The Director and and cast of “Jackie” talk about the creation of the film. The film which stars Natalie Portman is a biographical drama film directed by Pablo Larraín and written by Noah Oppenheim. It follows Jackie’s life after the 1963 assassination of her husband. Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, and John Hurt also star in the film.
It was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival and was released in the United States on December 2, 2016 by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
The film follows Jackie Kennedy in the days when she was First Lady in the White House and her life following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, in 1963. It focuses on Theodore H. White’s Life magazine interview with the widow at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
The film’s script, written by Noah Oppenheim, was originally conceived as an HBO miniseries and covers the “four days between John F. Kennedy’s assassination and his burial, showing Jackie at both her most vulnerable and her most graceful” with Steven Spielberg set to produce the series. However, Spielberg later left the project.
Pablo Larraín, not typically inclined to directing biopics, was initially hesitant to direct one when he was offered the opportunity. He admitted that although he did not have any history or knowledge about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, he connected with Jacqueline Kennedy. Prior to directing Jackie, he had only made films centering on male protagonists rather than women. Thus, Jackie is the first film that he could approach from a woman’s perspective. He grew more interested in Kennedy after learning more about her. To him, her life after the assassination “had all the elements that you need for a movie: rage, curiosity, and love.” Oppenheim said that the screenplay itself did not change much over the long development process, revealing, “When Pablo Larraín boarded the project, he had ideas. I wrote two or three more drafts with his guidance, but over a very condensed period of time. So while it took six years from first draft to completion, most of those six years were not active years.”
In April 2010, it was announced that Rachel Weisz would star in the titular role, with Darren Aronofsky set to direct and produce the film from Oppenheim’s script. However, both Weisz and Aronofsky dropped out after their split. The same year, Steven Spielberg showed interest in helming the film. Then in September 2012, without a director, Fox Searchlight Pictures started courting Natalie Portman to star in the film, as Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy Onassis, hoping that her participation would bring back Aronofsky, although Portman’s involvement was contingent on which director signed on. At the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2015, Pablo Larraín was approached by Aronofsky to direct the film after he was impressed by the former’s The Club. Larraín was skeptical and asked Aronofsky why he wanted a Chilean man who was not fond of biopics to helm the film. In May 2015, Portman was confirmed to star in the film. That same month, Larraín was hired to direct the film with Aronofsky working as a producer. By the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, the film was officially a go. The rest of the cast – Greta Gerwig and Peter Sarsgaard – were announced between May and October of the same year.
Natalie Portman undertook immense research of Kennedy in preparation for her role.
Natalie Portman was approached to star in the film in September 2012 but her casting was not confirmed until May 2015. In preparation for the role, Portman studied Jackie Kennedy extensively by watching videos of her, repeatedly watching White House tour recordings, reading books, and listening to audiotapes of her interviews. She also read around twenty of her “pulpy” biographies, which she did not consider high literature. Her primary source was the seven-part eight-and-a-half-hour Life magazine interview conducted in the early part of 1964 by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. with Kennedy. One of three interviews she gave following her husband’s assassination, it was kept private throughout her life.
Portman said she was intimidated at first, and her initial knowledge of Kennedy was just a “superficial understanding of her as a fashion plate.” But through playing her in the film, Portman gained a deeper understanding of the former first lady. While doing her research, she found out that Kennedy had two personas in front of different people – a debutante in public but feisty behind closed doors. “When she was doing interviews, [her voice] was a lot more girly and soft, and then when you hear her talking to Schlesinger at home, you hear the ice in the glass clinking and the voice is a little deeper and her wit comes out more, so you get this real sense of the two sides.”
Mimicking Jackie’s ranging vocals was pivotal for Portman, since Aronofsky said “conquering Kennedy’s vocals was the key to the rest of the film.” Portman trained with dialect coach Tanya Blumstein for this. In the beginning, Portman had difficulty with copying Kennedy’s vocals especially on the first day of set when her initial delivery was too much. She also said that the costumes helped her to get into character.
Portman is one of many actresses that have portrayed Kennedy in cinema following Jaclyn Smith, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Roma Downey, Jill Hennessy, Joanne Whalley, Jacqueline Bisset, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Blair Brown, and Katie Holmes.