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Natalie Portman on Moby, Harvey Weinstein and the documentary that turned her vegan

Harper's Bazaar (UK) logo Harper's Bazaar (UK) 21/05/2019 Ella Alexander
Natalie Portman posing for the camera: The Oscar-winning refuses to be silenced, be it on animal rights or false reports about her love life © Courtesy The Oscar-winning refuses to be silenced, be it on animal rights or false reports about her love life

Natalie Portman has something she wants to get off her chest. We’re here to talk about a new documentary that she’s narrated on the horrors of factory farming, but there’s another subject she wants to tell the truth about – namely reports the musician Moby made about her in his recent memoir which claim that the two briefly dated.

In his new book, the US singer alleges that Portman flirted with him in his dressing room when he was 33 and she was 20. He goes onto say the two started dating and that he “tried to be her boyfriend” but eventually she broke it off after meeting someone else – news that came as some relief to him as it meant not having to tell her about his anxiety issues.

None of this is how Portman remembers it and she wants to put the record straight. First things first; she wasn’t 20 when they met, she was barely 18 having recently graduated from high school.

Natalie Portman © Getty Natalie Portman

“I was surprised to hear that he characterised the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school,” Portman told us. “He said I was 20; I definitely wasn’t. I was a teenager. I had just turned 18. There was no fact checking from him or his publisher – it almost feels deliberate.

"That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me. It wasn’t the case.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 13:  (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Musician/DJ Moby visits SiriusXM Studios on May 13, 2019 in New York City.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images) © Getty NEW YORK, NY - MAY 13: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Musician/DJ Moby visits SiriusXM Studios on May 13, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images) "There are many factual errors and inventions. I would have liked him or his publisher to reach out to fact check.”

Her account puts Moby, now 53, is a less favourable light – and is unlikely to drive book sales in a way that an alleged fling with a young Natalie Portman might.

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“I was a fan and went to one of his shows when I had just graduated,” she said. “When we met after the show, he said, ‘let’s be friends.’ He was on tour and I was working, shooting a film, so we only hung out a handful of times before I realised that this was an older man who was interested in me in a way that felt inappropriate.”

Despite still having to contend with lamentable allegations from musicians past their heyday, Portman says Time’s Up has signalled a new era for women – and a newfound sense of empowerment that will not be extinguished. Even if, as speculation suggests, Harvey Weinstein is found not-guilty when his case eventually comes before a court, the Time’s Up and Me Too movements have shown what’s possible when women unite.

“Time’s Up circumvented the legal system which people have complained about, but the legal system has not been serving women for so long and there was such frustration with it,” she says. “It gave women the ability to say, ‘we’re essentially being silenced and shamed and now we’re coming forward.’ There’s a real collective force when so many women come together. It’s a shame that it requires so many of us to be heard, but the force of it has the same force of a legal statement being implemented.

Natalie Portman © Getty Natalie Portman “Whatever happens in the court with Harvey Weinstein, whatever happens because of these laws that don’t protect us or the truth of survivors," she says, "the spoken truth and courage of women coming forward has the ability to change hearts and minds about what a person is capable of and how to protect others from him, and stop him from being able to flourish.”

In Hollywood, she says, the situation is improving. For the first time, everyone wants to hire a female director – positive news given that last year women made up just eight per cent of the directors of the top 250 box office hits of 2018, three per cent lower than in 2017. 

“People are actively looking for female directors for the first time,” says Portman. “I don’t think there is anything qualitatively different about how a man sees the world and how a woman sees the world, but the more different people direct films, the more different experiences you’ll see represented. The variety and quality of story-telling will become broader. Everything we’ve seen so far is one tenth of human experience, and we see how rich that’s been and it’s incredible to see the variety that you’re able to see from straight white male experience. There are so many amazing films out there. Imagine if that was opened up beyond that. We’re still struggling in single percentages of digits, but it’s on everyone’s mind to be changing that which is great.”

Watch: "Natalie Portman Lays Out How Women Can 'Gossip Well' in the Age of Time's Up" (The Independent)

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Portman’s activism in relation to Time’s Up is not in isolation. She has always had a strong sense of what’s right and wrong, and what a feeling of fighting for causes that she believes in. Aged eight, she gave up meat for animal cruelty reasons, a decision that she’s never wavered on. She has most recently narrated and produced a documentary on factory farming, called Eating Animals, based on Jonathan Safran Foer's book of the same name.

The programme, which was launched in the US last year and arrives in the UK on 6 June, shows not only the impact that factory farming has on animals, but also on the environment. The documentary’s findings were so harrowing that Portman decided to take her vegetarianism one step further and become a vegan.

“I was vegetarian before, and had eaten eggs and dairy and I thought, ‘that doesn’t really hurt animals, it’s a natural bi-product of an animal’ which I still believe if you’re on a nice farm and have a few chickens, but the vast majority of animals are raised in such devastating way,” she said. “It’s devastating for the animals of course, but also for the environment. I was changed by it and it made me feel that it was urgent to, not just change the way I was, but also to spread the word.”

Natalie Portman © Getty Natalie Portman While it does make for uncomfortable viewing for meat-eaters (and rightly so), the documentary has been praised for not adopting a sanctimonious approach when it comes to its story-telling – a very deliberate choice for both Portman and director and co-producer Christopher Dillon Quinn. 

“No one likes being taught to told what to do,” laughs Portman. “We wanted to show how this effects people’s lives and to focus on these humans who are living with the reality of factory farming. The incredible thing with the vision that Jonathan and Christopher put forward is that if everyone just adjusted their diets a little bit - it doesn’t have to be taking on a whole different identity and be 100 per cent of the time - but if people cut out meat once a day or once a week, it would make an incredible difference to the environment and to the welfare of animals.”

Food for thought indeed.

Eating Animals is released in the UK on 6 June.

Gallery: Natalie Portman: Style file (Photo Services)

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