Natalie Portman Reflects on Playing Anne Frank on Broadway, Barbara Streisand as Her Childhood Role Model and More
Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman talked about her career, inspirations, and the role of Judaism in her life on Tuesday night in a new “Women Inspiring Women” web series launched by The Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center in New York.
“The core thing that guides me in Judaism is that you can break any law to save a human life,” said Portman, who was born in Jerusalem and raised in Long Island, NY. “You can break Shabbat if you need to get someone to the hospital. And I think it shows the primacy of life above all else, and the respect for life, and that’s the center of my Judaism.”
When she was younger, Portman looked to find “Jewish role models” that she could identify with and said that legendary singer, actress and filmmaker Barbara Streisand was an inspiration. “As a kid, definitely seeing someone like Barbara Streisand was really important to me. [She was] a woman directing, writing and acting,” she told viewers.
“For everybody, they want to see themselves represented in the culture,” she added. “And I remember reading reviews that would criticize her for the way she filmed herself, in ways that you would never hear someone talking about Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson or Kevin Costner. The hundreds of her other contemporaries that were actors filming themselves. And attacking her that way, it affected me.”
During the virtual event, which took place on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the actress also discussed her experience playing teenage Holocaust diarist and victim Anne Frank on Broadway.
Portman made her Broadway debut at the age of 16 playing the title role in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” starring in over 200 performances from 1997-1998 at the Music Box theater.
On Tuesday night, she recalled her conversations with Hermine “Miep” Gies, who hid Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis. Gies gave Portman a tour of the house where the Frank family stayed during World War II, and helped the actress prepare for the role by telling her about the “vivacious” Anne’s childhood and character.
“She was a young girl, running around, she wouldn’t stop moving, [was] really lively and full of joy,” Portman remembered Gies telling her. The actress then said, “It was important for me to have her vivacity because I think the tragedy is all the more felt when you feel a real young girl. I mean my kids, I can’t imagine having to keep them quiet and not moving for years. I can’t even imagine the reality of that.”
She added that the “burden and responsibility of being descendants of people who suffered such discrimination, violence and genocide is to be on high alert for all signs of subjugation, prejudice, and violence against othering.”
Watch the full conversation with Natalie Portman in the video below.