Clearly, one of the best things going for Justin Chadwick’s period drama The Other Boleyn Girl, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, is that it stars two of the most in demand young starlets working today, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, appearing together for the first time. Adapted by Peter (The Queen) Morgan, the film follows the story of the two Boleyn sisters, Portman as the practical and worldly Anne and Johannson as her naïve younger sister Mary, who is given the task of charming the current king of England, Henry Tudor aka Henry the VIII (Eric Bana), and getting him to marry her to improve their family’s status. Over the course of the next few years, both sisters vie for the affections of the already-married king, ultimately leading to misery, despair and death for their entire family.
ComingSoon.net attended the New York press conference with the two attractive actresses to hear what they had to say about their movie. From the way the two of them played off each other, finishing each other’s sentences, they must have bonded while making the movie, since you don’t normally expect that sort of camaraderie from women who are competitors both in the movie and in their respective careers.
ComingSoon.net: Was there ever a choice about which one of you would play which Boleyn girl and what was the order of the casting?
Natalie Portman: I read the script and loved it and came on as Anne, and I was like, “I will only do it if Scarlett does it,” because I have just loved her for so long, since we were kids. She’s so true always and so good, and you just never get the chance to work with someone your own age that you so admire. This was such a great, great chance (to do that).
CS: Do you think anyone under 20 really knows who Anne Boleyn is or knows this story?
Scarlett Johansson: I remember passing very briefly through this period of time in my own World History class, just because it was so vast. I remember us having World History I, World History II, and learning all of this in a period of two years, and that’s before you hit U.S. History. Unless you’re studying it or majoring in European History or particularly interested in these monarchies, I think that it’s not something that known as much to Americans. I remember learning, “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.” That’s what I learned about Henry VIII, but it was never really fully explained. We knew the rough edges of the history. So it’s interesting. Hopefully the fact that Natalie and I are both involved with the project will maybe entice the younger generation and maybe spark their interest in the subject, because it is a fascinating time in history. They say history repeats itself, so we’ll see how that works out over time. A major part of why I joined the project was because Natalie was involved and was set to play Anne, and I was a huge fan of Natalie’s for a long time. I always loved her choices and performances. And I’d never had the opportunity to work on such an even playing field with a peer, being able to play siblings. It was a great opportunity for both of us.
Portman: I think a lot of people watch “The Tudors,” right? I wasn’t aware of this story before I read the script, so that’s exciting, to be able to introduce this story from the beginning. Then it’s exciting because, in England, where I think people know a lot about Anne Boleyn, it’s pop culture knowledge. It’s exciting, too, to turn it on its head because the story of Mary is a very untold story. Also, people (in the U.S.) know this story, because the book was really, really popular here. Every woman I know is like, “When’s that movie coming out? When’s that movie coming out?” I think that primed people for the movie.
CS: What was it like working together?
Portman: Scarlett was a total dream partner to work with. Just the fact that she was always so present, so focused and so real. I could believe everything and stay in the scene, and feel supported. It was really, really one of my best, if not my best acting experience opposite someone my age. It was so exciting to get to see someone I admire up close.
Johansson: It was so important for us to maintain the connection even between shooting, that we were kind of with one another, because we were in it together. That kind of shooting experience could feel so isolating. We were shooting on digital film; it was a new process, on these big sets, these old castles. Everyone was running around doing their scene, and it was nice for us to be able to just stay in it. It was really an incredible learning experience. It was hard work, but it paid off hugely. Natalie, being able to watch her performance change and manipulate and watch her make the discoveries in a scene or “when she does that it affects me this way ,” in some way it was like one half of a whole character.
CS: Can you each talk about working with Eric Bana?
Johansson: We never really had any scenes with Eric together. Because of that, I never knew what Natalie’s relationship was with Eric, so totally out of circumstance I had to define my own relationship with Eric because I had no idea what was going on with Natalie. Did you feel the same way?
Portman: We obviously knew from the script that he’s gentle and sexy with you and rough and challenging with me. I remember people being, like, “Wow, the sex scene was really hot!”the crew members talking about whatever afterwards. I was like, “Okay,” but Eric is super-fun and funny.
Johansson: He’s such a goof. He’s a comedian, of course. He’s really involved with his family. His family was there the whole time.
Portman: He’s like a bloke. He’s this Australian bloke. “My car my bike my kids .”
Johansson: And all of a sudden he’d become the king, and regal. What was the word that you used earlier?
Portman: “Strapping.” He is strapping.
CS: How did you deal with the heavy costumes you had to wear in the movie?
Johansson: Of course, as an actor, anything that you have to help get you into character is helpful, and the costumes were certainly a major part of that. Even the space of the costume. As modern women, we’re used to being able to move freely, not think about what we’re wearing, and act very comfortably and be physically comfortable, and these costumes, it not only is uncomfortable to wear, but it affects how people move around you. Otherwise, you’re just taking everything down, the costumes are so huge. It affects your intimacy and all of these things, so you feel very statuesque and vulnerable in this costume, which is a constant reminder of the restrictions that were placed on women of this time, and certainly, it affects the way you walk and all of these things.
