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‘Jackie’ Shows Human Side of a Mourning First Lady

Movie creators share insights during panel disussion following D.C. premiere

Natalie Portman plays the title role in “Jackie,” which tells the former first lady’s story in the days following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Natalie Portman plays the title role in “Jackie,” which tells the former first lady’s story in the days following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

For 100 minutes, actress Natalie Portman is on the screen portraying not only the famously sophisticated widow of a president, but the complex and fundamental historical character in the new movie “Jackie.”

The film’s director, Pablo Larraín, explained in a panel discussion at the D.C. premiere at the Newseum on Thursday night that he cut the scenes without Jackie Kennedy in them from the screenwriter Noah Oppenheim’s script.

While the former first lady is remembered on a simple level for her poise, elegance and fashion sense, Portman plays a troubled, yet tough, shaken, yet dominant, mysterious woman dealing with being a mother, being the country’s widow, her relationship with God and her relationship with her husband.

[Word on the Hill: ‘Jackie’ Premiere]

“You have a threshold of believability that you have to achieve before people will even go with you on the emotional journey, so to look right, to sound right, takes a lot of — yeah, it took a lot of work,” Portman said Thursday.

The camera focused very tight on Portman throughout the movie, exposing the human side of an otherwise very controlled character. President John F. Kennedy, played by Caspar Phillipson, is seen in the film only a handful of times.

The film follows Mrs. Kennedy in the days after the assassination of President Kennedy, in 1963, while she saw him shot inches away from her, planned his funeral and moved out of the White House. The plot line continuously focuses back to an interview with Kennedy and journalist Theodore H. White for a Life magazine story at the Kennedy home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. In the interview scenes, she creates a vision of her and her husband known as “Camelot,” based on the musical popular at the time.

From left to right, actress Natalie Portman, director Pablo Larrain and screenrighter Noah participate in a panel. (Alex Gangitano/ CQ Roll Call)
From left, actress Natalie Portman, director Pablo Larrain and screenrighter Noah Oppenheim discuss “Jackie” in a panel discussion at the Newseum on Thursday. (Alex Gangitano/ CQ Roll Call)

“There was a lot I learned from the process about Jackie, but I think the biggest shock to me was from Noah’s script, which was obviously very well-researched, this sort of idea that she had really crafted the myth of Camelot and she had taken such a role in the authorship of her own legacy, was really new to me,” Portman said.

The reoccurring return to the conversation with Kennedy and White shows her vulnerabilities as she opens up to the journalist and her intimidating side and awareness of publicity as she retracts her statements and refuses to allow him to print aspects of her storytelling.

The movie also continues to return creating the television broadcast “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy,” which, through behind-the-scenes views, shows her as nervous and eager to relate to the audience.

Although her relationship with her husband is seen only through flashbacks and told through her conversations with a Catholic priest, Mrs. Kennedy’s relationship with then-Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, played by Peter Sarsgaard, and White House social secretary Nancy Tuckerman, played by Greta Gerwig, are prominent.

When the panel opened up for questions, Portman was asked what advice she would give to the first lady-elect Melania Trump. While the actress did not seem eager to answer a political question, she responded, “Don’t ride in a convertible.”

Spotted at the premiere were Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinous, and Reid Ribble, R-Wisconsin, as well as staffers from the Senate Cloakroom and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s office.

“Jackie” opens nationwide on Friday.

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