on stage and in films?
…It’s [a] different comparison because they were different pieces so it’s not a direct comparison. But Mike’s technique was a little bit different. With the play, he gave us more [freedom]. He let us find everything a little bit more ourselves, I think, because we had a much longer time. And also the theater is like every time you do it, you find new things and it sort of builds up and builds up. Whereas on film, you do it and that’s it. That’s it for eternity. So I think he directed us when we were sitting together in our rehearsal period, he sort of laid out very clearly the structural theme of the film. We were all sort of aware of the shape of it as opposed to when we worked on the play, it sort of came together.

Did you learn how to do pole dancing?
Yes. [Clive Owen jokes they all learned how to.] They’re very good. They’re very good, these boys.

Did it hurt to do the splits?
No, I’m extraordinarily flexible.

How did you feel about the decision to remove the nudity?
Well, back to the trust issue, when you trust someone, you’re willing to do everything and make mistakes and really expose yourself inside out. So we made sort of a pact that before… While we would shoot, we would just do everything and then he cut it the way he cut, showed it to me [to] see if I agreed, and that’s what happened. We both kept our parts of the deal.

Why did you decide not to show the nudity?
I didn’t think it was crucial to the scene. I thought it was distracting, if anything, to have it at the head of the scene.

Why are women more willing to forgive than men?
I don't know. First of all, I don't think that four characters necessarily extends to their entire gender. I think there’s variations within humanity that aren’t - these aren’t epitomes or types that represent their entire sex. And second of all, if that’s the conclusion you come to, you can think about it. I don’t need to teach you or tell you, you know. That’s the beauty of a piece that’s full of the inspiration of questions like this that makes you go home and think about that. I could talk for hours about why, but…

PAGE 2: Natalie Portman on the End of "Star Wars," Future Plans, and Becoming an Internet Sex Icon

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