Natalie Portman admits she “made a mistake” for name-checking Jessica Simpson in a recent interview where she talked about the overt sexualization of women by the music industry in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
“I would never want to shame anyone and I fully respect her and her choices,” Portman tells PEOPLE. “I was talking about the confusion I felt as a young girl seeing the messages that I felt the media was sending out to young girls about very specific ways we should be. I made a mistake to say a name. It was absolutely not directed at her. I feel bad that she was hurt.”
Her apology comes after Simpson expressed disappointment over the comments.
In an interview with USA Today, Portman, who plays a pop star in her new film Vox Lux, mentioned Simpson posing in a bikini and professing her virginity as one example of sexualization.
“I remember being a teenager, and there was Jessica Simpson on the cover of a magazine saying ‘I’m a virgin,’ while wearing a bikini, and I was confused,” Portman told USA Today. “Like, I don’t know what this is trying to tell me as a woman, as a girl.”
Simpson was “disappointed” by Portman’s comments, and addressed the actress in a poignant Instagram note that referenced the importance of supporting women’s choices.
“@Natalieportman — I was disappointed this morning when I read that I confused you by wearing a bikini in a published photo taken of me when I was still a virgin in 1999. As public figures, we both know our image is not totally in our control at all times, and that the industry we work in often tries to define us and box us in,” Simpson began. “However, I was taught to be myself and honor the different ways all women express themselves, which is why I believed then — and believe now — that being sexy in a bikini and being proud of my body art not synonymous with having sex. I have always embraced being a role model to all women to let them know they can look however they want, wear whatever they want and have sex or not have sex with whomever they want. The power lies within us as individuals. I have made it my practice to not shame other women for their choices. In this era of Time’s Up and all the great work you have done for women, I encourage you to do the same.”
Portman responded shortly after in the Instagram comments section, telling Simpson, “Thank you for your words. I completely agree with you that a woman should be allowed to dress however she likes and behave however she likes and not be judged. I only meant to say I was confused — as a girl coming of age in the public eye around the same time — by the media’s mixed messages about how girls and women were supposed to behave. I didn’t mean to shame you and I’m sorry for any hurt my words may have caused. I have nothing but respect for your talent and your voice that you use to encourage and empower women all over the globe.”
While most commenters seemed to support Simpson’s sentiment, other people referenced that she might be misreading the situation.
“I think you might have taken her comments the wrong way and out of context,” one wrote.
Portman has been a Time’s Up advocate from the beginning, and she’s very vocal about how women deserve to be treated in and outside of Hollywood.
In October, the Oscar Winner spoke about sexual harassment, equal pay, representation and more as an honoree at Variety’s Power of Women summit.
“Stop the rhetoric that a woman is crazy or difficult,” Portman said. “If a man says to you that a woman is crazy or difficult, ask him,’ What bad thing did you do to her?’ … That’s a code word. He’s trying to discredit her reputation. Make efforts to hire people who’ve had their reputations smeared in retaliation.”
In Vox Lux, she plays a 30-something pop star who rose to fame in the late ’90s and now grapples with her superstardom. Portman told USA Today, that musicians have it harder than anyone else in the spotlight when it comes to public scrutiny.
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“People who succeed in music, their fandom is much larger than any actor, and it’s them as themselves whereas actors are in character,” Portman said. “There’s a difference in expectation.”
A source tells PEOPLE that Simpson’s takes her platform as a role model very seriously, which sparked her passionate reaction.
“Jessica feels very strongly about being a role model and it hurt her to read those comments,” the source says.
“She believes strongly in supporting women’s choices and their individuality,” the insider adds. “She understands that the pop music industry at the time had a vision for her and she chose to put on that bikini for the photo shoot and she was okay with it.”
With reporting by Kara Warner.