Natalie Portman is not afraid of ghosts. But she’s not totally sure they don’t exist.
The 35-year-old actress has the supernatural on her mind because she plays one half of a psychic-medium sister act, alongside Lily-Rose Depp, in her new film Planetarium. (Depp, whom Portman scouted for the role herself, is an uncanny look-alike.)
Directed by Rebecca Zlotowski, Planetarium transports the two actresses to 1930’s France on the brink of World War II, where the fashion is unbelievably chic and the people are unbelievably gullible. Portman and Depp, who toggle between English and French throughout (Portman’s two years living in Paris helped her out), revel in their rising fame but feel the war looming. And when a fan attempts to photograph of the spirits they commune with, they make an unexpected discovery.
Ahead of Planetarium’s Los Angeles premiere today, Portman gave us a call to talk about ghosts, getting her chakras read, and the best French-girl makeup trick she picked up while living in Paris.
InStyle: This was your first time speaking French onscreen. Did that require special prep?
Natalie Portman: Yeah, I work with a coach. It was learning how to say my lines with the best possible accent, knowing which word to emphasize. Because French is a lot flatter than the way I speak English. I tend to be more sing-songy in my English than you would be in French.
IS: Did you pick up any French-girl flairs during your time living there?
NP: Definitely. I would never wear red lipstick before, and now I do it all the time. It’s a very French-girl thing to wear no makeup except for a red lipstick. The other thing is wearing gym clothes on the street—I would never do that out there. [Their] attitude is: Gym clothes are for the gym. My family’s been teasing me because if something bad happens, I go, “Oulà!” It’s, like, what you say if someone slams on the breaks. "Oulà!” It’s a weird thing—I don’t even think it’s French. I think I’m misusing French. [laughs]
IS: You were the one who scouted Lily-Rose Depp to play your sister in Planetarium. How'd the idea come to you?
NP: I pointed her out because they were looking for someone young, around 16, who spoke English and French, and who obviously was a great actor. I saw a picture of Lily-Rose, and I showed it to Rebecca. Obviously she speaks English and French because of her parents [Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis], and I wouldn’t flatter myself to say that I look like her, but I feel like we could be in the same family. Rebecca auditioned her and was like, “She’s incredible. She’s really, really talented and special and interesting.”
IS: Let’s talk ghosts. You said in an interview, “I don’t really believe in this kind of stuff, even though I think it’s possible.” What did you mean?
NP: The thing is, I think that what we do know of the universe is, like, less than one percent. There is so much that is unknown in our world. I don’t go to mediums—it’s not something I’d do in my life; I’ve never had a ghost experience myself. But I think it’s possible. I just haven’t actively participated or had any personal experience. But I think it’s possible.
IS: Have you used a Ouija board?
NP: No, I think the closest was that levitation thing you do at girls’ sleepovers where you put two fingers under [someone and say] “Light as a feather, stiff as a board.” Is that generational? Is that an old woman thing? I did that at sleepovers when I was 8 or 9.
IS: What’s the most New Age that it gets with you now? Have you dabbled in crystals?
NP: Well, actually, Rebecca and I went with two of our other friends to India for a month, and someone had told us that there was this healer, someone who could read your chakras and prescribe different stones based on what chakra needs help opening or whatever. We went to him, and that was actually really powerful. But then afterwards, we became kind of skeptical about it because he sold us expensive stones [laughs]. So maybe this is all hoaxy, but I think that when someone speaks to you in a way that has meaning for you, even if it’s not really reading your soul, there can be a formula that people respond to.
IS: Rebecca has said that making Planetarium, a film set in pre-WWII France, was particularly difficult because she was observing the rise in anti-Semitism in France today. Did you feel that there?
NP: It’s something that exists there that people don’t talk about much. I think that’s what makes it difficult. Somewhere like Germany, where they’re very, very aware of it, and they talk about it a lot, and discuss it in schools, people are very conscious about it. I don’t think it’s as openly discussed in France. Of course, nobody wants to feel like they’re racist or they’re anti-Semitic or they’re biased … but [it’s important to] approach it like: Okay, but there’s a historical legacy. How does that affect us? What are the manifestations of it? Because it certainly exists. I definitely feel different as a Jew there than I do at home.
IS: You started acting as a pre-teen and have managed to maintain a level of privacy that many other people in Hollywood haven’t. How?
NP: Rarly on, I just was scared by the attention. I built walls around it, separated my private and my public identities. Even with my name [originally Neta-Lee Hershlag]. It’s been helpful, but it’s funny—now, seeing all the social media and everything, I keep I’m wondering if I should be involved in it because it’s such a great way to communicate with so many people in a positive way, but it goes against everything I’ve always tried to do in keeping less attention on me.
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IS: Are you considering joining social media?
NP: I have because there’s so many positive things that you can do. When I see people like Leonardo DiCaprio get hundreds of signatures on petitions to help save endangered species, that shows me that you you can do something positive.
IS: Which platform would you join?
NP: I don’t know! Instagram is the one I look at the most, but [Twitter] also seems to be powerful to convey messages.
IS: What was your favorite look to wear in Planetarium?
NP: Oh, there are such amazing costumes. There’s a Japanese-inspired robe, like a house robe. There’s a lot of boyish outfits that are incredible that have little bow ties and neck ties.
IS: Not the skinny-dipping scene?
NP: The nude beach scene? No. [laughs] It was fine, though. It was funny. It was really fun getting to shoot in the South of France with your girlfriends and kicking back with a female director who’s one of my good girlfriends.
This interview has been edited and condensed.