It was a scorching-hot day in Cannes, and Natalie Portman had been sitting outside for hours doing video interviews, so when PEOPLE photographer Chris Floyd asked her if she would take her shoes off and wade in the cool waters of the Mediterranean for a shot, she agreed. For 15 minutes she happily splashed along the beach for PEOPLE’s exclusive look behind the scenes of the Cannes Film Festival in the magazine’s new issue.
Portman’s directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness, premiered at the film festival in France, the 33-year-old star’s home country for the past few years.
“You certainly feel more American when you’re not living in America, you know?” Portman says. “It’s all new and exciting and foreign, and you also realize the things about yourself now that are very American.”
The most intimidating part of becoming a Frenchwoman? “Any time you go to someone’s house for dinner in Paris, they have this, like, incredible gourmet feast that they’ve prepared themselves, and they look impeccable, and they’re like not sweating, and they’re joking and drinking a glass of wine, and it’s kind of one of those ‘How do you do this?’ ” Portman adds, laughing. “I tend toward takeout.”
Still learning the language, “I’m trying to get better,” the star says. The French language hasn’t infiltrated her subconscious yet. “I dream in English, always.”
RELATED VIDEO: Watch What Happens When We Ask Natalie Portman, Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts to Play Word Association at Cannes
Portman was one of dozens of stars PEOPLE spent time with this year in Cannes, including Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts for Sea of Trees, co-Best Actress Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett for the critically acclaimed Carol, Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw for Jury Prize winner The Lobster, Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in the FBI drama Sicario, and L’Oréal ambassadors Eva Longoria and Karlie Kloss.
For more of PEOPLE’s gorgeous photos and behind-the-scenes dish with the stars of Cannes, pick up the new issue, on newsstands Friday