written by Jutze
Natalie Portman was born on Tuesday, June 9th 1981 in Jerusalem, actually on her mother’s birthday. A vacuum was used to get her out, so she had a cone-head during the first days of her life. She was the first and only child of her parents. Her Israeli father is an infertility specialist and works as a doctor. Her American mother is a full-time homemaker. Don’t get confused by all the biographies saying she’s an artist. In fact, Natalie used to call her an artist for juggling the household and upbringing stuff. I hope the following statement from Natalie about her mother makes it clear: “She always gets mad at me if I say she’s, like, a housewife because she says it sounds like… [...] she says it sounds as though she’s married to a house. [...] And that doesn’t work because, like, that doesn’t reflect well on her personality. And so then, I was like, well what should I say. So I started saying, like,
she was an artist because that’s what she studied in college. So then everyone was asking me, like, oh, what kind of art does she do? And does she paint, what kind of paints? [...] And I was like, I don’t know! [...] So then now I just say she’s a mom. It works.” (The Late Show with David Letterman 2/1996)
When she was three, her family moved to the US, because her father did his residency in Maryland. At the age of four she started taking dancing lessons and she remembers “I’ve always loved entertaining people and putting on shows at home.” (TV Hits Magazine 2/1997). She also took some singing lessons, and she recalls: “I was definitely heading more down the Broadway route. I wanted to be in “Oklahoma!” or something. I wasn’t thinking of films at all.”(Star Wars Insider #44 5/1999). Nevertheless was she a big fan of Dirty Dancing. Especially Patrick Swayze left quite an impression on her, as she later would admit: “I think I became an actress just so there would be a possibility that I might meet him one day, ’cause he’s just, like, so amazing”. (Harper’s Bazaar 11/1997
Her father started his fellowship three years later in Connecticut, so they had to move again. It made her “more able to adjust to new people and to make new friends easily. It’s a lot easier to make friends when you’re younger, because kids are a lot less judgmental than adults.” Beside the moves there is not much known about her childhood. She says she’s “been brought up in what you might call a pretty conventional family.” (Interview Magazine 2/1995) But since her dad is Israeli she grew up with a different set of values than most American kids. This would become obvious in her self-confident decisions in her future career as actress. Looking back she remarks “I don’t even remember who my friends were before I was nine.” It was then that her father became a doctor and started working in New York. This led to another move, this time to Long Island. Natalie admits “I have no clear memories from before I was around 12.” (Star Wars Insider #44 5/1999) That doesn’t mean she’s had a insignificant childhood, but it shows that she couldn’t grow roots back then. The only stable constitution was her family.
This explains why there has always been a strong bond between her and her parents. Concerning this constellation, Natalie says “You really learn to function as an adult.” Even before her movie career took off forcing her family to seek refuge in their privacy, they spend a lot of time together. “I’m an only child. All my vacations are with my parents.” (Vanity Fair #465 5/1999) She visited countries like Japan and Australia with them in her childhood days, what definitely had an impact on her. Later she’d take Japanese as a subject in school.
At the age of eight Natalie stopped eating meat as a matter of conscience. “I went to a medical conference with my dad where they were demonstrating laser surgery on a chicken. I think at that point I made the connection that animals were killed for meat. I had always kind of thought that animals died and then we ate them. At first, my parents thought it was just a phase.” (Time Out New York #114 11/1997) But it wasn’t.
After dissecting a fish in the sixth grade she stopped eating fish, too. In 1995 gelatin followed, and in 1997 she stopped eating cheese, because it can contain rennet, which is taken from animals’ stomachs. This shows clearly how she struggles to stay true to her ideals. Again, her parents supported her case although they’re not vegetarians themselves.
“When I was ten [note: in some interviews she says she was 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.” (The Late Show with David Letterman 11/1994) Three summers she spent at theatre camps gaining her first acting experiences playing such roles as Dream Laurey in “Oklahoma!” and Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The latter one “is a good one to do, because it’s the easiest of the Shakespeares.” Around that time she skipped a grade due to her excellent grades at the Jewish school she went to until the 8th grade. “I loved school so much that most of my classmates considered me a dork,” she recalls. (Calgary Sun 4/2000)
From time to time she regrets not having siblings. Then she lamentates “I don’t like being an only child. I don’t think I would’ve been able to act, had there been other children, because it wouldn’t be really fair to them. But it’s strange for me to think that when I’m older my kids won’t have cousins from my side, and I won’t have any one to, like, be conspirators with and talk about my parents when I’m older. Because no one knows what it’s like to be in my family. I can say to someone, “Oh my God, they’re killing me!” And they’re like, ‘But your parents are so nice!’” (Jane Magazine 9/1999) At least she got a dog, a female Poodle-Schnauzer mix that was named “Noodles”. Natalie was a member of the group “World Patrol Kids” which toured through the country and released a cd called “Earth Tunes” in 1991. The whole thing was about motivating and teaching how to protect the environment.
