When Natalie Portman was brought on board to play the female lead of the Thor franchise back in 2009, surely she imagined that she’d have a more substantial role to play than what she ended up with. The 36-year-old actress signed a three picture deal at the time, and after the success of the first Thor film in 2011, things seemed to be running pretty smoothly for Portman and her character, Jane Foster. Initially introduced in the pages of Marvel Comics as a nurse, Foster later became a doctor before being diagnosed with cancer and subsequently taking up the mantle of the Thunder God for herself. The character’s backstory was updated for her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut, becoming a world-renowned astrophysicist and the first human that Odinson comes in contact with after being exiled on Earth. Portman had a pretty solid arc in Thor, so expectations were high for the sequel.
Thor: The Dark World isn’t anyone’s favorite Marvel movie, but its decidedly ‘meh’ reception wasn’t the driving force behind Portman’s Jane Foster being sidelined (and eventually, all but written out) within the MCU. From what we can gather from various interviews and reports from pre-production, behind-the-scenes drama is solely to blame.
In the months that followed the release of the 2011 Thor movie, the folks behind the scenes scrambled to replace the departing Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair. Initially slotted for a fast tracked July 2013 release, directorial duties on the sequel were eventually handed to Patty Jenkins in October of 2011, a move that would have made her the first woman to helm a big budget superhero film. It’s important to note here that Portman was already considering taking a break from acting around this time, in order to spend more time with her newborn son. Jenkins’ hiring reportedly reinvigorated her interest in returning to the project, however, as the actress was very excited to work with the Monster director. The Dark World’s release date was then changed to November 2013, and from the looks of things, all was well in Asgard once again.
Thor: The Dark Directorial Disaster
The Jenkins/Marvel marriage didn’t last long, however. Less than two months after signing on, Jenkins was out as director on Thor’s second solo adventure. The reported reasons for the split varied at the time, though they largely centered around the old “creative differences” stand-by that Tinseltown so often employs. A scoop from The Hollywood Reporter stated that Jenkins was dropped without warning, and that same article claimed that Portman was incensed over the matter. Her three picture deal left her obligated to return for the follow-up, but it seems as though this was the breaking point for the actress — especially in terms of her relationship with Marvel Studios.
(Jenkins has since clarified why she didn’t helm the Thor sequel while doing the promotional rounds for a little movie called Wonder Woman, saying she simply “wasn’t the right director” for Marvel at the time. Admittedly, her Romeo & Juliet pitch is a bit out there.)
Okay, so Portman was not thrilled to see Jenkins leave — but it could be argued that Jane Foster had a meatier role in The Dark World than she did in the first Thor by the time cameras finally started rolling. Possessed by the mysterious Aether (aka the Reality Stone), Jane and Odinson travel to Asgard and beyond as they look to remove the force from her and stop the never-all-that-threatening Malekith from destroying everything. It’s a pretty generic comic book movie, all things considered, and increased screentime for Portman and Loki actor Tom Hiddleston did little to change that.
Portman’s rocky relationship with Marvel was further illustrated when she declined to return for reshoots on the movie in the summer of 2013. She chalked it up to scheduling conflicts, saying she was too busy working on her own film at the time. (Remember the credits scene of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor returning to Earth and kissing Jane? Hemsworth’s wife, Elsa Pataky, served as Portman’s stand-in there.) After The Dark World, Portman took a hiatus from the industry to work on her own smaller-scale projects. She didn’t appear onscreen again until 2015.
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