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Natalie Portman on Goya's Ghosts

From Leon to Star Wars to Garden State... Is there a more Total Film actress? We first met her aged 12 as Mathilda and now, 25, she’s just finished shooting Wong Kar-Wai’s Cannes contender My Blueberry Nights (“one of the most amazing experiences...”) and has The Other Boleyn Girl with Scarlett Johansson, Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium with Dustin Hoffman, and Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited in the pipeline.

What are you up to at the moment?
I’m enjoying the view at the Savoy. And what a view. It’s beautiful!

Goya’s Ghosts, though, is set during the Spanish Inquisition. That’s considerably tougher work...
It was definitely challenging. Still, I never associated it with being something hard to watch. I think I was just so terrified of playing three different characters [Inés in two very different guises and Ines’ daughter Alicia] that I couldn’t focus on anything else. It was relentless.

Do you practice religion yourself?
Yeah, I’m Jewish. I take what I like and leave what I don’t.

Something the Inquisition wouldn’t be so keen on...
Yeah, exactly!

At first Inés is muse to the painter Goya. Have you been someone’s inspiration at some point?
You know, I have a really hard time with museship. I think if anything it represents the inability of women as artists, or rather their oppression. There must have been women throughout history who were so creative, so passionate and so inspired that people who were able to create – meaning men – probably stole that creativity and claimed it as their own.

Inés has a horrendous old time and is tortured into confessing the practice of Judaism by the Inquisition. It’s a tad unjust.
I know! The injustice is obviously important because it’s one of the strongest arguments against torture. People will say anything!

Like when Javier Bardem’s Brother Lorenzo confesses to being a monkey...
Yeah, exactly! You will say anything to get out of pain.

Inés doesn’t really get a break does she?
No, poor girl… But her daughter does! She gets a Brit!

Lucky girl. What is it with you and torture, though?
I know, I know! I was actually very worried about that because I’d just done V For Vendetta, but Milos Forman was calling me and I couldn’t turn that down.

And you tortured Clive Owen in Closer with your dancing!
Look, I don’t have some weird propensity towards playing tortured characters! I think it will probably be the last time. Never again will I get tortured in a film!

Fine, but one final torture question... What do you make of parallels between the Inquisition and, oh, Iraq?
When Napoleon invaded Spain he told his army the people would join them because the Inquisition was so oppressive. They thought, “We’re going to liberate them and they’re going to be thrilled!” But the Spaniards chanted, “Bring back the chains!” That has a strong parallel today. People would rather have indigenous oppression than some foreigner telling them what to do.

So what about Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium?
It’s about a magical toy store! I’m the protégé of Mr Magorium, but I’m not ready for the responsibility.

You’ve been acting for 14 years. Variety keeps things fresh...
Oh my God, I’m such an old hag! I just choose what I think will be interesting. Director, material, character, other actors, where it will be shot, what you might learn for the role… And your mood at the time. Which is hard to project six months ahead.

What makes you laugh?
I like subtle social commentary. Perhaps Dave Chappelle… You’re laughing, but then you intellectually process it and you feel in your stomach that it’s got something to do with how we live…

Is there any truth in the Leon 2 murmurs?
It’s all rumour, although I saw something in Variety that they’re doing a remake where the roles are opposite! Where the girl is already an assassin and is now learning how to be a regular girl. I don’t really get it!

Have you been invited to any Star Wars anniversary parties?
No, I haven’t heard anything!

That’s an outrage. You’re Queen bloody Amidala...
I know. You should write a letter! That’s upsetting.