Natalie Portman made her first professional performance in the off-Broadway musical “Ruthless” as an understudy for three weeks in 1993. Back then she lacked a bit of discipline being but a child. “I kept laughing on stage because I was having so much fun with this other girl: She would cross her eyes at me on stage, and I’d start laughing, and people would be like, Natalie, you’re not supposed to laugh on stage.” (Boston Magazine 10/1997) Eventually she participated at auditions for the role in “The Professional” which she would finally get. At first she was rejected being too young, but after a some more auditions director Luc Besson chose her to play Mathilda Lando. Luc Besson eventually cooperated with Natalie’s parents who wouldn’t have her daughter do certain things.
Adjustments of the script were made which led to a revised ending. “They talk to the director for hours before every project I do, to make sure I’m not going to be doing anything that’s going to be hurting me in my personal life” (Vanity Fair #465 5/1999) This meant that one of them would accompany her whenever she was filming outside New York, at least until she turned 18. So her mother flew with her to Paris. Her father visited them every other weekend. It was him who urged her to read the Diary of Anne Frank, when they visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. The lecture of this book would have a deep impact on Natalie Portman’s life. More about that later.
Eventually she adapted Portman (her grandmother’s maiden name) as her stage name to protect her family life in case her performance would be unsatisfactory. Obviously this wasn’t the case. Still she kept it to protect her privacy as her acting career continued. “The Professional” starred Jean Reno, Gary Oldman and Danny Aiello. Shooting in New York began on June 1st and were finished on July 23rd. The major part (i.e. the indoor scenes) was filmed between July 28th and October 7th in Paris. Although she never took acting lessons her performance is convincing. Her character grows more mature as the plot unwinds and becomes strong and self-confident in the end. Commenting her performance in “The Professional” director Luc Besson states “Natalie had no experience before. The first time we have seen one- or two-thousand girls and she was the best. You explain, she listen and she do it, so simple.” (from a commentary video clip around 1994) In return Natalie praises him. “I went onto that film and I didn’t know what I was doing – but I was 11, and it was before the whole pre-teen self doubt set in. 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.” (Vogue (Australia) 7/1999)
But her work as a child actress affected her private life in a negative way. “In seventh grade I cried every single day when I came back from shooting The Professional. My friends were not my friends. They were saying, ‘She thinks she’s so hot now,’ things like that, and it was the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through. Clearly, I haven’t had that difficult a life. But I have barely any memories of that year, except that I would just cry all the time. I went to public school after that year.” (Jane Magazine 9/1999) There she stayed until she finished highschool in 1999.
In November “The Professional” opened with Natalie Portman gaining attention all over the place. She appeared in public for the first time at the movie premieres in Los Angeles and Paris and she was also guest in several TV shows. At the same time she went to school, something that would dominate the interviews back then. Sometimes people were annoyed by the violence in the movie, but Natalie thinks of it rather as “a special love story; there’s never been one like it before.” (Venice Magazine 7/1995) “It’s also about two people who by themselves are so unhappy, but when they’re together they’re very, very happy just because they have each other’s companionship. They’re taking care of each other. They’re nurturing each other. Because love can be Platonic,” she adds. (Interview Magazine 2/1995)
A longer director’s cut, retitled “Léon: version integrale” was re-released in French cinemas on June 26, 1996. This version is 26 minutes longer than the previously release version and features all sequences that were removed from the film after disastrous tests with L.A. preview audiences. It was eventually released on DVD/VHS. Odd side note: The German version of the director’s cut lacks the scene with Mathilda telling Léon she is 18 years old. She had also played in the short film “Developing” directed by Marya Cohn. It would only be shown on TV a year later. Portman plays Nina who’s mother suffers from the consequences of breast cancer. She got the part through an audition. The story deals with the alienation and the reconciliation of mother and daughter. Due to the shortness of the film, its scenes appear more like episodes than like a real plot.
