Natalie Portman on Why ‘Lucy In The Sky’ Is Not ‘Black Swan’ In Space

Natalie Portman has portrayed women in very stressful jobs like ballet dancer, biologist and queen of Naboo. Her latest film, Lucy in the Sky, explores what happens to an astronaut when she returns from space and longs to return to something bigger. Portman was quick to refute comparisons to Black Swan though. 

Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman at the Lucy In The Sky premiere | Axelle Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Portman spoke about Lucy in the Sky at a press conference in Los Angeles. We’ll have more with her costars Jon Hamm and Pearl Amanda Dickson as well as director Noah Hawley this week. Lucy in the Sky opens Friday, October 4.

The one key difference between NASA and ballet

Both NASA and ballet have their own unique stresses. One way they differ is in gender equality. There are many more female ballet dancers than there are female astronauts.

Natalie Portman in Lucy in the Sky
Natalie Portman in Lucy in the Sky | Fox Searchlight Pictures

“The other thing that’s interesting about women’s work is it tends to usually either be one or a women’s field, like ballet, nursing, teaching,” Portman said. “That’s why the equal pay conversation is super complicated because there are whole occupations that are only women, or a majority women and those tend to be lower paid occupations, so it’s not like equal pay. Anyway, it’s a long conversation. I could go on.”

Natalie Portman knows what it’s like to be the only woman

Being the only woman on a NASA mission adds another stress to an already stressful situation like sitting in a rocket and living in the void of space. When there’s only one woman, the men tend to define her by gender.

Zazie Beetz and Natalie Portman
Zazie Beetz and Natalie Portman on the set of Lucy in the Sky | Hilary B. Gayle/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

“Oh you know the one, the woman in the room,” Portman said. “But if there’s more than one, you have to pay attention to someone’s personality. You have to say, ‘Oh, you know the one who is more into the specific kind of planetary disposition’ or whatever. You have to actually pay attention to some characteristics about the person, their humanity to describe them if you’re talking about them. You can’t just be like ‘Oh, the girl.’”

Lucy also had to deal with gravitational shifts

In speaking with astronauts, Natalie Portman learned other difficulties they have readjusting to life on Earth.

“They called it like they were burning the rubber on their sneakers because it’s hard to pick up your feet after being in no gravity,” Portman said. “Then, of course, there is a whole protocol for psychological well-being because it is really shocking to be there and back for everybody.”

Even the astronauts who pass the NASA psych evaluation can be susceptible to difficulties adjusting. 

Jon Hamm and Natalie Portman in Lucy in the Sky | Hilary B. Gayle/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

“There’s also quite a lot of vetting that they do of potential astronauts for their social, emotional well being,” Portman said. “Because even being up there is really hard to be with a small group of people in a confined space for extended periods of time and very sometimes stressful conditions.”

Natalie Portman played the unique personal breakdown of ‘Lucy in the Sky’

Every character is different, just like every human being. So when Lucy gradually breaks down, Portman had to define each step of that breakdown along the way.

“That was definitely tricky because it is so specific,” Portman said. “Noah really built it in a way where the pressure just keeps mounting and mounting and mountain until this kind of tightly wound spring just explodes. When the grandmother is sick, when she splits with her husband, when she finds out about the cheating, when she had the problems at work, it’s really just small little increments. It was a conversation throughout.”

There was a big picture to Lucy too.

“I think it was really about this existential crisis that Noah and I talked about a lot,” Portman said. “What happens when you have this experience that makes you feel more alive than ever and have more meaning than ever, but part of that experience is really realizing how small we are and how meaningless perhaps everything we care about is in the universe?”

Natalie Portman and Jon Hamm
Natalie Portman and Jon Hamm in Lucy in the Sky | Hilary B. Gayle/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Lucy is searching for meaning in life, and she has a perspective on it that most human 

“She’s kind of fighting for meaning,” Portman said. “She’s kind of fighting for it does matter, I do care, I am feeling something big and even though all signs point to nothing matters, I want something to matter very badly. It’s kind of the most human thing that we can all relate to even if none of us can actually claim to have been in space.”