Natalie Portman is an inspiration to women everywhere. As a highly in demand actress, she has given life to many important women’s stories that span from the lives of a young, struggling orphan in New York City to a woman struggling to fight an authoritarian, post-apocalyptic Britain. Portman is an undoubtedly intelligent, activist fixture in Hollywood, and some of her films are extensions of this mission. She has her own particular vision about what feminism looks like in Hollywood.
In Jane Got a Gun, Natalie Portman plays a frontierswoman named Jane Hammond, whose husband ends up in the crosshairs of a band of dangerous outlaws led by Colin McCann (Ewan McGregor). Jane’s only hope of saving him is her ex-lover Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton), who had returned to find her a married mother.
“I loved the idea of a love story in the wild west because love seems like that kind of lawless atmosphere,” said Portman. “This story of this woman having to sort of face her deepest fears in this really challenging environment was very parallel to sort of the experience of making films.”
The epic love story told amidst the sprawling expanse of the American west, Portman was quick to see the story’s potential and optioned the project as her first producing venture.
“The West was uncharted territory so there were many more opportunities for women to be free,” she notes. “Women could hold jobs and ranch and go to school and vote for the first time. Those rights happened for women first in the West.” Female empowerment was an essential aspect for survival. For Portman, the harshness of the environment also meant that characters – both men and women had to identify themselves as one thing or another. They had to have strong self-definition to survive.
With Portman set to play Jane, the filmmakers started the search to fill the male roles. After an extensive casting process, Joel Edgerton signed on to play former soldier and gunslinger Dan Frost, Noah Emmerich won the part of Jane’s husband, Ham, Rodrigo Santoro was cast as Fitchum, a member of Bishop’s gang, with Ewan McGregor playing John Bishop.
As the first actor attached to the film, Portman had ample time to explore Jane’s characterization. “I really loved seeing this woman come up against so much and really find her own strength,” recalls Portman. She found producing Jane Got A Gun an invaluable experience to bring to her role. “Jane’s process was also my process,” says Portman. “It was a relevant parallel experience of learning how to stand my ground, face difficult times and not crumble.”
Edgerton sees Portman as being a great choice, physically and mentally, for the character. “Jane’s got to be a really tough woman. There’s a softness to Natalie, but you can also see a switch of real strength in her. Her vulnerability and steeliness are hand-in-hand. That strength is going to come from inside and it’s more interesting when it’s in someone of Natalie’s frame.”
Portman sees the same qualities in Edgerton. “Joel’s ability to be both strong and vulnerable are the exact qualities he needed to bring to the role of Dan,” says Portman. “Dan makes the difficult choice and puts his life on the line to save Jane and her family. His decision is guided by his love for Jane.”
Joel Edgerton sees Dan as a former soldier and gunslinger who gets a second chance. “Dan’s become an alcoholic because he’s lost Jane. It’s a love story about two people finding each other again and understanding their pasts. They discover the truth under very difficult circumstances and get back to the place they were before, under very difficult circumstances.”
The third point of the love triangle, Bill “Ham” Hammond, becomes Jane’s husband after rescuing her from John’s gang. “Ham’s got a deep moral center and is a good man, who fell in with a group of outlaws,” explains Emmerich. His relationship with Jane brings happiness and purpose but also places them both in peril. “Jane marries Ham as a way out of a terrible situation,” says Portman. “What started as a need for a protector changes when she grows to love him?”
Emmerich adds. “There’s this great love triangle between Jane, my character Ham and Joel Edgerton’s character, Dan. I’ve never seen it in a Western. So the film has the male essence that we associate with the Western, but it’s interesting to have a female voice in the middle of all that.”
The Bishop gang’s attack on Ham becomes the turning point in Jane’s life. “In order to save her family, Jane has to stop running and start fighting,” explains Portman. “She decides to take control, and by doing so, discovers aspects of herself she had always sought in the men in her life.”
“This is not necessarily a story that ends well, but ultimately for Jane there is a real development and something inspirational for her,” explains Edgerton. “What she’s gone through has damaged her, but also gave her something to live for, and the realization that she doesn’t really need the support of other people to move forward.”
“The Western aspect of this movie is a metaphor for love, and the ways we hurt each other and we can’t take it back,” explains Portman. “Once you do something, you can damage a relationship irreparably. The devastating thing about Dan and Jane is that it’s just too late for them.”
Jane’s nemesis, John Bishop, is played by Ewan McGregor. He describes Bishop as “Someone you wouldn’t want to cross. He is able to employ charm to get what he wants in a manipulative sort of fashion, but I certainly don’t think of him as being a charming character in the true sense of the word.” McGregor had no reservations about portraying the villain of the story. “Who doesn’t want to be in a Western? And who doesn’t want to play the villain in a Western? You can’t approach a part playing a bad guy or a good guy. You have to play a human being. So I didn’t approach it any differently than I would any other part.”
Portman comments. “Ewan is such a phenomenal actor, and I don’t think we’ve ever really gotten to see him play a villain before. He’s so charming that you can see how he could really charm you into destroying your own life, the way he does with Jane.” “Ewan’s amazing and the best choice to play John. He has the charisma, the energy and the excitement to bring to the role.”
Portman offers, “It’s always wonderful when people make art in unfamiliar surroundings. Tolstoy’s theory is about how art is about making things strange, and with an Australian and a Brazilian on board its already strange and so it’s immediately art. That’s why Sergio Leone made such great Westerns – – to have that completely different, non-American vision of the West.”
Jane Got a Gun opens in Philippine cinemas on February 10, 2016 from Captive Cinema.