Due to her performance in “The Professional” Natalie didn’t have to go to auditions along with other candidates any longer. Instead producers approached her with roles and scripts. Her next film was “Beautiful Girls”. “When I got the script, I just fell in love with Marty,” Portman recalls. “It’s so rare to find a script where the character is my age, and smart and funny – and doesn’t have sex.” Finding an actress who could play the role without being pretentious was “the greatest challenge in making the movie,” says producer Cary Woods. “We’d said going in that we couldn’t make the movie if we couldn’t find Marty. It was the linchpin of the film.”
Between several 30-year olds who lament over their mid-life crises, Marty is a 13-year old girl who appears fresh and innocent. “She’s the smartest person involved in this movie,” says writer-producer Scott Rosenberg. “We were so unbelievably lucky to have made this movie at a time when Natalie Portman was a viable human being,” he adds. “We saw a lot of girls and nobody even came close. To me, she is Marty.” (Daily Bruin 2/1996) To Natalie Portman making the film was, once again, mainly fun. Regarding the relationship between Willie and Marty, she says “He doesn’t really have a crush on her. He has a crush on what she will become.” (Interview Magazine 3/1996)
“Beautiful Girls” was shot in Minnesota. The cast featured Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Michael Rapaport, Uma Thurman, Lauren Holly and Rosie O’Donnell. Since there’s much more dialogue and almost no action in this movie, it didn’t take too long to shoot. Natalie Portman and Timothy Hutton (whom she has all her scenes with and who gave her her first screen kiss) got along very well. “Natalie’s very smart and she knew exactly the right way to approach potentially difficult scenes,” says Hutton of his co-star. “She knew exactly what to do. The scenes with her were the scenes I looked forward to the most, because I knew there would be real clarity coming from her. She knew what she wanted, but she was also extremely free in the choices she made. Every take was different. Some people do the same thing over and over again, but Natalie really listens, so if I did something different in take two, she made these beautiful adjustments. To do that at the age of 44 is extraordinary, but at 13…” Director Ted Demme adds: “Natalie absolutely blew me out of my seat in The Professional, and after one reading of the script for Beautiful Girls, I knew she was the only actress who could play this character.” (Vanity Fair #465 5/1999)
Now a teenager, Natalie Portman rethinks her work as an actress. “The anxiety I now feel about acting has nothing to do with movies, though – it’s just a part of getting older. You become aware of your body changing and of the fact that people are judging you – and you’re really aware of that when you’re in the public eye.” Another aspect that made her appear more mature than other girls at her age is the fact, that until then she has always been filming with people who were much older than here. “Acting probably is making me grow up faster than I normally would because I’m around adults so much of the time,” she says. “I’m friends with people much older than me, but they’re all quite intent on maintaining my innocence. Yesterday Ted Demme told me that if anyone ever did anything bad to me, I have 20 big brothers who’d rush to my rescue.” (Los Angeles Times 2/1996)
The film wouldn’t be as successful as “The Professional” or “Heat”. Still, Natalie Portman’s performance proved that there’s more to her than just her youth. Ironically, Portman herself had yet to experience even her first crush. “That happened right after filming ended. And it was so hard, because I was still in the Beautiful Girls mindset, and it made the crush so much more difficult.” (The Telegraph (UK) 7/1999)
Natalie Portman’s next role made her the suicidal step daughter of Al Pacino in Michael Mann’s Action-Thriller “Heat” which was filmed in spring 1995 on location in Los Angeles. Although the movie’s dominated by the duel between Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and hi-tech criminal Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro), the supporting roles don’t come off badly. Once again, the director has only words of praise for Natalie Portman: “When I met her, you could tell she was kind of a prodigy,” says Michael Mann. “In the movie, she has a very short amount of screen time to believably communicate a child who is seriously dysfunctional without any overt hysteria or exaggerated dialogue, and she delivers. Only someone with serious talent can do that.” (Entertainment Weekly 1/1996)
Eventually, Woody Allen offered her a role in his forthcoming movie “Everyone Says: I Love You” which Natalie accepted. The audition for the part was rather short. “I met him,” Portman relates, “I shook his hand. He said, ‘Hi, I’m Woody,’ and introduced me to the three people who were in the room. I said, ‘Hey, I’m Natalie.’ He asked me three questions, like, ‘Where do you live? How old are you? Are you free for the fall?’” (Detour Magazine 1/1996) Still, Natalie turned down starring roles in “The Ice Storm” for fear of exposing too much too early. She was rejected for “Romeo & Juliet” for being too young. Another offer she got was by Adrian Lyne who wanted to do a remake of Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” (that was finally released in 1997). Natalie turned down the role as well. “I met with the director but I immediately told him there’s no way I’m gonna do this movie,” she recalls. “Kubrick’s film of the book is great because nothing is really shown, but this one will be explicit. He told me they’d use body doubles but I said people will still think it’s me, so no thank you.” (Los Angeles Times 2/1996) “I don’t think there needs to be a film about a thirteen year old girl having, um, intercourse with a fifty year old man,” she states. (Good Morning America 2/1996) I think it must have been in summer 1995 when “Mars Attacks!” was filmed. Natalie plays Taffy, the daughter of President Jack Nicholson and first lady Glenn Close. She is actually among the few who are still alive by the end of the movie. The all-star cast featured stars like Pierce Brosnan, Annette Bening, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Danny DeVito and Tom Jones. They dominated the movie although Natalie delivered a remarkable performance as the only teenage actor in the movie beside Lukas Haas (who unfortunately survives as well).
