Natalie Portman talks about her role in "Brothers"

Natalie Portman visiting David Letterman Nov 25 2009.

"Portman is the eye in the hurricane of Brothers, a love-triangle family drama set against - and ignited by - the war in Afghanistan. Director Jim Sheridan's recasting of the 2004 Danish film Brodre for a U.S. context, it bristles with American trauma. Anger and guilt sizzle in every direction - brother-brother, soldier-soldier, father-son and, of course, wife-husband. As Grace Cahill, Portman begins falling for Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), the younger brother of her Marine husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), who goes missing in Afghanistan but returns from the dead.

Inescapably, Afghanistan is the homewrecker here, but Portman resists casting Brothers as an anti-war - or even war - film.

``I don't think so. And I don't think it really has a political message. It's much more of a family film - and in a way your nation is your family, so it could lead to larger things if you wanted to take it there. But it's not overt.''``(The war) is really interesting, because we are so shielded from it. We've been in this war like, approaching 10 years, and it's so abstract and distant from many of us, but for the people who are engaged, it's so all-consuming in their lives. A terrifying daily reality.''

Tobey Maguire, his wife Jennifer Meyer and son Otis Maguire at the West Hollywood Park. Tobey Maguire does a few 'Spider-man' style pull ups on the horizontal bar at the West Hollywood Park. Source:

For all of Maguire's visceral and disturbing Afghanistan scenes, the terrifying realities of bedroom and kitchen are the heart of the film. As Sheridan will say later in the day in his Dublin accent, ``all of my films are about puttin' the family back together.'' With a boozy, bitter military father (Sam Shepard) who torments Tommy, who himself begins to usurp the role of unravelling scion Sam, this family needs some puttin'.

BROTHERS Premiere with Natalie Portman.

"Yeah, it was uncomfortable',' Portman says, "and it was largely improvised and figured out on the day. That's Jim's mastery, that he can create that in the room.''
The tension ratchets up as conversation falls silent, and the camera switches between dad Sam's banked rage and the balloon his daughter is rubbing. ``That was really great, because that balloon was almost like a soundtrack, it almost served as foreshadowing music in a tense dramatic scene, like the Jaws dant-dant dant-dant!''Sheridan will also say: ``There were a few girls interested in the role, but I thought Natalie was the best.''Which is interesting. Grace is an orphaned blue-collar military housewife who chose the safety of a rigidly disciplined husband despite the fault-lines running through him and his family. By the time Maguire goes Travis Bickle in his kitchen, we've realized these characters must be torn apart to be reassembled.And the non-damage extends to the family unit. In an era when Hollywood moms, dads and kids vie for best celeb perp-walk, Portman hasn't the faintest whiff of scandal or ugliness in her backstory. She remains very close to her parents. She's no Grace Cahill.``There's actually a line Sam Shepard says in the film', Portman says: `Every family has its own problems.' And everyone has those moments, and you see glimpses of everything, even when (your family's) healthy, you have the explosions and arguments and tensions. Also, you can glean so much from people you talk to, whether they're friends or people you talk to for research.''

And after all, ``obviously most people don't experience in life what they experience in a film - I mean, you play a serial killer I've never understood how a method actor would do that (laughs)''.

Point taken. ``As actors, imagining other people's lives is our job''. So she researched the role by speaking to, she says: ``wives of marines who were sent abroad. They were always saying that the home is your sort of front, and you have to make sure everything is going smoothly. And when your husband calls you (from the war), no matter how much the kids are acting up, no matter what - bill paying or problems at work - `Everything's fine'.

``You have to tell your husband everything's fine. Because in order to go do their job, they have to know that you're doing yours. Because you're just going to upset them and make them feel helpless. Keeping everything together is the spouse at home's job.''
Jake Gyllenhaal is shirker Tommy Cahill in "Brothers".

The film is ultimately about re-entry, about aftermath, about coming home from war to find the war got there first. And playing the woman between two feuding brothers, perhaps this actress best knew what peace on the homefront should look like".