The art of acting is a fine craft that demands a profound understanding of character, emotion, and storytelling. Many actors go to extraordinary lengths to fully embody their roles, delving into the intricacies of the characters they portray. In the realm of cinema, Natalie Portman, renowned for her dedication to her craft, has garnered significant praise for her role as Elizabeth in Netflix’s ‘May December’ which is loosely based on the events surrounding the case of Mary Kay Letourneau in the 90s.
Portman not only plays an actress within the narrative but also meticulously captures the nuances of her character, including the portrayal of asthma. Such convincing performances often lead fans to question the boundaries between fiction and reality, prompting inquiries into whether Portman shares similar health conditions in real life.
Natalie Portman Found the Character of Elizabeth Challenging
Natalie Portman, an Academy Award-winning actress, does not have asthma in real life, although her character in the movie ‘May December’ does. Portman takes on the role of Elizabeth Berry, a Juilliard-trained actress immersed in the challenging endeavor of portraying Gracie Atherton-Yoo in an independent film. Gracie, an infamous woman, had been in a sexual relationship with Joe Yoo since he was 12-years-old. In the film, Elizabeth gets into the complexities of Gracie’s life and her connection with Joe, aiming to authentically capture the essence of this controversial story.
The character’s portrayal of asthma is just one aspect of Portman’s brilliant performance that adds layers to the verismo of her on-screen persona, showcasing her commitment to embodying the challenges of the roles she undertakes. She felt that doing this role was extremely challenging as Elizabeth is not a simple woman with simple motives. Talking about it at Deadline’s Contenders Film L.A., Portman said, “We’re trying to get into people’s hearts and minds, and sometimes you play people who commit crimes. That doesn’t mean that you believe that those crimes should be committed.”
The actress concluded, “[It’s] just, we as artists are curious about the internal workings of the human heart.” Elizabeth’s character is portrayed using a nebulizer on multiple occasions and this medical device becomes a narrative instrument to explore the unexplainable attraction between Elizabeth and Joe. The nebulizer serves as a catalyst for their connection when Joe, revealing his familiarity with such devices due to his sister’s asthma, is asked by Elizabeth to assist her with it. Their interaction around the nebulizer sparks a palpable chemistry, ultimately leading to an intimate encounter between them.
The complex dynamic raises questions about Elizabeth’s motivations — whether her attraction to Joe is a manifestation of her attempt to understand Gracie on a deeper level or a desire to experience firsthand what drew Gracie to Joe. Talking about her experience of working with director Todd Haynes and living the character of Elizabeth, she said, “There are so many refractions that all mirrors the work Todd put into it. How you see the characters with Samy [Burch]’s writing, where it switches as soon as you think you know something about them. You’re never sure or comfortable about who you’re supposed to be feeling. It was just a gift to get to do.”
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