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Natalie Portman on ‘wild’ discovery while researching her family tree (exclusive)

Natalie Portman made a “wild” family discovery while working on her new noir thriller Lady in the Lake.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE at the limited series’ premiere on Apple TV+ on Wednesday, July 10, the 43-year-old actress shared how she was able to research her grandmother and great-grandmother’s past while filming in Baltimore after working on a family tree for her mother, Shelley.

“I don’t like to compare myself to my characters. I’m always trying to find something different than who I am in my real life,” Portman tells PEOPLE about her role as Maddie Schwartz. “But something that was really different here was that my grandmother was in her 40s in the 1960s and was originally from Baltimore – where the film is set – and was part of the Jewish community.”

“I was able to really explore what her life might have been like, what challenges she might have faced, what emotions might have frustrated her. And that was really amazing to imagine.”

Portman then said that she had also made a surprising discovery about some of her family members.

Natalie Portman at the preview screening of her Apple TV+ series “Lady In The Lake”.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty


“I was doing a family tree for my mom’s birthday at the same time and it was so crazy to discover the immigration papers of my great-grandparents who had come to Baltimore from Eastern Europe. I found census records that said they lived in Baltimore and then to walk those streets,” she tells PEOPLE at the premiere, held at the Paley Museum in New York City.

“There’s a Jewish deli there that’s been open for about 100 years. I walk in and think my great-grandmother came in here. I never really had a connection to the place because my family lived in a different city every generation, often in a different country every generation, so it was really crazy to feel that for the first time,” she continues.

Natalie Portman with her mother Shelley on January 14, 2011.

Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic


Lady in the Lakea TV adaptation of the 2019 novel of the same name by Laura Lippman, features Portman as Maddie Schwartz, a Jewish housewife who leaves her husband to pursue a career in investigative journalism. She is obsessed with the death of Cleo Johnson, played by Queen’s Gambit Star Moses Ingram after she moves to a predominantly black neighborhood where she can afford to live without her husband — and the mystery that ensues raises broader questions about race and class in 1960s Baltimore.

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Natalie Portman in “The Lady in the Lake”.

AppleTV+


In June, Portman told PEOPLE that she found it particularly interesting to explore in the series “how someone who is oppressed can also be an oppressor.”

“Maddie becomes blind to the impact of her actions on others because she is so caught up in her personal journey,” Black Swan Star also said Vanity Fair about the role.

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The film is produced by MountainA, a production company co-founded by Portman and Sophie Mas, which had its first hit last year with May Decemberwhich earned Portman a Golden Globe nomination for her acting performance in the film. Portman and Mas both serve as executive producers of Lady in the Lake.

The first two episodes of Lady in the Lake will premiere on AppleTV+ on July 19.

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