Natalie Portman – Do It For Yourself
Natalie Portman gives a speech about the importance of doing work that you enjoy making rather than doing work for the approval of other people.
Every time I opened my mouth, I would have to prove I wasn’t just a dumb actress. I’m still insecure about my own worthiness, overwhelmed with what I was supposed to pull off, when I could barely get myself out of bed in the morning. Some combination of being 19, dealing with my first heartbreak, taking birth control pills that have since been taken off the market for their depressive side effects and spending too much time missing daylight during winter months, led me to some pretty dark moments. Driven by these insecurities, I decided that I was going to find something to do that was serious and meaningful, that would change the world and make it a better place.
I feel lucky that my first experience releasing a film was initially such a disaster by all standard measures. I learned early that my meaning had to be from the experience of making the film and the possibility of connecting with individuals, rather than the foremost trophies in my industry, financial and critical success. And also, that those initial reactions could be false predictors of your work’s ultimate legacy. I started choosing only jobs I was passionate about and from which I knew I could glean meaningful experiences. This thoroughly confused everyone around me, agents, producers and audiences a like. I made Boy is Ghost, a foreign independent film and studied art history, visiting the Prado every day for four months as I read about Goya and the Spanish Inquisition.
I made V for Vendetta, a studio action movie for which I learned everything I could about freedom fighters, who in other eyes might be called terrorists from [inaudible 00:01:25] to the Weather Underground. I made Your Highness, a pothead comedy with Danny McBride and laughed for three months straight. I was able to own my meaning and not have it be determined by box office receipts or prestige. By the time I got to making Black Swan, the experience was entirely my own. I felt immune to the worst things anyone could say or write about me and to whether an audience felt like going to see my movie or not.
It was instructive for to see that ballet dancers … for ballet dancers, once your technique gets to a certain level, the only thing that separates you from other is your quirks or even flaws. One ballerina was famous for how she turned slightly off balance. You can never be the best technically. Someone will always have a higher jump or a more beautiful line. The only thing you can be the best at is developing your own self. Authoring your own experience was very much what Black Swan itself was about. I worked with Darren Aronofsky, the film’s director, to change my last line in the movie to, “It was perfect”, because my character Nina is only artistically successful when she finds perfection and pleasure for herself, not when she’s trying to be perfect in the eyes of others.
So, when Black Swan was successful financially and I began receiving accolades, I felt honored and grateful to have connected with people. But the true core of my meaning, I had already established and I needed it to be independent of people’s reactions to me. Achievement is wonderful when you know why you’re doing it and when you don’t know, it can be a terrible trap. There was a reason I was an actor. I love what I do. And I saw from my peers and my mentors that that was not only an acceptable reason, it was the best reason. Thank you. I can’t wait to see how you do all the beautiful things you will do.