Zibby Owens: Welcome, Natalie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Natalie Portman: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: I read Fables to my kids. They were obsessed. They loved it. I don’t say that all the time. I have lots of children’s books. Sometimes your kids just relate to ones or they don’t. My daughter was like, “You’re talking to the woman who wrote the new Three Little Pigs?” They thought that was the coolest.

Natalie: I appreciate that so much. Thank you.

Zibby: What inspired you to write Fables, to reimagine some of these classic fairy tales from our youth and do them over? What was that about?

Natalie: I was reading books to my kids. I have a boy and a girl. I realized that, first of all, for my girl, the kinds of presents she would get, the kind of books that were given to her were often feminist baby books. I was like, why didn’t my son get any of these? I was like, the boys need it as much as the girls. I felt like, I want something that everyone will read. The classic books that I had been reading both of them, of course, I started noticing that all of the characters, or predominantly, were male. I thought, oh, my goodness, the books that both of them are reading are telling them to prioritize male character stories over other stories. I thought, what if I took some of these classics and just made it more reflective of the world where there’s lots of genders in the animal kingdom and let the stories that are still morally resonant, the morals that really resonate today like The Tortoise and The Hare and The Three Little Pigs and The Country Mouse and The City Mouse, those could still hold up and even have new meaning in today’s world?

Zibby: Now the bad guys are actually bad women. Is that really a good message? I don’t know. The wolf is a woman. Are we happy to be including her in our clan here? What do you think?

Natalie: I think that the more women are seen as human and capable of anything, capable of being good or bad, capable of being smart or not smart, or strong or lazy, the more possibility women have to just be human and be seen as human first and judged by their character, their virtue, their accomplishments, not by their gender, that’s where we reach equality. It’s like the RBG quote. Putting women on a pedestal is just another kind of cage. Paraphrasing, of course. That’s not the exact quote. When people say women are much better than men, that’s another harmful stereotype even masquerading as a compliment.

Zibby: Very true. I feel like throughout your Instagram, you’ve done such a good job of trying to highlight all different types of women in all different areas and talking about the things that are really important, everything from Serena Williams and why are there not as many women tennis matches per day than men’s tennis matches? to different political candidates, to homeschooling, everything. You’re just digging deeper and deeper into every industry. It’s not about authors. It’s about, really, critical thinkers. Tell me about how you started doing this whole interview series as well.

Natalie: Really, I’ve just been led by curiosity and the things in interested in. I thought, if I have this way of talking to people directly, then I might as well talk about what I’m curious about, learn things, and share what I’m learning or the people I’m lucky to meet, whether it’s about food, which is super interesting to me, and obviously, the environmental impact of food is really interesting, but making it delicious and fun at the same time, or whether it’s writers. I love reading. It’s such a great opportunity to get to discuss books with writers after you read them. It’s the coolest opportunity. Or activists from whom — I feel like the big change for me on going on social media was it opened up my understanding of the world in such a new way. I was exposed to so many incredible people doing so much really world-changing, world-bettering work. That’s been really wonderful too as an opportunity. It’s been really interesting.

Zibby: Social media obviously gets a bad rap, but I feel like I’ve met people from all over the world. I can talk to an author in Nigeria about how they’re handling COVID. I can talk to someone in LA. There are no barriers anymore. You can connect with people anywhere. I think it’s one of the biggest perks.

Natalie: It’s all how it’s used, it seems. Also, of course, it can be very addictive. It can be very, living in a virtual state as opposed to the real-life state. If you’re able to use it in moderation, it certainly is an incredible portal into so many different places we wouldn’t normally have access to.

Zibby: Back to your cooking, by the way, now I’m feeling totally shamed. Not only do you have your whole professional life and all these great activist, thought-leadership type interviews, you’re cooking all these amazing foods too. My husband cooks, and that’s fine. Matzah lasagna, that looks amazing.

