It's not easy to find a man whose celebrity crush list includes both Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. Both actresses are gorgeous, sure, but in such different ways that they seem almost of separate species. The 23-year-old Johansson is a modern Marilyn Monroe, complete with platinum mane, fleshy curves and a sexy-throaty voice. The 26-year-old Portman, in contrast, is the very embodiment of delicacy and refinement: small, perfectly shaped features, boyish body and careful Ivy League diction.
Early on a Sunday morning, as they bide their time on the set of their W photo shoot in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the actresses’ odd-couple demeanors are on full display. Johansson, still in her terrycloth robe, is a blur of movement: kidding around with the makeup artist, roughhousing with Maggie, her Chihuahua, and periodically breaking into a rave-style dance to the beat of the techno music playing in the background. Meanwhile, Portman, having finished her breakfast of granola and fruit, her hair and makeup already done, is silently perched in a corner, her Hepburn-slim legs crossed demurely, filling out a Sunday New York Times crossword at a pace that would make Will Shortz wonder whether he’s slipping.
The two actresses seem to live on opposite ends of the asceticism-hedonism spectrum. Over dinner, Johansson’s eyes widen at the arrival of her chicken quesadillas, still sizzling on the plate. “Don’t you miss quesadillas?” she asks Portman, who’s ordered an eggplant dish that suits her newly vegan diet. (A vegetarian for animal rights reasons since she was eight, Portman recently decided to nix animal by-products too.) “I mean, I could not eat meat,” continues Johansson, as if her question had been purely rhetorical, “but the cheese, the cheese! I would miss tuna too. And yogurt….”
Portman, as succinct as Johansson is loquacious, answers gamely: “Yeah, I don’t know how long it will last.”
Given their differences, Johansson and Portman make for unlikely sisters. But that’s precisely what they play in the movie The Other Boleyn Girl, out February 29 and based on Philippa Gregory’s best-selling novel of the same name. The book blends highbrow historical drama with soapy intrigue—“history through porn,” Portman calls it—and was the ubiquitous book club pick of 2002. The fictionalized plot details how the quiet and innocent Mary Boleyn was actually the mistress of King Henry VIII before her sister, the scheming and sassy Anne, made a play for his affections and eventually became queen. And even more unexpected than their having been cast as sisters is the fact that Portman plays Anne and Johansson is Mary.
“It’s funny, quite a lot of people said, ‘Shouldn’t it be the other way around?’” says Alison Owen, the film’s producer, who notes that Johansson and Portman were the hands-down first choices to play the rivalrous siblings. “Scarlett is the street-smart one, the initiator. And Natalie has a wisdom and a cleverness about her; she’s more of a quiet authority. But I knew it would be intriguing for them to play something removed from a lot of the roles they’ve done.”