Director Pablo Larraín estimates that a third of the shots in the film were the first take.
Billy Crudup's character, billed as "The Journalist" in the credits, is meant to be Theodore H. White of LIFE magazine, who conducted a real-life interview with Jacqueline Kennedy.
One challenge that loomed for Natalie Portman as she prepared was Jacqueline Kennedy's highly distinctive dialect, impeccable diction and whispery voice. "She had such an amazing voice", Portman mused. "It was truly from another era. She had a finishing school sort of way of presenting yourself, very demure, where you bat your eyelashes and speak in a breathy voice. Her accent was posh, but also mixed with a real New York accent, and also a little British. Her dialect is an unusual combination of sounds that were completely unique to her. The first time I did it on set, I think Pablo was terrified," Portman recalled.
Natalie Portman's skill took Billy Crudup aback. "The proficiency of her artistry is very unusual," he said. "When somebody is so possessed by their character, and their work is so refined, that you are literally transported and taken away by it, that is something unusual. As deep as I was in character in the scenes with her, I couldn't help but also have a part of me watching her with the deepest admiration."
The project was announced with Darren Aronofsky as director, and starring Rachel Weisz as Jacqueline Kennedy. Both withdrew, but Aronofsky stayed on as a producer.
A challenge for Costume Designer Madeline Fontaine was the dark red, two-piece, bouclé wool dress Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) wore during her White House tour, that most people only associate with the grayed-out 1960s television image. "There do, in fact, exist some photos of the dress in color, so we were able to see the original red. But we had to make two different pieces, one red and one pink, to get just the right shade of gray for the black and white television images," Fontaine explained.
Today, "Camelot" is a title often used to refer to John F. Kennedy's tenure as President of the United States of America. But it was actually Jacqueline Kennedy, who introduced the idea after Kennedy's death. Jackie's real-life interview with LIFE Magazine inspired the reel interview depicted in the film. In the interview, Jackie spoke of her husband's love of the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical titled "Camelot", which was later filmed in the 1960s, and especially the lyric: "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot." That brief shining moment became a powerful descriptor of Kennedy's sudden loss that reverberated. Said Jackie in the interview: "There will be great Presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot."
Filming moved swiftly over twenty-three days on stages in Paris, with ten days in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.
Pablo Larraín had just one condition: he would only do it if Natalie Portman would agree to play Jacqueline Kennedy. Producer Darren Aronofsky agreed she was the sole choice. "You wonder if anyone could play Jackie. She is so iconic a figure," said Aronofsky. "But somehow Natalie makes you forget you are watching Natalie. Somehow through her magic and voodoo, she can disappear into any role."
Jacqueline Kennedy gave two interviews after her husband's death, one to Life Magazine, and the other to historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who recorded eight hours with Jackie. After that, she would never publicly speak of this period of time again. Some of the interview transcripts, however, were heavily redacted by Jackie herself, leading Natalie Portman to wonder what it was that Jackie wanted to keep hidden, and why. That inquiry into her heavy-handed editing habits became an important element in Portman's portrayal. Portman said: "It helped me to look carefully at the gaps in information. What was deleted and why? Did she say too much? Knowing there were gaps also gave me a feeling of freedom that we could imagine those moments that no one has any actual knowledge of from the time."
Producer Ari Handel summed up the costuming of Natalie Portman to portray Jacqueline Kennedy: "It was crucial to get Jackie's dresses right, and Madeline (Costume Designer Madeline Fontaine) not only did that, she made them feel alive and lived in. They feel so real, that it brings you into a new relationship with these iconic images we already know. We've all seen Jackie's pink suit, but when you see Natalie Portman take it off, you suddenly realize how this woman had spent an entire twenty-four hours in clothing soaked with her husband's blood. It's a visceral reminder of all she went through."
Caspar Phillipson is dubbed by the real John F. Kennedy in the only scene he has the opportunity to speak.
It proved impossible to shoot at the historic location on Elm Street near Dealey Plaza where John F. Kennedy was assassinated, as it is now a busy thoroughfare, and also a tourist attraction. Fittingly, the production found a location near the nation's capital to stand-in. Producer Scott Franklin recalled: "We found a great stretch of highway in Maryland. It had similar overpasses, and there, we were able to put the camera on a crane attached to a car for a different POV (point of view). Natalie was in the car the whole time. She did all of her own work that day, no stunt doubles, and we used all of it. It was a really tough and emotional day. We wanted to be true to the events, yet also sensitive. Kennedy's death was truly violent and grisly, but I think Pablo did a great job of walking the line. He re-creates it in a way that is almost lyrical, and very respectful."
One of Jacqueline Kennedy's (Natalie Portman's) most revealing relationships in the film is with Nancy Tuckerman, her social secretary in the White House, but also her lifetime confidante. Taking the role of Jackie's friend since childhood, and White House ally, is Greta Gerwig. They had worked together on No Strings Attached (2011), so the bond between the characters never felt forced. Portman said: "Nancy was one of Jackie's oldest friends, so their relationship really shines a light on how Jackie feels about more private subjects, like her marriage and her kids, and Greta is such a unique actress. She's so bright and compelling and sensitive." Pablo Larraín added: "The connection between Natalie and Greta is so real as they are actually friends, and you can feel that. Greta brought an incredible sensibility to playing the only person who was Jackie's shoulder to cry on. She brought out something very beautiful."
During the scene where Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) and Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) are walking through the cemetery in the mist, Jackie gets her high heels caught in the muddy grass. Portman improvised Jackie's reaction to this.