Natalie: Oh, my gosh, you’re so sweet, but please, not at all. My husband is really the cook in the house. He really cooks well. I’m very amateur, but I really like it. For me, why I like sharing it is because I’m not very skilled. I know if I can do it, anyone can do it. I’m usually doing it in fifteen minutes holding a child in my hands. I’m like, this recipe, you can do. If I can do it, you can do it. It’s not complicated. I feel like those are the kind of mom things we need to share with each other because that’s how we get by. It’s those tips that we spread from mom to mom.

Zibby: It’s true. The whole whisper culture of, this is how we do it, yes, I’m upheld by comments like those and little tips. The messages in Fables, though, go beyond typical kids’ books, I would say. You have so many things. I don’t know if you intentionally put in all your values and just shoved them in a little children’s book, if you started with the values and you were like, how can I fit these? There were so many things like, “See, you don’t need all that stuff. True friends are more than enough.” You have all these things. “Sometimes, more isn’t better. A bragger cannot persevere. A life lived attentively is the completest. To have strong foundations, you cannot be lazy. Waking up early is an energy booster. You want to have friends who will stand by your side.” I could be reading a quote book at the checkout line with little flowers or something. Instead, they’re interspersed in the book. It’s very clever how you did it.

Natalie: Thank you. That’s really nice. I think when you have a clear audience — here, it was for my children. I was like, what do I want to give them in tangible form of what I think is important? It’s not all in there. Certainly, there’s a lot that I care about that I wanted to give to them. Secondly, I find that reading books to kids, it’s kind of the only time I read books over and over and over again. My kids both have had favorites over the years. They make me read a book a hundred times in a row. It really gets into you. As a parent, you kind of want that to be meaningful. There are certain things I feel like I even wrote for myself, like in The Tortoise and The Hare. “Honey, move slowly, and it is the sweetest. A life lived attentively is the completest.” The attention, it’s so noisy. It’s so busy. You’re running around all the time. You know that when you really pay attention, when you really focus, when you really spend time, when you take things slowly is a true expression of love and meaning. That’s where your most fulfillment — it felt like both for them and also for myself, I was like, what do I need to remember? Also, what do I want to imbue in my children?

Zibby: I know in the back of the book you included a portrait that your mom had done of you and your brother as kids. I think it’s so sweet. You have this whole big shout-out to her.

Natalie: That’s my kids.

Zibby: Oh, that’s your kids. Oh, my gosh.

Natalie: Those are my two kids, yeah. It’s my son and my daughter that she drew.

Zibby: Aw, so sweet. Tell me about, what did she do right? What do you think she did in her parenting to you that gave you the values that you’re now passing onto your kids? Or maybe not. Maybe it’s a reaction against.

Natalie: She’s just the most attentive and the most focused with kids. She was like that with me. I’m an only child. Then she’s like that with my children now. You couldn’t even imagine. I feel like I’m constantly running through lists of stuff that I have to do and trying to fold laundry and cook dinner and get the kids homework done at the same time. I mean, not get their homework done.

Zibby: I can imagine.

Natalie: Supervise them doing it. I mean, him. I only have one kid doing homework right now. My little one is in preschool. I feel so scattered as a mother. I feel like that’s the central characteristic. My mother, I always felt that she was just so focused and present and attentive. I try and conjure her energy, which I don’t have. I’m more all over place.

Zibby: I’m the same way. Sometimes even when I’m with my mom, she’ll be on her phone or something. I feel so hurt. It’s so silly. I’m forty-four years old. I’m like, but we only had an hour together. Why are you on your phone? What are you doing? What is so important? I think it’s the same thing. Let someone occupy a hundred percent of what you’re doing. That’s what great conversation is about. You just pay attention. There’s nothing like it. When you don’t feel like you’re necessarily getting that — I try to remind myself of that when I’m with my kids. How do I feel when my mom seems distracted?

