Natalie Portman Had No Room For Error In V For Vendetta's Head Shaving Scene

Making a drastic hair change is a big thing in real life. Imagine doing something like that in front of a camera. There is no room for error when you're not using a wig. Of course, if you're a consummate professional like Natalie Portman, you take it all in stride and use what you're feeling for the shot. There is a pivotal scene in the film version of "V for Vendetta" in which her character Evey, who is taught to live without fear in a dystopian future, has her head shaved. The scene, amazingly, was done in a single take. 

In an interview with USA Today, Portman explained that this wasn't something she could do more than once. "It was a one-shot deal, and that was the most stressful thing about the experience." Really? The most stressful? This woman is as cool as a cucumber. I don't know how anyone could sit there, knowing what was about to happen, and be that relaxed about it. Of course, this was after the fact. 

'She loved it'

"V for Vendetta" director James McTeigue spoke to the publication about the scene as well, saying: 

"The first time I saw her about the role, I had her put her hair behind her head because I wanted to see what she looked like bald. That was the only conversation we had about it. She knew the day was coming. I put three cameras on her, made sure the clippers weren't stuck, and then we shaved her head. She loved it and kept rubbing her head."

I guess you have to embrace things like this. Portman is known for giving her all to roles (and wearing wild outfits and wilder hair — I'm thinking about the "Star Wars" prequels), and she certainly did here. In a way, it was probably more stressful for McTeigue to shoot a scene where there is no second take. Having a double do this and then using CGI (which obviously wasn't as advanced as it is now) to insert Portman's face would likely have been pretty expensive. I'm honestly surprised he only used three cameras.

It's certainly a scene that made an impact on audiences, and for a pivotal scene like this, it was a good thing they'd cast an actress who was willing to take it to the extreme. 

Evey's evolution in a single scene

The head-shaving scene is an evolution for Evey, taking away her vanity, her connection to her old life, and moving her forward into her new one. Everything is stripped away, leaving a warrior behind. It's a pivotal moment in the film, and a pivotal one also, in terms of shooting something that couldn't be redone. 

She told Charlie Rose of the one-shot scene, "I always feel like an ice skater or something when I talk about it. My one shot. My one shot at the gold."

She did say in a junket interview for the film with Chuck the Movie Guy, that, "Obviously hair is such a vanity thing for girls," though she stated again that it was really about the scene and the fear was about the one take. In fact, she said that they'd rehearsed the scene a number of times, with a bunch of men on the crew volunteering to have their heads shaved to test it all out.

When chatting with her co-star Hugo Weaving who played V in Moviefone Unscripted, that she had to prepare herself to "walk into work with hair and walk out without it." Still, she called it, "another scene in the movie, but I think the whole imprisonment part was definitely something I had to prepare for." She did concede, "It's very rare to be experiencing something in real life at the same time as your character, so that was a pretty unusual experience."

Unusual, brave, and powerful to watch, this scene defines Evey and the film, and brought Natalie Portman to the attention of millions. 

Don't screw this one up

Portman has spoken about the experience in a number of interviews, and how it fits into the larger narrative. She spoke to Charlie Rose when the film opened, talking about the entire film as a discussion about when violence is justified, and what makes someone a freedom fighter versus a terrorist. She spoke about Evey as moving from "someone who is too scared to speak her mind, her opinion, who loses her fear." That scene has a lot to do with that. 

She explained the character's film situation in an interview with CBR as well, saying: 

"I think it's because she starts off as this passive character, which is like the 'everyman,' who's just sort of like, 'The government's pretty horrible, but I'm just gonna try and keep my head down, go forward, go on with my life and let it work,' and she gets swept up into this by accident, and then slowly learns to understand the political situation and that she has to become active. So, it's a really exciting arc, someone getting their political consciousness."

In the film, as opposed to the graphic novel the film is based on, Evey isn't already in a desperate situation as a waif on the streets. She's middle class and comfortable, and in a way, this dissolution of her vanity when her hair is shaved is the thing that takes away her fear. She's lost an outward symbol of who she was, and now she is free to be someone new.