Like Natalie Portman playing Jacqueline Kennedy, Peter Sarsgaard had to overcome the fact that he doesn't fully resemble Robert F. Kennedy. A dental prosthesis brought Sarsgaard deeper into the character. "Bobby has such a recognizable face, I was struggling with that," he recalled. "Then Pablo said, why don't you add something simple, like Bobby's very prominent teeth?' For me, it wasn't so much about copying his teeth, but rather just having the sense of them. I didn't even wear them all the time, because I always wanted it to be subtle enough that it wouldn't be something that you clued into."
"Natalie (Natalie Portman) has something that is essential in acting and performing, which is mystery," Pablo Larraín said. "And if there's any woman I would consider the most mysterious in the last century, it's Jackie Kennedy. Natalie also has a similar elegance, sophistication, intelligence, and artistic sensibility to Jackie. But most important to me, was that sense of mystery. Natalie is someone who has so much going on when you look at her, and that's cinema to me. Jackie could be played entirely on the surface, but I knew Natalie would instead go very deep. She shows you a woman bleeding inside, yet who holds it all back, who holds all the suffering of the nation within her in a way you can feel."
After Natalie Portman was cast, to Pablo Larrain's wishes, he asked Noah Oppenheim to tear out any pages of the script that didn't contain scenes with Jackie Kennedy, as he wanted the film to be entirely about her, and her experiences. The one hundred twenty page script was trimmed to one hundred pages, all containing Jackie.
Despite Billy Crudup's journalist character's initial belief that Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) was a lightweight, during the course of their encounter, Jackie often leaves him off-balance, even speechless. Crudup, who plays the reporter, said creating that tense energy with Portman was thrilling. "In many respects, they are speaking in code to each other. They are both powerful, impressive people, who think they can work the other one over. So for us as actors, it was a great opportunity to play with silences as they circle each other, each trying to ascertain how much influence they have. What you see again and again, is that Jackie is the one who is really deeply in control, and ultimately the journalist is won over by that." Crudup noted.
Every character that appears in the film, is directly based on his or her real-life counterparts. The only character that was fictional, was the priest, played by Sir John Hurt. He was merely an amalgamation of several reported accounts of Jackie Kennedy consulting several different priests about her faith.
Even though this film focused on the funeral of John F. Kennedy, it was interesting that it did not dramatize John F. Kennedy, Jr. saluting his father's coffin as it passed the family. The real-life event, and famous moment, was captured on video and in photographs. It has been incorporated and dramatized over the years in numerous productions that showed Kennedy's funeral.
One especially stormy and evocative scene for Natalie Portman comes as a fictional moment, as Jackie listens to a recording of "Camelot", while roaming the White House, desperately trying on a series of gowns and dresses, none of which seems to express what she wants in this moment, when all her instincts are to unravel, yet she must continue with her façade some way and somehow. Pablo Larraín said of the scene: "You have the most stylish woman in the world not knowing how to dress, because suddenly, she didn't know exactly who she was. Our thought was that she would just keep trying dresses, and with Natalie, it ended up as a beautiful, sad metaphor of an internal crisis of identity."
Second music score for a feature film of music composer Mica Levi whose first was for Under the Skin (2013). Her third is for Marjorie Prime (2017).
The look of the film had to work hand-in-hand with Natalie Portman's shifting internal states of mind as Jacqueline Kennedy. Pablo Larraín wanted the camera to purposefully enter into her most personal space. "To me, a film is always about texture, and expressing emotion," said Larraín of the approach. "We ended up using a lot of hand held camera, and building the sets so there could always be three hundred sixty degree movement, and most of the lights were hung from the ceiling, so we had even more freedom. I wanted the feeling almost that we had snuck a camera behind closed doors, to create a fiction that offers a glimpse into what might have been Jackie's emotional state in these moments no one has seen." Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine said that they tried to achieve this sneaky intimacy with the past in part by the careful use of 16mm film, which could be married with old newsreel footage.
The formidable task of dressing Natalie Portman in Jacqueline Kennedy's legendary outfits fell to Madeline Fontaine. One of her biggest challenges was re-creating the inimitable strawberry pink Chanel suit and pink pillbox hat Jackie was wearing during the Dallas motorcade, a spookily confectionary outfit, that would be forever seared into the minds of all who remembered that day. Hand tailored for Jackie at the New York City fashion house of Chez Ninon, the dress itself has become a Camelot leitmotif.
Because almost the entire film is shot in the closest of close-ups, Natalie Portman had an especially creative relationship with Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine, who became her shadow. The two had to work as a combined unit, like two dancers in a very complex pas de deux. "I feel that so much of the performance was enhanced by the way it all works in synch with Stéphane's camera," Portman commented. "The choices Stéphane made have a really big emotional impact." She continued: "A lot of what we did together was improvisational. I would be moving around, and he would also have to, in the moment, decide where to go as I did. It was exciting and the camera was always so close that I had to sort of feel it was just a part of me." Pablo Larraín said of how Portman and Fontaine worked in an inventive union: "Natalie had no fear, and it really did feel like they were a couple dancing at times. They were just always together, everywhere, and Natalie was giving so much, that we didn't even need very many takes. I would say one-third of this movie was made in one single take. She and Stéphane were so connected, that I would sometimes see them on the monitor and feel that they were in flight together."
Premiered at the 2016 Venice Film Festival, where Noah Oppenheim won Best Screenplay.
Peter Sarsgaard observed that Bobby Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy had differing points of view that could have divided them in a time of searing stress. "I think there was a bit of competitive grief between Jackie and Bobby as brother and sister in-law. John was Bobby's blood, but Jackie was his wife, and she had a relationship with John, that Bobby could never have. They probably wondered who had it worse?" But what united them, was the massive hole John had left in their worlds. "One of the thing that struck me, is that their grief is so fierce. So fierce that I think that is what keeps the movie from ever being sentimental," Sarsgaard pointed out.
