LOS ANGELES, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Actress Natalie Portman, an outspoken advocate of gender parity in the movie industry, finds a new platform in her role as an astronaut in Lucy in the Sky, which opens in theaters Friday.
Portman plays Lucy Cola, an astronaut who returns from a mission and can't wait to get back into space. At a news conference for the film Wednesday, Portman said the scarcity of women at NASA exacerbates the space industry's inequality.
"In a lot of positions of power, women get a slot, a seat at the table," Portman said. "When you're one of a kind, you can be otherized. You can be 'the woman.' If there's more than one, you have to pay attention to someone's personality. I think there's a very specific thing about being the [only] one in the workplace."
There also is significant inequality in space adventure roles. Male-centered movies such as First Man, starring Ryan Gosling, and Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt, treat their heroes differently than films such as Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock, Portman said.
"A lot of times, when it's a female astronaut, they give her a child back on Earth and that's the drama," Portman said. "Like the only drama that a woman could possibly have would be thinking about her child while she's away. So to have a woman whose main emotional drama is having an existential crisis I thought was kind of radical."
Lucy has a daughter (Pearl Amanda Dickson) and husband (Dan Stevens), with whom she has trouble relating once she's home. She begins an affair with another astronaut (Jon Hamm) and ultimately suffers a mental and emotional breakdown.
"It's not one thing," Portman said about the cause of Lucy's crisis. "There's how her family was when she grew up. It's sleep deprivation. It's the return from space and seeing things differently. It's this issue at work with feeling gender-based discrimination and unfairness. It's a man who's treating her badly."
Portman has been vocal about discrimination, noting as a presenter at the 2018 Golden Globes that all nominees in the Best Director category were men. She was also among more than 150 celebrities to sign a letter in support of women living in poverty as part of a charity "Poverty is Sexist" campaign.
Director Noah Hawley, who created TV's Fargo and Legion, wanted the audience to relate to Lucy's feelings.
"What started to excite me about it was this idea of making a subjective film in which you are in her head and seeing the world through her eyes," Hawley said. "So when she's in space, everything looks enormous. When she comes to Earth, everything gets smaller."
"Every movie that's about a woman as a complex human being with her own very specific intentions, flaws, strengths -- just showing a complete humanity -- is feminist," Portman said. "The more different kinds of representations of women, the more complicated, the more they are agents of their own narrative, that's part of showing women to be all different kinds of things."
Hawley also was drawn to the story of a complicated woman.
"For me, this is not a fad," Hawley said. "It's a continuation of the work that I've been doing since I started my career, trying to tell stories about strong, complicated women often with flaws."
Before making the movie, Portman spoke with NASA astronauts and learned subtle details that make readjustment challenging for all of them. Simply walking in Earth's gravity requires adjustment, and going to space and back can take a psychological toll.
"You have to be pretty stable to even get the opportunity to go, which makes it even more remarkable that someone could have such an extreme unraveling upon their return," Portman said.