When two actors are playing the same character at different ages in a movie, you'd think that there would be a lot of communication between them. After all, the idea of digging into a character's mind and backstory with a colleague trying to find the exact same mindset sounds like it would be an appreciated opportunity for any performer. This, however, wasn't the approach taken by Natalie Portman and Raffey Cassidy in the making of the new movie Vox Lux, as they actually purposefully kept their notions of their shared identity to themselves. Or as Portman puts it,
[Writer/director Brady Corbet] really wanted to make it like two different people so you could see this transformation, this kind of radical transformation from the girl you see at the beginning and the woman you see in the second part. So it was really just a wild ride.
The shared character in Vox Lux is Celeste, a young woman who, after experiencing a traumatic event as a teenager, finds herself propelled to stardom as a singer. Raffey Cassidy plays the character in the section of the film that begins in 1999 as her career is just getting started. Natalie Portman's Celeste, meanwhile, is the biggest star in the world in 2017 and getting prepared to launch a massive concert when news breaks of another violent event in which her work is directly referenced.
I had the chance to sit down with Natalie Portman and Raffey Cassidy to talk about their work together earlier this week, and my first question was in regards to how they communicated about their shared role. They explained that the idea at the center of the story in Vox Lux is that Celeste grew up to be a completely different person than she was when she was younger, which meant that their performances would be aided by a lack of Celeste talk (though they do get to actually work together in the film, as Cassidy also plays Celeste's daughter, Albertine).
While both roles have the name Celeste, they are meant to be seen, as Raffey Cassidy puts it, as "two completely different characters."
Following up, I asked the two actors individually how they saw Celeste and what they centered on in their performance. For Cassidy there was a greater focus on the traumatic event (something I'm withholding for spoiler reasons), particularly because it was fresher in the character's mind as she's making strides in her career. She explained,
For my character, because her first scene is the incident I think it was kind of just figuring out how she was going to deal with that trauma, and how that played a part in her life. It affected her whole family, but at the same time she was also discovered at the church service because of this accident. I think it was more discovering how she was dealing with what happened and to show that she was pushing it out of the way. So then we see later on in her life that it's not worked, she didn't do the right thing.
By "didn't do the right thing," Cassidy means that Celeste really becomes a mess. There's not only the classic rock and roll trio of drugs, sex, and alcohol, but her brain is really all over the place. This was something that Natalie Portman honed in on in her response, particular the way in which Celeste interacts with different people.
I think that for the later Celeste we really wanted to just have her be someone who kind of will say anything, and some of it is nonsense and some of it has real insight, and it kind of all gets mixed up, the garbage and the gold of what she says. And just have these very specific relationships, so that it's very different how she is with her sister, than how she is with her manager, then how she is with her daughter, or how she is with a journalist. You can kind of see all these different ways she behaves in different scenarios.
You can watch the stars of Vox Lux discuss their very divergent approaches to their shared character by clicking play on the video below!