Natalie Portman felt: "I think one of the many exciting things about working with Pablo, was that he didn't have that sort of reverence that Americans have for the Kennedys," said Portman. "He was able to approach the film in a less orthodox way, and with intense, uninhibited feeling. He took the project in a completely unexpected and visionary direction."
Though he continued to make other films afterwards, this was the last film featuring Sir John Hurt to be released in his lifetime.
There was also an eerie moment that shook Pablo Larraín when watching A Tour of the White House (1962), starring Jacqueline Kennedy. "Suddenly, when Jackie is in the Lincoln Bedroom, she starts to talk about what happened to Lincoln's widow after he was killed," Pablo recalled. "In a very strange way, it almost feels likes a premonition of what would happen to her. It seemed very important to me to include that moment, a sign of the weight she felt inside her."
Pablo Larraín was compelled by the idea of mixing and matching historic events that are well documented: the Dallas motorcade, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in to be the next President on Air Force One, John F. Kennedy's grand state funeral, and final burial in Arlington National Cemetery beside an eternal flame, with the moments no one can ever document, and can only be daringly imagined.
Production Designer Jean Rabasse and his team thoroughly researched, not only old footage, but also the history of her famous televised White House Tour, so that the sets could exactly replicate what audiences saw. "I had an assistant who spent two months researching the name of every painting to find the height of each. It was amazing, the amount of research we had to do, but it was so important." Rabasse noted. "You had to see the beauty and splendor that Jackie so wanted to share through her tour."
Pablo Larraín wanted Billy Crudup's journalist character to initially be somewhat dismissive of Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman). "I had an assumption my character would have a level of empathy, but Pablo wanted something different," Crudup recalled. "He wanted The Journalist to be someone who had an impression of Jackie as very superficial, reflective of the fact that some disdained her as an unimportant figure in a Presidency that didn't last long. He wanted to have her power revealed through somewhat dubious eyes, and as my character begins to see who she is, he starts to see a formidable force."
It was Pablo Larraín's idea to incorporate into the narrative, the 1962 television show, "A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy", which was premiere broadcast on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1962, and seen by over fifty-six million viewers. Taking unprecedented advantage of television's new Golden Age, Jackie had invited America, and the world into the newly renovated White House in a way that was both public, and personal, and in a way that seemed to form a bookend with her more somber public appearances after the death of her husband.
Producer Darren Aronofsky has said of his reaction to this film: "It was such an interesting project to undertake. I think it can be very important to recognize that even the icons we most look up to, are actually human. It doesn't weaken them to explore, not only their courage and strength, but also their fears and self-doubts. I think, ultimately, that makes someone like Jackie Kennedy even more real and more powerful."
Jacqueline Kennedy led a multi-faceted life of power and influence, but when it came to writing about her, screenwriter and journalist Noah Oppenheim came to feel there was one story that spoke to her psyche in the most compelling way, the very brief, but remarkably consequential days that the First Lady spent nearly alone in the White House following her husband's death.
To give audiences that fresh insight into a woman renowned for her stoicism, Natalie Portman had to plunge into two twined sides of Jacqueline Kennedy: the masked and the unmasked, each with its own challenges. "Jackie was not very forthcoming about her emotions, so I really explored that idea with Pablo," Portman said. "We both were completely open to trying anything the other brought up. It was exciting, because there was no wall put up as to what was the right way to approach her. It was really a path of discovery for me, because it's such an unimaginably horrific situation Jackie went through, and there were so many different reactions that were possible and human."
Natalie Portman said of working with Sir John Hurt, who played her priest: "John brought so much to the role, even as Pablo took us in an unexpected direction. Pablo suggested to John that maybe the priest is a little bit bored with Jackie, which was kind of a shocking idea. I mean, her husband was assassinated, who isn't going to be sympathetic? But it made the scenes so interesting, having someone who is not just consoling. It helped me go deeper into Jackie's struggle with her faith. You see her wrestle with why God would ever create this amount of pain. Ultimately the priest really gets to see her be herself, her most confessional self."
Ultimately, everyone on-set was awed by how Natalie Portman seemed almost consumed by Jacqueline Kennedy's essence. Producer Mickey Liddell said: "At that very moment, she truly was Jackie Kennedy. It was clear how much she studied, how much she read and how much she prepared, there was not ever a false moment."
Of A Tour of the White House (1962) hosted by Jacqueline Kennedy, Pablo Larraín said: "When I saw the White House tour, I couldn't stop watching it. It said so much about Jackie, and who she would become. I knew we had to add it to the film. She hadn't been on television before in that way, and it wasn't something she enjoyed, but John encouraged her to do it, in part because she'd been wrongly criticized for spending taxpayer dollars on the renovation, even though it was done with private funding. Yet, she was amazing, giving the tour in such a compelling way." Indeed, Jackie emphasized in her presentation that she felt the White House should not be thought of merely as the home and workplace of the President, but as a showcase for American history, art culture, and a place of national pride.
Mica Levi keyed into the mood of the times, with vintage instruments, and influences ranging from 1960s jazz masters John Coltrane and Morton Feldman, as to the Lerner and Lowe stage musical of "Camelot", which President John F. Kennedy loved. "On the computer, I got together a group of instruments that I liked and seemed to be of the time, the vibraphone, flutes, strings, a bit of clarinet, some piano, and percussion," Levi explained. "Snare drums were also important, giving a military feel to some of it."
This film is similar to Lincoln (2012), in that it focuses on a particular period of time for figures whose lives have been well documented and publicized. This film focused mainly on the aftermath of Kennedy's assassination, and the planning of the funeral, while Lincoln (2012) focused mainly on the legislative hurdles Lincoln faced, as he tried to push the emancipation bill during the Civil War. It's also interesting to note that Presidents John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln had many similarities, such as being elected one hundred years apart, and being assassinated.
