At the age of 11, Natalie Portman was chosen from a group of more than 2,000 hopeful girls for the part of Leon: The Professional in 1994, which marked the beginning of an outstanding acting career. The journey there was one of those fortunate events that turned out well and made a great talent known to the globe.
Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem in 1981, according to her website. Portman claims to have had a reasonably typical upbringing. She was born to an American mother and an Israeli father. She was aware from an early age that, in contrast to many of her companions, she was more imaginative. Portman set her eyes on a huge project as a result, participating in dance groups and honing her stage presence.
When she was 9 years old, a Revlon scout asked the actress if she would be interested in modeling after seeing her at a pizza restaurant. Portman said, “No, but I would want an agency.” Later, Portman reflected, “I kept my cool. I told him that I wanted to act,” Portman lists Dirty Dancing as one of her early inspirations and says that at the time she started to push for a youth career in Hollywood (her parents refused). She has said, “That was my movie growing up.”
“When I was 10 [or 11] years old, after dance class, I went to a pizza parlor, and a guy from Revlon was there, and he wanted me to model for Revlon. So he introduced me to modeling agents, and I told them ‘I don’t want to model, I want to act,’ so they introduced me to acting agents.”
Just two years later, Portman was cast in her debut movie, Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional (1994). I was 11 at the time, and I had no idea what I was doing, but it was before the typical adolescent self-doubt came in, according to Portman. “I went into that film and I didn’t know what I was doing—but I was 11, and it was before the whole preteen self-doubt set in,” Portman said. “I was at that stage where I was completely unselfconscious, free and open, and it was really fun. I trusted Luc, and, luckily, my first experience was with such a great director. Luc really guided me.” Portman said in 2006 that “My dad had stipulations about how many drags on a cigarette I could take [in a scene], how many times I could curse.” “I wasn’t actually allowed to inhale. My dad would have people standing behind me, blowing the smoke out.”
She was first rejected for the part of Mathilda due to her age by casting director Todd Thaler, who claimed that she was too young. According to HDNet Movies, “In a second audition, in front of director, Besson, she performed the scene where Mathilda laments the loss of her brother. Besson, impressed with the depth of emotion presented, hand-picked her for the role. Portman’s portrayal of the preternaturally adult child, Mathilda, is both haunting and mesmerizing, pivoting between a nonchalant attitude and a well of deep-seated emotions. The Professional is the story of a stone-cold, 12-year-old girl who finds her family murdered by drug dealers and seeks refuge with a neighbor and assassin. With this tale, Besson and Portman draw a unique, and sometimes troubling, portrait of a young girl seeking hitman training to avenge the death of her younger brother.”
Currently, she has won the Golden Globe twice and been nominated for two Academy Awards. She will play many more outstanding parts in the future.
Portman originally declined the part of Ann August in the 1999 film Anywhere But Here because it called for nud!ty in a love scene with Corbin Allred. But Susan Sarandon, who had the support of her co-stars, insisted on playing alongside Portman in the movie. Natalie was chosen for the role because of her strength and intellect, according to Sarandon. “I wanted a strong opponent I could use my whole might against. They discussed other individuals when Natalie dropped out, but I insisted that I couldn’t do it without her. A new screenplay was sent to Portman’s door a week later, much to her “surprise,” and she agreed.
The reason for Portman’s choice was that she “liked the character, but I simply wasn’t ready for it. I’m not one of those people who’ll do anything for their art.” The end result would involve Allred in his underwear and a passionate embrace. “[The] scene gets across the same message without having to be explicit and without having to exploit someone who’s young,” Portman later said. Sarandon agreed: “I think it’s better. Natalie’s integrity actually forced the writer to be a tad more inventive.”
Her greatest break came when George Lucas wanted a young princess for his impending Star Wars prequel trilogy, but Portman went on to play a number of high-profile parts in Mars Attacks and Heat.
It turned out to be a double-edged sword even though one may anticipate that a young star like Portman would love her time in a series like Star Wars. When The Phantom Menace was published in 1999, supporters’ enthusiasm for the start of their beloved series rapidly turned into rage. Portman, who was still an adolescent at the time, had to deal with the less-than-stellar consequences. Portman discussed her thinking process with Empire:
“It was hard … It was a bummer because it felt like people were so excited about new ones and then to have people feel disappointed. Also, to be at an age that I didn’t really understand, that’s kind of the nature of the beast. When something has that much anticipation, it can almost only disappoint.”
Portman, who earned a psychology degree from Harvard University in 2003, has always been a bit of a bookworm and was named “Most Likely to Appear on Jeopardy” in high school, which she subsequently said was “code for nerdy.”
Recalling her pre–Ivy League education: “I went to public school in Long Island. The girls I went to school with had Prada bags and flat-ironed hair. People didn’t pay much attention to the fact that I was an actress. I was known for having a backpack bigger than I was, and always having Wite-Out on my hands.” According to Portman, that changed when she headed to college. “I felt like I had to prove myself more,” Portman said in 2006, “and it made me nervous all the time because I felt that people always thought I was there because I was famous and not because I deserved to be there. And so it makes your stupid comment in class even stupider. Everyone’s got a moment when they say something really lame. But me, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m just confirming everyone’s belief here—everyone thinks I’m the dumb actress.’ ” When Portman enrolled, it was just after the release of Star Wars: Episode 1, but as she told Vogue in 2011, her education wasn’t without internal battles. “I gained my freshman 15 or 20 and had super-depressed moments. That Cambridge winter is tough. It was important to know how to go through that and how to get myself out of it. You start learning how to ask your friends or professionals for help, or go to mentors.” She touched on these darker moments during a 2015 speech she gave to graduating Harvard seniors during the university’s class day, where she was the keynote speaker. “There were several occasions I started crying in meetings with professors, overwhelmed with what I was supposed to pull off when I could barely get out of bed in the morning.”