We head for Portman's small apartment, near campus. "Excuse my carpet," she says, explaining that she bought it in Morocco last summer — her first trip on her own. Unlike all the other rugs she saw, with their dazzling woven symmetry, this one has random blotches of color that stirred her. Since there is no space to hang the rug on the wall, as she'd prefer, the rug is turned upside down on her floor, so that the backstage tufts of its creation head upward into the room; that's how she likes it best.
For her first two years of college, Portman lived on campus, sharing a bedroom. "That's pretty rough," she says. "I really missed that time when I could just stay up late and read and play the kind of music that I want."
Her current apartment is very modest. There are no signs that this is the home of a successful actress, except perhaps for the Björk backstage pass inelegantly stuck to her computer. There are pictures tacked on the walls, including a photograph of George W. Bush with a turkey. "I just thought that was a funny picture — when he was pardoning the turkey it was, like, going down on him," she says, giggling. "He seems to be enjoying it or something."
I ask her what recurring dreams she has had. She names one, but has no interest at all in ascribing any meaning to it. Freud and his followers, to her mind, are bunk. "The thinking now," she says, "is that dreams are basically, like, the farts of the mind."
It's late; she should sleep. "You can meet me in a week," she says, "and see I'm wearing the same outfit, haven't recovered, smell a little funky...."
Through an open door, I can see the head of her bed, a couple of stuffed creatures slumped there. Portman was sure as a child that her stuffed dolls talked to one another. One is a frog — the one who is supposed to turn into a prince. It used to have a crown, she says. The crown is gone, but the frog remains.
Soon Portman must find her first home as a grown-up. She wants to get a place in New York, but she seems most excited about finding her own place in Jerusalem. "I really love the States," she says, "but my heart's in Jerusalem. That's where I feel at home."
Portman's mother grew up in Cincinnati; her grandparents were from Russia and Austria. She met Portman's father at Ohio State University — she was selling tickets for a movie at the Jewish student center, and though he bought a ticket, he never even made it inside. He went back to Israel, and they just corresponded. Two years later, she came out on her cousin's bar mitzvah tour, and they decided to get married.
Avner's parents moved to Israel in the late Thirties. His Polish grandfather had headed the Jewish youth movement in Poland. His grandmother was Romanian. "She spied for the British, traveling through Europe," Portman says. "She was blond, so she could totally pass as a non-Jew. Men, they would always try and pick her up because she was a gorgeous young woman... I'll show you."
Portman pulls out a wallet, and from inside that an old photograph of two women: "This is a picture of her taken in Romania with her best friend. A couple of years younger than me..."
Her grandfather came to Israel, expecting to send for his family later. There was no later; history swept it away. His parents were taken to Auschwitz. This is the heritage within which Portman grew up.
Recent events in Israel have troubled Portman deeply. "Anytime anything happens to anyone there, it's like a limb's been ripped off," she says. She adds, perhaps concerned that her entire political position should be assumed from this: "I'm very protective of Israel, obviously, but I'm more protective of humanity than of any of my own personal desires."
Of her religion, Portman says, "I'm much more like the product of a doctor than I am a Jew." She is uncomfortable about the concept of the afterlife. "I don't believe in that. I believe this is it, and I believe it's the best way to live."
In New York the following week, Portman is wearing different clothes, the Willie Nelson braids are gone, there is no apparent funkiness of smell about her, and she is feeling better. I ask some questions:
When do you feel most calm?
"When I'm in love," she says, and kind of giggles.
Have you ever wondered, growing up, whether you were gay?
"Sure. I've never dated a woman or anything like that. But, I mean, I think it's much more the person that you fall in love with — and why would you close yourself off to fifty percent of the people? ... [Returning to the subject later] I think my personality is more compatible with men than women. Women in environments like my school and my work are sort of trained to be competitive. I mean, I have some girlfriends who I love. I just... in school it's much easier to be friends with guys."
She talks a little more about Star Wars.
"The main people who are impressed are little kids," she says, "basically, the only people I care about impressing."
"Because it's sweet, and it's uncalculated admiration."
But you can get that from kids by handing out candy.
"Exactly," she says, "and the equivalence of the two is great. You get the same reaction by being Queen Amidala or by giving them a Snickers bar."
Portman chats like this; confident perspectives and theories flying out as they can do when you're twenty years old, just for the joy of it. Though at one point — perhaps it's just the excuse she needs to carry on after an appropriate pause — she interrupts herself.
"Basically, everything I'm saying is completely wrong," she announces. "But at least it'll make someone else think they're right."
I don't know whether it's better to argue with her or say nothing.
"Make like a psychologist," she suggests, "and shut-up."
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