Natalie Portman's preparation for the role playing was intense. She availed herself of countless articles, biographies, and newsreel footage, including several enlightening documents and tapes released after Jackie's death. But she knew ultimately, she'd have to step out onto the high wire, and make the role her own.
Natalie Portman knew her role would be her greatest challenge, and a heavy responsibility, given the realities of the Kennedys' life and place in history. But Portman had instant faith in the script. She was attracted to the idea that what was going on inside Jackie, was so much more than was ever seen in the public eye; that she was a woman whose profound understanding of what lasts and what matters most, anchored her in solid steel when she would have been forgiven for falling to pieces.
"In the beginning, all that I knew about Jackie was really quite superficial," Pablo Larraín noted. "I knew her as the woman always seen in pictures next to John F. Kennedy, the woman known for her fashion, taste, and style. I think that's how most people know her in America, and around the world. But I wanted to change up that point-of-view, and dig further. The more I looked, the more I found a woman who was very sophisticated, very smart, and who had an incredible political sense of her own. Most importantly, she was a woman who understood communication in a way very few people did in those times."
Producer Mickey Liddell said he was skeptical at first of Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine's plan to meld old and new footage. "Stéphane and Pablo proved me wrong", he admitted. "They found a way to do it seamlessly. There is a famous shot from the funeral procession, for instance, that is overlaid with the film, and it is integrated in a way I've never seen. They did it with the White House tour as well, to perfection."
Some of Natalie Portman's most memorable scenes come when Jacqueline Kennedy is completely alone, allowing her to explore how Jackie comported herself when she didn't have to think about the public watching. "I think you see people being most themselves when they're alone, because they're not having to put on a face for anyone," she said. "That's especially true for Jackie, who obviously had to pretend to be so many different things at different times. In those moments alone, you hopefully get a sense of her true self."
The real pink suit worn by Jackie Kennedy when John F. Kennedy was assassinated is currently held in the archives in Maryland. According to family wishes, it will not be put on display for the public until 2103.
The photographic challenges were many, including the need to harken back to 1960s cinematic technology. To re-enact the historic "The Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy" Pablo Larraín wanted to use vintage cameras to achieve a look that no longer exists. "It was a big challenge to get that footage to look and feel exactly how it was, right down to the lighting. Color television cameras then used a technology that separated the reds, blues, and greens and converted them into television signals, so they had a very distinctive period look. When I did the movie No (2012), we used the same kind of technology, and I still had that camera at home. So I brought it to Stéphane to shoot the tour, and then we later treated it digitally", Larraín explained.
Pablo Larraín became fascinated, and moved, by the way Jacqueline Kennedy allowed herself to become a kind of a conduit for the public's collective feelings of anguish and doubt, in the wake of the first Presidential assassination of the twentieth century since President William McKinley was assassinated at 4:07 p.m. on Friday, September 6, 1901. "The United States never has had royalty, and yet in that moment, Jackie became like a Queen without a throne, a mother to a nation in mourning", Pablo observed. "She shouldered all their sorrow and pain, even as she was enduring so much grief and shock herself. She put it all on her back, and she pushed on. She couldn't have planned for these events, yet when the moment came, she carried herself with such grace, and extraordinary love."
Second consecutive film of 2016, in which Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup appeared, the other being 20th Century Women (2016).
During the turbulent week, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy unwittingly built a reputation as someone as courageous and beloved as her husband, planning his funeral to become a strikingly grand national catharsis. "That was not her intention, to make herself an icon", observed Pablo Larraín. "But in trying to protect her husband's legacy, she became one. There was a gap between her objective, and the actual result, which is one of many things I found interesting to explore in this story."
Pablo Larraín said of Production Designer Jean Rabasse's work: "What Jean did in rebuilding the White House was amazing. I remember the first time that I walked onto the finished set, I was stunned. It was literally the same place you see in photographs. When Jackie Kennedy did the restoration of the White House, she hired one particular French designer to do many of the fabrics. As soon as Jean got involved, he and our Costume Designer, Madeline Fontaine, went to the companies who actually made those fabrics for Jackie Kennedy in the 60s. Some weren't even in existence anymore, but they found ways to remake everything so beautifully. It was a big challenge, but the feeling had to be exactly right."
The Kennedy Compound is in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Scenes in the film supposedly set at Hyannis Port, were shot in Maryland, resulting in a house and grounds that look nothing like the real house, or Cape Cod.
Producer Ari Handel agreed that this film broke fresh ground, re-envisioning the biopic. He commented: "I'm hoping the film allows people to let go of some of their conceptions about what a biopic is, and should be. Pablo takes you on a different kind of trip, exploring a wider range of emotions."
A key character in the film, was the man known simply as "The Journalist", who was loosely modelled after Life Magazine journalist Theodore H. White, who finds that Jacqueline Kennedy has her own agenda. Stepping into the role was Billy Crudup. Crudup said: "I play a journalist who Jackie calls, to try to get her version of this story of his Presidency out there to the public," Crudup described. "She wants to ensure his legacy is preserved in the way that she imagines it should be, so she shrewdly decides to use the press."
For Natalie Portman, the hope of committing as fully and fearlessly as she did, was to find the part of Jacqueline Kennedy that still resonates with us now. "I think every individual will have their own experience of who Jackie is", Portman concluded. "But the one thing I truly hope is that you see someone who is not just an icon, but a very human, complex woman who found her own way through a situation few of us could imagine."
