Natalie Portman and Elena Ferrante Team Up With HBO

Natalie Portman
Photo by Caitlin Cronenberg

It takes a special sort of someone to star in an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s wildly popular novels. (HBO’s exhaustive search for the leads of the limited series My Brilliant Friend involved 9,000 children and 5000 adults.) Thankfully, casting for the latest was a bit easier. The upcoming limited series adaptation of The Days of Abandonment will star Natalie Portman, a Ferrante devotee and narrator of the author’s children’s book, The Beach at Night. Portman has even interviewed Ferrante’s translator, Ann Goldstein, and assigned the Neapolitan novels to her book club.

HBO’s take on the 2002 bestseller stars Portman as Tess, an Italian woman sent reeling when her husband of 15 years suddenly abandons her for a much younger lover. Left to care for two kids, Tess goes into crisis mode and attempts to come to terms with juggling motherhood with her identity. Portman will also executive produce the film version, which is in pre-production, was written and directed by Maggie Betts, the filmmaker who broke out in 2017 with her debut feature Novitiate.

Bettes’s biggest get actually isn’t Portman—it’s Ferrante herself. The pseudonymous author is stepping just a tad out of the shadows to serve alongside Portman as executive producer. “I didn’t choose anonymity; the books are signed,” Ferrante told the New York Times in 2014. “Instead, I chose absence. More than 20 years ago I felt the burden of exposing myself in public. I wanted to detach myself from the finished story. I wanted the books to assert themselves without my patronage.” As for whether or not she’d ever worked in cinema, Ferrante was clear: “Absolutely not. But I adore the cinema and have since I was a child.”

Meanwhile, Portman has another major project lined up. She and Lupita Nyong’o are set to make their first forays into TV with the Apple TV+ limited series adaptation of Laura Lippman’s 2019 novel Lady in the Lake. Set in 1960s Baltimore, it stars Portman as a housewife who pivots to journalism and encounters Nyong’o’s character while trying to solve a murder.