The selective star, who has mostly laid low since winning best actress for Black Swan in 2011, is back in awards contention for her haunting, ethereal portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in Jackie, which made its U.S. premiere at the
But the ambitious biopic also gives a devastating glimpse of Jackie in her private moments, as she sobbingly wipes her husband's blood off her face moments after his assassination and shrewdly protects his legacy in a Life magazine interview a week later. The film wrestles with loftier questions about history and what we leave behind when we're gone, while slowly attempting to unravel the enigma behind the fiercely private woman.
"She had an incredible amount of mystery to her, which is what is so attractive and exciting to other people," director
Before reading the script, "I had a pretty superficial perception of her: the clothes, the hair, the style, the elegance," Portman said in an audience Q&A after the film. "I never really considered what she had gone through emotionally or the legacy that she built for her family."
Preparing for the role, the actress studied the first lady's 1962 televised tour of the White House, which is meticulously recreated in the film. She also read and listened to historian Arthur Schlesinger's 1964 interviews with Jackie.
"That was helpful for us in thinking what she might’ve spoken like in public and what she might’ve spoken like in private," Portman says. "There's huge chunks that she edited out of those interviews, so that felt like it gave us a lot of license to do whatever we imagined. There are these mysterious gaps of, 'What did she say that she then regretted? Why did she regret it? Why did she take it out?' "
While shot mostly in a tight closeup on Jackie, the movie features brief appearances from
"The voice is very particular," Portman recalled with a laugh. "I remember at the beginning, everyone was kind of like, 'Uh oh, what’s going on here? It’s a little over-the-top or campy.' We were just like, 'Watch the White House tour tapes! It’s really extreme.' "