At the start of November 22, 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy was among the most famed, admired, and envied figures in the world. As the elegant, stylish, and alluring wife of the youngest-ever elected President of the United States, she was also the first First Lady of the televised age, photogenic, captivating, and yet barely-known beneath her near-mythical image of grace, youth, and idealism.
For Natalie Portman, the dresses were another path into knowing and becoming Jacqueline Kennedy. "Madeline did an incredible job recreating the wardrobe that we've all seen Jackie wearing", Portman said. "Jackie appreciated beauty so much, and that was important to who she was, even if it was sometimes disregarded as an indulgence. I started to see her clothes very much as part of this entire façade that surrounded Jackie. It was a part of how she wanted to be seen, but it was also not all of who she was."
Sir John Hurt played the role of Jacqueline Kennedy's (Natalie Portman's) priest. They had worked together before on V for Vendetta (2005), so they already had a strong bond. But Pablo Larraín wasn't keen to capitalize on that. Instead, he wanted to orchestrate a more strained conversation between Jackie and her confessor.
For Pablo Larraín, Sir John Hurt brought something special. He said: "John is someone I admired my whole life, because he seems to exude the truth. Jackie did talk to priests, and I have a Catholic background, so it felt important to bring that into the story. There is a pivotal moment in their conversation that is crucial to understanding how Jackie found the strength to go on."
For Natalie Portman, there was also an understanding of what life can be like in the glare of the public spotlight, in portraying Jackie. Jacqueline Kennedy told Life Magazine that grieving along with the nation did not lessen her pain, but magnified it. "She had to find a public grace in the most difficult moment a person has", Portman said.
Pablo Larraín told Natalie Portman to think of each scene as its own. The scenes could be edited together in any order. That terrified her. As an actress, as you are always looking for your character's arc. Where they have been and where they are going. This kept her on edge, and brought a different level to her performance.
Noah Oppenheim's intellectually probing, yet starkly emotional script, so different from anything that had ever been penned about Jackie Kennedy, ended up on the famous "Black List" of the best as-yet unproduced screenplays and launched his screenwriting career. Steven Spielberg courted the script for a while. Another filmmaker, who was drawn to it, was the iconoclastic and adventurous Director Darren Aronofsky. At first, Aronofsky considered directing the film. But ultimately, it was he who brought the picture to Pablo Larraín and to Natalie Portman, with whom he'd had a highly creative rapport on Black Swan (2010), with Aronofsky in the end coming aboard on Jackie (2016) as a Producer with his company, Protozoa Pictures.
For Pablo Larraín, there was no one who could embody that time in Jacqueline Kennedy's life better than Natalie Portman. It wasn't the obvious choice from a physical standpoint. The two women are not look-a-likes by any means. But there was something under the skin, that was spot-on for Larraín.
The real-life intimacy about Jacqueline Kennedy, meant Pablo Larraín felt he had to get to know the private Jackie in his own mind and heart. He realized, like most people, he knew little of who she was beyond the profuse imagery we've all seen of a charming First Lady and stoic widow. He wanted to crack open her gilded image, and look for starker truths. As he searched, he was more and more moved by Jackie's compassion, her care for not only for her children, but for her husband's legacy, and for the nation's battered psyche.
Darren Aronofsky was still mulling what direction to take the material, when he saw Pablo Larraín's film The Club (2015), a riveting drama set in a secret retirement home for troubled Catholic priests. It felt like fate. Larraín's distinctively energetic filmmaking style and deft ability to swirl character, emotion and political insight into an affecting narrative, seemed like a great match for Screenwriter Noah Oppenheim's probing of Jacqueline Kennedy, after the assassination of her husband President John F. Kennedy. "The Club (2015) was just a very impressive film. It was extremely moving, yet it took you into a different world, and introduced you to characters you never expected to empathize with," Aronofsky explained. "After seeing it, I was convinced Pablo could probably do anything."
Jean Rabasse knew he had his work cut out for him. "Everyone has seen the White House in movies and television, as recently as House of Cards (2013). So that was daunting, especially since I'm a French designer who'd never been to Washington before. We wanted it to be very authentic, so we went through enormous amounts of documentation. We even found the blueprint of Jackie's 1962 renovations."
Jean Rabasse's sets, many painstakingly re-created from archival material, synched up with Stéphane Fontaine's cinematography. "Jean created these massive rooms, and then Stéphane framed Natalie in these long shots, so that you feel her loneliness and despair. The White House sometimes feels like a maze she doesn't know how to get out of", Producer Mickey Liddell said.
"I thought Noah Oppenheim's approach in the script was really smart. He took this one short piece of Jackie's life, this incredibly traumatic event, and excavated it for how Jackie composed herself in front of the world, while dealing with everything that was happening to her privately", said Natalie Portman. "We've mostly known Jackie as an almost unapproachable icon, as someone we've seen as a façade, not ever as a real human, so I love that this story gives you new insight into her humanity."
Jacqueline Kennedy was the one who left the White House alone, her children left fatherless. She had one final motivation that kept her standing in those final days. Ragged as her heart was, she relied on her ironclad will, to shape her husband's legacy in a way, that it could never come undone. She modelled his processional funeral after Abraham Lincoln's, and insisted he be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and ensured the gravesite would have an eternal flame, modelled after the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris, France. These decisions became not only part of John's legacy, but also Jackie's lasting legacy, establishing her as the quintessential symbol of dignity and resolve, in the face of the most extreme circumstances.
The role of Jacqueline Kennedy is unlike any other, it is also one any actress would approach with serious trepidation. After all, Jackie Kennedy has long been high on lists of the Most Admired American Women of all time. Following in the tradition of Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt, she was a First Lady who seemed to capture the spirit of the times, but Jackie also stood apart. Her contradictions were scintillating. With her degree in French literature she had an aristocratic, scholarly side, but she also had an unerring popularity and trend-setting sense of style. She carried herself with a shy, traditionalism, but with her cool self-possession, she also seemed to mesh with the growing new television culture. Just thirty-one when John F. Kennedy was sworn in as President of the U.S., she was so young, and seemingly so much an emblem of a change-driven, hopeful new world, it was impossible to imagine her as a widow.
