“Her discipline will make her a well-organized and well-prepared director on set,” says Wong Kar Wai, who directed Portman in My Blueberry Nights, out in limited release in April. “I’m sure she will put the whole weight of the film on her shoulders, making everyone’s job easier but her own.”
Johansson, for her part, is in talks to helm a short film that will be part of New York, I Love You, a Stateside counterpart to 2006’s Paris, Je T’Aime, a movie about Paris that consisted of 18 shorts by different directors. If her directing gig comes through, the Manhattan native will be in good company: Among the other directors linked to the project are Mira Nair and Anthony Minghella.
Portman and Johansson have certainly seen their fair share of directors in action. Both scored starring roles by age 11 and have since taken their places among the few in young Hollywood who are considered “serious actresses”—in other words, those more likely to win a gold statuette than to do a stint in rehab. Portman made her Lolita-esque debut in The Professional, had grown men weeping with Beautiful Girls, and later took on the exaggerated makeup and stiff delivery of Queen Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Reviewers forgot how much they disliked that performance after films like V for Vendetta and Closer, for which she scored an Oscar nomination and won a Golden Globe. Johansson, meanwhile, got her start in the movie North and four years later piqued critics’ interest with her role opposite Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer. She truly arrived, though, by way of her understated turn as a soulful and sarcastic Tokyo tourist in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination in 2003; she was also nominated that year for Girl With a Pearl Earring.
Johansson says the chance to work with Portman is what really sold her on The Other Boleyn Girl. “Natalie was already attached when I read the script,” she says. “And I was desperate to work with her. She was the most attractive aspect of the project to me from the beginning.”
Portman’s reputation as “someone who puts everything into her projects,” as Owen describes it, comes from more than just her movie work. She spends part of each year traveling on behalf of the Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA), a nonprofit that grants business microloans to impoverished women. An active animal rights supporter, she recently cohosted a documentary about gorillas in Rwanda and is about to launch a vegan shoe line for the New York store Té Casan, which she designed with her stylist, Kate Young. But now that she’s just wrapped her most recent movie—Brothers, a Jim Sheridan film costarring Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal—she’s hoping to relax a bit. “I’ve been trying to watch more TV!” she says, boasting about a newly acquired addiction to Iron Chef. Even her time on the sofa, however, has a higher purpose: She explains that watching TV helps her “converse with people,” she says. “People talk about TV way more than you think.”