Natalie: Absolutely. My husband always says it to me. These smart phones were supposed to make our lives so we could have more free time because you could kind of be portable and whatever. Then instead, it just makes us work all the time. It makes us half working all the time, half on our phones all the time, half not present all the time. It’s one of the biggest challenges of modern parenthood among the other seven thousand things.

Zibby: Let’s pick. I know. Every so often, I’m like, maybe I’ll just try to email on a computer today. Let’s see how that works.

Natalie: It’s actually really good. I’ve done that a few times where I’ve taken breaks and just taken email off of my phone. It actually makes a huge difference.

Zibby: You can be so much more productive on a computer with an hour than all day long, these little dribble drabbles of emails that never stop. Not that I will change my behavior, but you know. Tell me about this new LA women’s soccer team. What is that about? That’s so awesome.

Natalie: We’re so excited. Angel City Football Club is our official name. We’re launching in 2022. That’s when we’ll start playing games. It’s just really thrilling to bring women’s soccer to LA. There’s two men’s soccer teams. We have such incredible players in this country. We have the best players in the world in the most popular sport in the world. It’s super exciting to get to celebrate them and amplify their virtuosity because they’re extraordinary. It’s really fun. It’s an incredible group of people doing it. It’s Alexis Ohanian and Serena Williams and a bunch of actress friends I adore, Jess Chastain, America Ferrera, Eva Longoria, Uzo Aduba, and just countless others and sports legends like Billie Jean King and Lindsey Vonn and fourteen former women’s national team players like Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy and Abby Wambach. It’s an insane, insane group of people. It’s so exciting.

Zibby: You all get a box and you can hang out every game? Is that how it’s going to be?

Natalie: That’s the goal. Get through this pandemic. Then we can all hang, hopefully.

Zibby: Actually, I was chitchatting with my husband as I was coming down here. I was mentioning your soccer team. My daughter who we were putting to bed was like, “Wait, women have soccer teams?” I was like, “Yeah, women can have soccer teams.” She’s like, “Can women have football teams?” I was like, “No, not football.” She’s like, “Okay. Basketball?” We watch so much sports here. I don’t. My husband does. Somehow, that was really inspiring. She’s a great little athlete. You’re setting role modeling.

Natalie: I know. It’s amazing for our girls to have professional careers to aspire to if they are extraordinary athletes, to have athletes to look up to and admire, and also for boys. It’s the same things we’re talking about with the book. It really had similar impetus. I was inspired to have the soccer team when I saw my son watching the Women’s World Cup. He was looking at Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe in the same way that he looks at Messi or Ronaldo. I was like, that’s change. That really feels like a completely new world. How many male athletes did we look up to as little girls?

Zibby: I had a secret girl crush on Chrissy Evert, I have to say, the tennis player. Everybody else is a blur of men. She was my childhood hero.

Natalie: We also had female athletes that you looked up to. I think women are often asked to empathize with or see themselves in men. I don’t mind that. I think it just also should be that young boys see idols in women too, that they don’t just have to look at greatness in male form.

Zibby: A hundred percent. Totally agree. Speaking of idols, tell me a little bit about Natalie’s Book Club and the books that you’ve been picking and how that’s been going and all the rest.

Natalie: It’s been so fun to get to share and hear people’s opinions about books. It’s brought me to so many interesting corners. I’m kind of an eclectic reader. I don’t have a genre that people can rely upon. I hope that is okay for people following. Sometimes it’s fiction. Sometimes it’s nonfiction. Sometimes it’s poetry. It’s been really interesting to get to talk to all these different writers and understand more about their processes and, of course, read some great books along the way.

Zibby: Are you reading anything great now? Anything amazing by your bedside?