In a period of just a week, Jacqueline Kennedy, this fiercely private woman had to face unthinkable personal loss, hard political realities, a nation in the throes of a collective trauma and, amidst all the uncertainty, Washington machinery and public scrutiny, the responsibility of keeping alive all that her husband wanted to stand for in America. Though today, he is among the most beloved of U.S. Presidents, John F. Kennedy's legacy was hardly assured upon his death. He had spent just two years and nine months in office, and the fear among those closest to him was that all he aimed for would be forgotten because the potential had gone unfulfilled. In the midst of her own anguish, Jackie steeled herself with a single-minded mission: to tell her husband's story in a way that it would always be remembered, as brief but shining moment of American promise.
One exciting challenge for Editor Sebastián Sepúlveda was splicing together the real footage of Jacqueline Kennedy's White House tour with Natalie Portman's performance. He said: "The idea we had for the White House tour, was to play with the audience, so that the audience cannot really know which one is original footage, or our footage. There are so many layers, because you have Jackie performing for the camera, but you have Natalie playing this character doing a performance. It was a lot of fun to play with all the points of view."
One of the story elements, on which the film focused, was the real-life interview with Jacqueline Kennedy by Theodore H. White, for LIFE Magazine in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
For Natalie Portman, portraying Jacqueline Kennedy, the rapport was instantaneous with Peter Sarsgaard, who plays her brother-in-law in the film, Robert F. Kennedy. "I loved working with Peter," she said. "We had worked together before on Garden State (2004) and it was great to do it again. He's an amazing actor, and many of our scenes are highly emotional. There's one that really hit me. When we are in the Lincoln Bedroom and Bobby is talking about how there wasn't really a chance to show the world John's greatness. Every take Peter did felt so true, it was incredible."
This film's result is an intimate portrait, yet one of epic themes, that provides a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy as we've not seen her: a deeply human, vulnerable woman, confronted at once with the power of loss, love, self-preservation, public consciousness, and history.
But amidst her despair, in real-life, Jacqueline Kennedy found a sense of purpose: ensuring John F. Kennedy would be an undying symbol of high-minded American values. "Because she was also a scholar, and lover of history, I think Jackie understood that the story you tell about a life is what is most important, because it's what people will keep telling for all time. I found it really fascinating that during this time, she was both trying to control her husband's story, and also kind of getting lost in it as a way to navigate her grief", Natalie Portman observed.
Pablo Larraín found the film's music score surprising. "What I love about Mica (Composer Mica Levi), is that she understands that the image is one thing, sound is another, and music is another, and they should not be the same, in order to create a fourth idea. She creates very emotional music, music which, when you put it with images, makes for something very unpredictable, full of both existential terror, and beauty."
It has been said, filming in Dallas at the exact location, was impossible for this film. There is now a busy thoroughfare where the tragic event took place, as well as area tourist attractions that consistently set up on the Grassy Knoll. Interestingly enough, Stephen King wrote a book called 11/22/63, which is based around the Kennedy assassination. The book was then made into a miniseries for Hulu, which aired in 2016, and featured James Franco. The 11/22/63 miniseries filmed in Dallas, on-location, at the historical site. Streets in downtown Dallas closed for three days during filming.
Second of two movie collaborations of Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky. The films are this movie and Black Swan (2010), which starred Portman, with Aronofsky working as a Producer on this movie, and directing Black Swan (2010), the latter, of which, Portman had previously won the Best Actress Academy Award, in 2011.
Pablo Larraín was compelled by the idea of mixing and matching historic events that are well documented: the Dallas motorcade, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as the next President on Air Force One, John F. Kennedy's grand state funeral, and final burial in Arlington National Cemetery beside an eternal flame, with the moments no one can ever document, and can only be daringly imagined.
Pablo Larraín also wanted to make sure the film accurately showed that it was Jacqueline Kennedy who first connected President John F. Kennedy's Administration with Camelot, the Kingdom ruled by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, which was based on the highest of human principles. "I didn't really have a personal connection to the idea of Camelot until I explored more about it", said Larraín. "I went back and listened to the words of the musical. When I got it, I was very moved, and I thought it was brilliant that Jackie was the one who linked that legend with her husband."
First major theatrical feature film relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, since Parkland (2013), which had been released in the 50th Anniversary year of his death.
The film takes audiences on a personal journey into one of the most extraordinary events of American history, and also into a deeply stirring drama, that illuminates in fascinating new ways, the woman, the times, and the ways with which we cope, and tell the stories of the most intensely public of tragedies.
It was an intentional artistic choice for Pablo Larrain to shoot the film entirely in 16mm film, so as to capture and recreate the vintage look of the 1960s. Another period piece that came out at the same time, to use this technique, was Hidden Figures (2016), shot entirely in 16mm and 35mm film.
Although he aimed for authenticity, Jean Rabasse also allowed some expressionism into his work. "Pablo was always saying we shouldn't be afraid of color, it is part of the spirit of Jackie", Rabasse noted. "Color also echoes Jackie's emotions. There's a scene when Jackie returns to the White House after the assassination, and she's alone in the dining room. For that moment I really wanted to reinforce her understanding of what is coming, of what she has lost, and of the importance of it for the nation. So we really worked to develop a very specific palette and texture. There is no shine in that scene. Everything is brown, orange or green, a combination that we thought evoked beauty, but also profound sorrow."
