Ever wonder what TV show Natalie Portman watches with her beautiful husband once she’s put her beautiful child to bed in Paris? Turns out, the same one as many of us, Broad City — though most other fans of that show don’t come away with conflicted feelings about their career choices. As Portman admitted on the eve of the Toronto Film Festival, that happened to her after Broad City made a joke at the expense of a movie many people love to loathe, Garden State.
Portman was talking about her career Wednesday night as part of a public conversation in honor of the 40th anniversary of TIFF when the moderator, festival artistic director Cameron Bailey, brought up the movie that commercialized whiny hipster shit as a genre of film (to paraphrase my esteemed colleague Jesse Fox’s defense of Garden State). Portman explained how much she’d loved shooting the film. “Zach had never made a film before,” she said. “No one was telling me to make that movie. Everyone was like, ‘Okay, here’s the weird offer you got.’” Yet it was exciting to her. She’d made it in her senior year at Harvard when she was 20 or 21, and she got to spend 25 days playing a wacky female character on this really fun shoot while all her college friends were writing theses.
“Although,” she added, “I’ve been insecure about it recently because of Broad City. Does anyone here watch Broad City?” she asked the audience. “Best show. If you haven’t watched it, watch it. And on the show there’s a really dorky character who’s a gym instructor, like an Equinox guy or something, and he’s the worst. And he’s like, ‘Oh my God, I love Garden State! I donated all my money to Zach Braff’s Kickstarter.’ And I’m like” — Portman buried her head in her hands — “‘Oh my God.’ So now, because the people I think are the coolest think it’s really lame I’m kind of insecure about it.”
She’s also had some hindsight about becoming part of the manic pixie dream girl phenomenon. At the time she signed on for Garden State, she said, all she was thinking about was how the character of Sam, an adorable pathological liar with epilepsy, was unlike anything she’d ever been offered. “When I read it I was like, ‘Oh, this is a character that’s wacky and interesting, and no one’s ever given me a chance to play something like this. It’s this sort of unusual girl,’” Portman said. “So that was my incentive to make it. But of course I see that trope and I think it’s a good thing to recognize the way those female characters are used. I mean, I appreciate that people are writing characters that are interesting and unusual, rather than some bland female character as the girlfriend in a movie, but when the point of the character in this movie is to, like, help the guy have his arc, that’s sort of the problem, and that’s why it’s good that they’re talking about it, because it certainly is a troubling trope.”