Portman: For Anne, the costumes were so bold and daring, and it definitely matched who she was as a woman, too, so that was definitely helpful. As far as eating and stuff, I remembered Scarlett warning me. I had a big lunch, and because you take the costume off at lunch at break and you forget, and then you put it back on.
Johansson: Then you pour yourself back in and
Portman: It’s a battle.
Johansson: It’s much more uncomfortable after because the food’s gotta go somewhere, and it’s not going in the middle. (laughter)
CS: Natalie, you had to do a bit of riding in those costumes, too.
Portman: The riding was great, you look so elegant, because you have to stand up really straight in the it’s not really a corset, the boning, and that posture really helps on the horse.
Johansson: I was riding astride, because my riding was faster. A lot of my riding was her rushing from Rochefort back to the castle, and I was wearing this huge coat across the horse, and it was so big that I could ride sidesaddle, but when I was riding, you couldn’t see any difference at all. Basically, they were saying, “Because your body is still positioned this forward even though your legs are clutching to the sides, for safety, it’s probably better you ride astride.”
Portman: That’s actually something I didn’t realize that I learned on the movie that sidesaddle came after. Usually, women were riding astride and sidesaddle was a new invention, that was like the modern thing.
Johansson: It’s quite comfortable actually.
Portman: I think it’s way more comfortable than riding astride because you’re on the fat part of your butt instead of the bony part. It’s true.
CS: And you both had experience riding before this?
Johansson: Yeah, I had to learn to ride for a film that I did when I was younger, and Natalie, you were riding?
Portman: Yeah, I’d ridden before.
CS: What’s your take on the premise of people getting married to improve their status and have either of you ever had that sort of pressure put on you by your families?
Portman: No, I don’t get that personal pressure, but yeah, I think it definitely exists and I think that’s why it’s a story that is still resonant now, because you know those people. You know the people who think of marriage as empire-building or whatever, and I think it’s definitely something that still exists today.
Johansson: Yeah, I guess so. It’s the same as these debutante balls and things like this. It’s completely foreign from any lifestyle that I grew up in, but I hear rumors of it.
Portman: The fact that marriage is a legal contract at all is like and the word “husband” means like “to tame” or whatever like “animal husbandry” it’s just engrained in the language, the ownership and all of that of marriage.
CS: What other historical characters would each of you like to play?
Portman: (To Scarlett) You’re about to.
Johansson: Yeah, I’m starting production for “Mary Queen of Scots,” which is kind of interesting, because it’s some time later, but the same bloodline, of course. So I guess I’d be playing a distant cousin of myself or something. I have to think about that for a minute. It’s a little bit twisted.
Portman: Maybe like an aunt or something.
Johansson: A distant cousin? I don’t know. The whole dynasty was so confusing at that time, but that’s what I’m looking forward to. Natalie, what about you?
Portman: Historical figures? I don’t know. It’s exciting, because there are many I feel like there were periods of time a long time ago where there were more women leaders than there are currently, but nothing in particular
CS: Do you both seek out roles that send out positive roles for women?
Portman: I want to do things that are real people. I think women can be weak or vulnerable or strong. They can be not very smart or brilliant. There’s not one kind of woman out there and I think it’s important to portray a wide variety. But I have recently been getting frustrated. (To Johansson) I don’t know if you have this experience, because we probably read a lot of the same (scripts) that are out there, but the number of roles that are for strippers or prostitutes, or the opposites, which is “She’s the pure one, she’s the one that makes the man realize who he should be ” That dichotomy exists so strongly. It’s the virgin-whore thing in evidence to the greatest extent. That’s really been bothering me, so to find a character who’s complicated, like the women in this film, is very, very exciting. I love comedies so much and then any time I read a comedy the girl is in fashion. She’s really into clothes and she just wants to get married. Those are not values I care to jump the bandwagon on. I’d love to do a comedy. I’d love to do a romantic comedy, but you can’t find something where the woman has a real job, that’s not just about fashion. Joining the “All girls care about is fashion and boys” that’s not something (I’m interested in). So it is frustrating, but I don’t want to bitch about it because I think you find the things that are good, and we’re in lucky enough position to see a lot of stuff.
Johansson: I echo very much how Natalie feels about that. I never think about finding a particularly strong (role). I have found strengths in every character that I have played, even if it is a vulnerable person or someone who’s easily manipulated. There are strengths to every personality. As much as I wasn’t particularly looking for a girl power kind of a role I think maintaining integrity in a character is a positive thing for women to see. I think it’s inspiring for women of all ages. And I don’t think that necessarily, like I said, has to do with a girl power type of film.
Portman: That’s just as false as the woman-as-victim or woman-as-whore stereotypes. A strong woman is as much a fantasy as anything else.
CS: Natalie, you were originally supposed to star in “The Horse Whisperer” but you pulled out and that ended up being Scarlett’s breakthrough role. Can you talk about that?
Johansson: I never even thought about that! It was the best thing that ever happened to me, that you dropped out. Thanks, Natalie.
Portman: That was an awesome performance.
Johansson: I totally forgot!
The Other Boleyn Girl opens nationwide on February 29.