"It was really scary taking on such a well-known figure, because of course people know so well what Jackie looked like, how she spoke, and how she moved", confessed Natalie Portman. "On the other hand, there were a lot of resources to pull from, so I had hundreds of hours of video footage of audio tapes, and transcripts of interviews and biographies, so I could soak it all in."
The film was entered and selected to screen in competition for the prestigious Golden Lion Award, at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival in 2016, but lost out to Lav Diaz's The Woman Who Left (2016).
Unseen sides of Jacqueline Kennedy, are also revealed in her interactions with her equally shattered brother-in-law, who was also the Attorney General of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy, an icon in his own right, who was assassinated while running for President in 1968. The role was played by Peter Sarsgaard. Like Portman, Sarsgaard faced the gauntlet of trying to capture the essence of a man who is both beyond recognizable and revered. Sarsgaard admitted: "I was initially hesitant to play RFK. I wrestled with it, yet I couldn't get it out of my head. I admired him so much. I was already familiar with some of the moments of his life, and knew how he'd been completely poised in a moment of crisis. I wasn't really sure I could do it, and I said as much to Pablo when we first talked, but Pablo gave me the confidence to try."
As production moved forward, a skilled producing team joined with Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky's long-time producers Ari Handel and Scott Franklin joined in. Both were magnetized to the material. Franklin said: "This was such a different and refreshing take on a topic you think you've seen before. What drew me is the material being so personal, and really about a woman's journey, as opposed to the more typical perspective you get on historical events, and we knew that Pablo and Natalie could peel back the layers, and really bring you into that personal story in a way no one else could."
Stéphane Fontaine said of filming this picture: "Pablo and I watched loads of archival footage shot in the 60s. We wanted to match those textures, but at the same time, we did not want the movie to look too gritty or rough. It needed to be very elegant, reflective of Jackie. My long time colorist Isabelle Julien did a great job matching our shots with the archives we used for the movie. We were lucky to shoot most of the movie in a studio, where the controlled environment helped us achieve such a refined look."
Madeline Fontaine not only had to re-create Jacqueline Kennedy's famous dress with strawberry pink Chanel suit and pink pillbox hat, but she had to design it specifically for the film's close-up camerawork and lighting. Fontaine said: "First we had to settle with Pablo and Stéphane the right color for the different cameras they were used. We did camera tests of different colors to get the pink, and then we made five of them. It was truly impressive to see Natalie in the suit the first time on-set", Fontaine said. "She took on the aura of Jackie."
In September 2016, Pablo Larraín said: "We all know the story of John F. Kennedy's assassination. But what happens if we focus only on Jackie? What was it like during those next three days, drowning in grief, her and her children's lives changed forever with the eyes of the entire world upon her? Jackie was a Queen without a crown, who lost both her throne, and her husband."
Pablo Larraín gave a boldly unconventional spin to the biopic genre, mixing historical footage with complete fictional re-creations, and excavating just one critical moment in Jacqueline Kennedy's life, but in all its intricately woven layers.
For Editor Sebastián Sepúlveda, the music added whole new layers of feeling and inspiration. "When we received some of Mica's music, at first we were shocked", he recalled. "This is not the kind of score that we usually work with, but it was incredible, and we were like kids in a candy story playing with that score. The music is so tragic and beautiful, we were able to use it in really unique ways."
The mixture of existential beauty and terror comes together in Pablo Larraín blending of all the film's elements, each of which whirls in synchrony or counterpoint to Natalie Portman's galvanizing portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy at the film's heart and center. Larraín summed up: "The idea behind the film, was to explore all the layers of Jackie, with the feeling of it being not so much a timeline, but slices of memory, the disparate pieces of a life, the ideas and emotions that create us, and there's just one single thing that pulls them all together: Natalie as Jackie."
The fact that Pablo Larraín is Chilean, a country with its own complicated, and sometimes tragic political history, did not worry Producer Darren Aronofsky. On the contrary, "Sometimes the most interesting stories are told by someone who can see with fresh eyes", Aronofsky noted. "Also, Pablo has a rare ability to focus on characters who might not be easy to get close to, yet he makes you feel very deeply for them, and that is what made him such an interesting connection with Jackie."
Noah Oppenheim was immediately impressed by Pablo Larraín. "Working with Pablo has been an incredibly gratifying collaboration", Oppenheim stated. "He brought a really unique point of view to the material and he challenged me to push further in terms of exploring Jackie's humanity and the contradictory sides to her personality. The script just kept getting better and better as we worked together."
It was, in fact, Pablo Larraín's distinctive approach, that got Peter Sarsgaard so interested, he couldn't refuse to play Robert F. Kennedy. "I felt with Pablo, I was dealing with an artist", Sarsgaard explained. "He brings an outsider's perspective, because he's Chilean, and so he's able to key into the idea, that no matter how much we pretend otherwise, U.S. Presidents and their families are real people, with the same flaws and frailties we all have. Pablo would ask me to say things sometimes, that I just couldn't imagine Bobby Kennedy saying, but Pablo would say, 'you only know the public side of him, but now you can imagine the truth of what he was feeling.' He was daring me to expose parts of Bobby Kennedy, that aren't in any history books, but are things, to which we all can relate." Sarsgaard explained.
Natalie Portman and Sir John Hurt appeared in V for Vendetta (2005) and New York, I Love You (2008).
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Good friends Natalie Portman's and Greta Gerwig's second collaboration after No Strings Attached.
As First Lady, wife of President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy inspired millions of women worldwide with her effortless chic. Her signature style was at once classy, yet modern, strong, yet feminine, full of simple A-line dresses, color-splashed pillbox hats and prim, boxy Chanel suits. Yet her alluring image also functioned as a kind of shield, dividing her constructed public persona from the person few outside her family saw.
