They pull it off too, with Portman deftly taking on the quick wit, ferocity and—eventually—desperation of Anne Boleyn and Johansson managing to trade her typical sass for quietude and purity. “It was interesting to see how they both handled it,” says director Justin Chadwick. (The film marks his feature directorial debut; he has previously helmed television dramas for the BBC.) “Particularly for Scarlett, who has to play this steady, calm kind of character that’s not as showy as Anne.”
The actresses understand the stereotyping as much as they take umbrage at it. “I get branded a lot as a good girl,” says Portman. “I’m, like, the prude, and you’re more sexy, more like…” “A harlot!” Johansson blurts, and the two dissolve into laughter.
Indeed, Portman exhibits a cautiousness that’s often mistaken for iciness; she chooses her words deliberately and holds her cards close. “I don’t want people to have a juicy read about me,” she says. Johansson, meanwhile, tends to ramble on unself-consciously about everything from doing sex scenes (“There are 60 people right there eating, like, salami sandwiches!”) to the Iraq war. Says Penélope Cruz, who became close with Johansson on the set of the upcoming Woody Allen film Vicky Cristina Barcelona, “She’s so open and funny and cute—I want to bite her when I see her!”
Portman’s restraint and Johansson’s lack of inhibition ended up being quite compatible on set—in fact, says Owen, they behaved like coconspirators, constantly backing each other up when one had a request or suggestion. “They were like two friends at school,” she says.
At times, Johansson even did the talking for Portman. “Natalie would be uncomfortable in her costume and not say anything,” says Johansson. “She’d tell me, ‘My rib is killing me.’ I’d be like, ‘Natalie, why don’t you say something?’ I’d have to be like, ‘Hellooo, someone, Natalie’s rib is hurting! Can you fix her zipper?’”
“I know,” says Portman, laughing, “my avoidance is a bit much.” Her fear of confrontation, she explains, is why she’s “superpicky” about what projects she chooses; she wants to be sure she agrees with a director’s ideas before committing, because she knows she won’t want to argue later. “As an actor, you have to respect your position and know that you are fulfilling someone else’s vision,” she says. “Mike Nichols always quotes Mamet’s line: ‘Film is a collaborative business: bend over.’”
That’s part of the reason both women, who share a certain precociousness, have joined the ranks of actors who plan to direct. Portman has teamed up with producers who own the rights to Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, the writer’s memoir of growing up in Israel, and she is set to direct—in Hebrew. “I’ve been reading Oz since high school, and when I read his biography I just sort of saw it,” says the Harvard- educated actress, who was born in Israel before moving with her parents to Long Island, New York, and is fluent in Hebrew. (She’s also proficient in French and speaks some Arabic, thanks to several graduate-level courses at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.)