Natalie: I finally read Untamed. I know I’m so late to the game. So many people had told me how wonderful it was. They were all right. It’s so rare when something lives up to the hype. It really did. Of the book club books that really have stuck with me in such a deep way, I would say the Lost Children Archive. That Valeria Luiselli book is amazing. That’s really, really affected me deeply. Girl, Woman, Other was incredible, the new Elena Ferrante. I’m picking all fiction books. Then surprises too like the Robin Wall Kimmerer book, Gathering Moss. I was rapt. It was so incredible. Patrisse Cullors’ memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist, is really, really moving and world changing. It completely changes the way you see the world through one person’s story. It’s really a wonderful book. So many. Every one has been an incredible adventure.

Zibby: I have a whole new stack of books now. I have to make a new little shelf here for you.

Natalie: What about you? What are you reading?

Zibby: I recently read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett which, like Untamed, everybody had already read. I was so late to it. I almost didn’t want to read it because I’m like, it can’t possibly be this good. Then it was. I was like, how great is that? Lots of different books. I’m reading a new book coming out called The Push by Ashley Audrain about a mother who’s been a victim of abuse through the generations, her mother, grandmother, and how she mothers. It’s a thriller. It’s really good. That’s what I’m reading right now, and Fables.

Natalie: Yes. I’m constantly reading a whole variety of children’s books.

Zibby: We just finished Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast. That’s really what I’m reading. I was reading that. That’s a really good one.

Natalie: I don’t know that one.

Zibby: It’s good. Do you have any advice, I would say both to aspiring authors, and especially children’s authors, but also just people who want to emulate your activism and how to make a difference in terms of advocating for women especially in getting equal footing?

Natalie: For kids’ books, you just have to imagine and maybe practice with kids, what keeps their attention. I know I need to mention farts and burps and boogers. That’s what keeps my children’s attention. Not that you have to do that, but I think that the silliness always helps with the kids’ books and practicing on them. I definitely read them the book so many times to find the parts I needed to change, what they understood, etc. In terms of activism, I feel like what I’ve learned the most is to listen to the people who’ve been doing the work and follow them and not trying to invent anything yourself. There are a lot of people who are doing it really well. Not to put anyone down. Obviously, if you want to devote your life to it, go do it. The thing is, when you’re new to it, the best thing to do is find the people who’ve been doing it for decades, who’ve been organizing, who’ve been leading. Then listen to what they say and go with that. I mean, when you believe in what they’re doing and their actions. I learned the most by listening. I guess that’s always true.

Zibby: Can I ask one last perhaps inappropriate question? How do you stay looking so young? You do not age.

Natalie: Are you kidding me? That’s so nice.

Zibby: I’m just looking at your skin. This so creepy of me. I’m like, what is she doing that I am not doing?

Natalie: All I do is go, look at all these — I have lines everywhere. Every day, new ones. I’m trying to just embrace it and feel like I earned it. My best friend and I, we were talking last night. We’re both turning forty this year. She was like, “Ugh, forty.” I was like, “No. Forty, that’s an achievement. You know how many people don’t get to reach this? How lucky are we? How cool is this? Look what we did to get here. This is amazing.” I don’t want to look inexperienced. I’m not inexperienced. I am full of experience. I am full of joy and wisdom and curiosity. If that’s what my lines represent, then great. Let that be a signal. Looking young is overrated.

Zibby: Thank you. That was just what I needed to hear tonight. Thank you for that. Looking young is overrated. Wasted on the young. Forget it.

Natalie: Let them enjoy it. That’s the best part about being young. You don’t know anything at that point. Being young was so painful for me. I feel like it’s such a painful, not knowing, searching, figuring it out, feeling uncomfortable in my skin time. Give them the clear skin. They can have it. It’s the bonus prize for having to deal with all the —

Zibby: — No clue what’s coming next and nothing being settled at all. Every day is a question mark. Now we have everything settled. Here come the lines. So, fine, or for me anyway. Awesome. Natalie, thank you so much. Thanks for all your time. I really appreciate it. That was really fun.

Natalie: Thank you. You too. Be well.

Zibby: Thank you. Stay safe. Buh-bye.

Natalie: Bye.