Oscar winner Natalie Portman is a star in her own right— having cemented herself as one of today’s leading actresses with a solid 30-year career. Meeting her virtually, however, she’s very much your girl-next-door and happens to be incredibly funny.

Portman greets me with a warm smile, asking how my day’s going. She’s dressed in a Magda Butrym red ruffle flower blazer, exuding grace and elegance.

She’s well-composed and speaks kindly yet candidly about her journey transforming into her superhero avatar in Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder, which releases in theatres on Friday. The 41-year-old actress reprises her role as brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster, who now becomes the Mighty Thor when she comes into possession of the mystical hammer Mjolnir. She joins forces with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor to stop galactic villain Gorr the Butcher, played by Christian Bale.

While Portman’s friends and those close to her are privy to her funny and goofy side, the world has mostly seen her slip into serious roles like Black Swan and Jackie.

Waititi’s outrageously hilarious comedy allowed her to tap into her comedic side. “I think it’s something all my friends always say to me is like, ‘How did you end up being this serious persona that people think is so, so serious? Because we know you as like a totally ridiculous person [laughs].’” she says. The film proves that Portman certainly has incredible comic timing – comedy, she says, is something she’d certainly like to try more of.

Becoming Mighty Thor

To play the six-foot superhero, the five-foot-three star had to work on her lean frame and so embarked on an intensive training regime for 10 months to build her muscles and upper body core. This was also the first time the Israeli-born actress was involved in stunt choreography and she owned that part of her job.

“Because of the physical transformation for Mighty Thor, it allowed me to go outside my physicality, which was really unusual. I think usually you’re stuck in the body that you’re given and this was a great opportunity to play a character who’s much bigger than I am in real life and that was an extraordinary task.”

She continued: “It was so incredible to get the opportunity to, yes, stand up for myself and to fight my own fights and to be a part of the team. Also, just as an actress to get to learn stunt choreography for the first time and really be involved in that process was a whole other side of filmmaking I hadn’t had insight into before.”

Being a Badass and Showcasing Vulnerability

The role of Jane Foster has been flipped in this storyline, as she now becomes a superhero and not just a scientist on Earth waiting for Thor. This was certainly an empowering feeling for Portman, who shared what empowerment means to her and how she embraced the duality of her roles as Jane and Mighty Thor.

“I really think that there’s kind of an old notion that female empowerment means the female character has to be a tough badass all the time. I love with Jane and Mighty Thor that she is very powerful, and she can be badass, and she can also have vulnerable moments. That feels much more relatable to me that someone has all of that inside of her.”

Growing up, Portman felt there weren’t many female superheroes to look up to. She said Catwoman and Batgirl were perhaps the few she remembered seeing on-screen.

“I think it’s an incredible time in the world that there are many female superheroes, so that there’s not just one. Growing up, I feel like I had one to relate to and now there’s a whole variety of different personalities, different superpowers, different attributes that I think allow kids watching to identify with who they relate to, as opposed to like who demographically matches them at the time.”

Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios

Waititi’s Directorial Style

For Portman, working with a director like Waititi was a new and freeing experience. She revealed that he is the kind of director who improvises on the go while she is someone whose process has always been to come prepared.

“It was really incredible to have the demand of spontaneity that Taika wants – he loves to do every take different[ly] and try new things all the time and improvise. That was incredible to be around.”

Portman certainly surprised herself with how she was able to let go of control and enjoy the process of filming with Waititi’s different approach.

“It was definitely a great challenge of letting go. I’m used to trying to prepare as much as possible and come ready and knowing exactly what I’m going to do. And for this, the task was really to just be like, let go of all control, you’re gonna see what happens, you got to flow with whatever anyone throws at you, anything could change at any time and go! Getting to that point was really freeing, really exciting and a fun way to approach material.

The Joy of Being an Actor

For someone who’s been doing this for 30 long years, I was curious as to what satisfies the Oscar winner in her creative and artistic pursuits as an actor. For Portman, the answer is pretty simple.

“I think that there’s just a lot of joy. I think that’s such an important part of what we do is to remember how fun it is and how ridiculous our job is and how awesome it is that we get to go to work and play. Taika brings that every day and does not let you forget at any minute that we are essentially kids doing like kids imagination work and we’re here to have fun. And we’re here to make each other laugh. And that’s just so rare to have that kind of energy and that kind of reminder on a constant basis.”

On Her Real-Life Superheroes

While Portman plays a superhero, she seems to be one off-screen as well. She has been working tirelessly to champion pay equity for all genders and race while raising her kids Aleph Portman-Millepied, 11, and Amalia Millepied, 5.

When asked who her superhero is IRL, she said, “Probably all of the working moms I know – I think are really superheroes. I think in particular, in Los Angeles, there’s a woman, Susan Burton, who has led a women’s reentry program for justice impacted women. She’s just a force, like she’s like an angel from another dimension who came to Earth and is doing that kind of good work here. And I’m just in awe of her every day.”

You can’t walk away from a conversation with Portman and not be inspired. I’m in awe of the actress who’s actually using her platform to make a difference while kicking ass on screen, bringing both the love and thunder.

Thor: Love and Thunder hits theatres on June 8.