As soon as Pablo Larraín took on the film, he brought in his own original ideas of how to approach and film the picture. Larraín always saw the film as a multitude of Jacqueline Kennedy's innermost narratives, a series of moments and impressions that, like the fragments of a kaleidoscope, combine to create a more beautifully complex picture. He also envisioned an almost achingly intimate camera style, bringing a subjective rawness that has certainly never been seen in a White House setting before, a style that becomes part of Natalie Portman, both carefully calibrated, and openly exposed performance as Jackie.
Producer Mickey Liddell of LD Entertainment helped to make sure production ran smoothly, so that Pablo Larraín and the cast and production team crew could do their best work. It was truly a labor of love for Liddell, who came aboard with passion, and said: "I got on the phone with Pablo, and we talked for a long time, and I decided that we wanted to be involved in it. We were literally finishing each other's sentences. I was excited about everything in the script that he was excited about. Also for me, it was the idea of doing a historical drama from a new perspective, revisiting something that you think you are already familiar with. I think Pablo was really fascinated with the story as a political one, and in his country, a lot of things similar to this have happened. So he really, really related to that."
Natalie Portman was extremely impressed with Stéphane Fontaine's visual instincts. "Stéphane was central to making the film what it is", she stated. "There are certain choices he made with the camera that I think really help you feel Jackie's grieving and unsteadiness viscerally."
Pablo Larraín brought on his long time producing partner and brother Juan de Dios Larraín, who, as always, was intimately involved in every aspect of the production. "We're brothers, we're partners, we're friends", said Juan de Dios Larraín. "Pablo always has a vision in his mind, but sometimes it reveals itself in the filming process, and I've worked with him long enough to help establish the best environment in production for that to happen organically."
The film's title refers to the nickname of the film's title character of Jacqueline Kennedy, who later became Jacqueline Onassis, her maiden name being Jacqueline Bouvier. Her final full name was Jacqueline Lee Kennedy Onassis.
Jacqueline Kennedy's world, along with the faith of the nation, were shaken from their foundations when John F. Kennedy was struck down by assassins' bullets while riding at Jackie's side in a motorcade parade through Dallas. In a moment rife with confusion and shock, the world witnessed the First Lady's composed grief in images that remain as poignant and mesmerizing as ever. But what no one saw, is what went on behind closed doors in Jackie's private, tightly-contained world. Suddenly alone, save for her family, confidante, and priest, the First Lady faced a remarkable series of challenges as a wife, a mother and a reluctant part of the political machine: consoling her young children, planning her husband's funeral, preparing for the next President, Lyndon B. Johnson, to rapidly move into the White House and most remarkably, fighting to maintain control over how history would forever define her husband's legacy.
Pablo Larraín had just one condition: he would only do it if Natalie Portman agreed to play Jacqueline Kennedy. Producer Darren Aronofsky agreed she was the sole choice. "You wonder if anyone could play Jackie. She is so iconic a figure", said Aronofsky. "But somehow, Natalie makes you forget you are watching Natalie. Somehow through her magic and voodoo, she can disappear into any role."
To bring the film fully to life, Pablo Larraín knew he needed a very special team, one capable of mixing the most life-like and detailed historical re-creations, with inventive and imaginative explorations of concealed emotions. The team he gathered included Director of Photography Stéphane Fontaine, Editor Sebastián Sepúlveda, Production Designer Jean Rabasse, Costume Designer Madeline Fontaine, and Composer Mica Levi.
Natalie Portman and Ralph Brown appeared in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999).
The centerpiece of the film is Natalie Portman's haunting, emotionally open performance, which gives the audience unusual access into Jacqueline Kennedy's inner psyche in some of her most volatile, fragile, reflective, and savvy moments. It is a performance filled with tiny, honest human details, that underlie even the most imposing and carefully composed of public images.
A key character in the film is the man known simply as "The Journalist", who was loosely modelled after Life magazine journalist Theodore H. White, who finds that Jacqueline Kennedy has her own agenda. Stepping into the role was Billy Crudup, and who also appeared with co-star Greta Gerwig in 20th Century Women (2016). Crudup said: "I play a journalist, who Jackie calls to try to get her version of this story of his Presidency out there to the public", Crudup described. "She wants to ensure his legacy is preserved in the way that she imagines it should be, so she shrewdly decides to use the press."
Richard E. Grant and Sir John Hurt co-starred in an episode of Doctor Who from 2013. Additionally, Paul McGann's Doctor, who was Grant's co-star in Withnail & I (1987), regenerated into Sir John Hurt's Doctor in an episode released in 2013, meant to promote the 50th Anniversary Special of the show.
First major theatrical feature film relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy since Parkland (2013).
John Carroll Lynch and Natalie Portman appeared in Hesher (2010), Beautiful Girls (1996), and Anywhere But Here (1999).
First major theatrical feature film relating to the assassination of Democrat American President John F. Kennedy since Parkland (2013) which had been made and first released in the 50th Anniversary Year of JFK's death, and around three years prior to Jackie (2016).
The cast includes actors and actresses who appeared in films with Jake Gyllenhaal: Natalie Portman was in Brothers (2009), Peter Sarsgaard was in Jarhead (2005) and Rendition (2007), Beth Grant was in Donnie Darko (2001), John Carroll Lynch was in Bubble Boy (2001), The Good Girl (2002), and Zodiac (2007).
The film, about former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of former President John F. Kennedy, was released in 2016, during the Presidency of Barack Obama, debuting about a month after the 2016 election, where Hillary Clinton, a former First Lady herself, had run as the first woman to be a Presidential candidate for a major U.S. political party.