The premier of “Heat” in December hadn’t as much influence on Natalie Portman’s life as “The Professional”‘s had. She wasn’t in the center of the public eye and could continue to pursue her work at school. Still her name popped up here and there.
A week before her third film (“Beautiful Girls”) hit the cinemas, Natalie had already finished shooting the Paris-part of “Everyone Says: I Love You”. It was the first time Allen filmed outside New York, so Portman got to see the place again where “The Professional” had been filmed. She plays the Laura, the daughter of some rich liberal Upper East Siders (played by Alan Alda and Goldie Hawn). Just like “Mars Attacks!”, the film features a cast of famous actor and actresses like Julia Roberts, Drew Berrymore, Ed Norton and, of course, Woody Allen himself. The movie is typically Woody Allen with lots of fast dialogues and a twisted storyline. Natalie Portman’s character remains in the background. Lukas Haas, Natasha Lyonne and Gaby Hoffman also appeared in the film, something Natalie enjoyed very much. “It’s really fun because this is the first movie I’ve done with other kids, so we all hang out together – we go to the movies and stuff” (Sassy Magazine 3/1996)
Despite that fun she wasn’t very satisfied with her performance. Three years later she said: “Oh God, I was so awful in that. My agents said, ‘Well, you just don’t turn down Woody Allen.’ But I was so wrong because there was so much improvisation and I just couldn’t do it.” (The Telegraph (UK) 7/1999)
At that point Natalie Portman’s career seemed to have reached its climax. She was already signed to play Kristin Scott Thomas’ daughter in “The Horse Whisperer” under Robert Redford’s direction, and still was able to maintain her very good results at school. Then she got a phone call from Robin Gurland, a casting director working for Lucasfilm. Portman was offered the female leading role for the upcoming pre-quels of the “Star Wars”-saga. Eventually she met with Lucas and producer Rick McCallum at the Skywalker farm outside San Francisco and after some time for reflection she signed a deal for all three movies. She remembers that time: “I really thought about it for many weeks before I agreed to do the film. First, because it places you in the limelight and pushes you into the public eye more than probably any other film could. Second, it was a huge commitment to make as a fourteen-year-old, to decide that I was going to be doing three films in the next ten years. That’s a huge decision to make at any point in your life, and especially when you’re fourteen and don’t know what you want to do with your life. You don’t know what you want to do the rest of the day, you know? So I really thought about it a lot and weighed my considerations and talked to all the people I love and trust before I made my decision.” (TV Guide Online 5/1999) “I thought it was a good way to grow up in films. I get to have the romance, and then having kids… always playing my age. If I do decide to continue in film, it’s a great way to make the transition to adult roles. And if I don’t-which is definitely possible-it would be a nice last thing to do.” (The Telegraph 7/1999)
This year Natalie also modelled although she didn’t like it when she did it before she actually became a film star. She recalls: “One year, a local dance supply company came to my dance class looking for girls to be in its catalog. I did it and I hated it. It was so boring! So not stimulating. I couldn’t handle it.” (Sassy Magazine 3/1996) She starred in designer Isaac Mizrahi’s “Inside every woman there’s a star” ad campaign for his Isaac line and apparently enjoyed it. The photographs shot by Dewey Nicks fueled constant comparisons with Audrey Hepburn. Mizrahi himself praises Natalie: “There are not enough superlatives for this girl, she is such a gifted actress and then, to top it off, what she looks like! I have this strong feeling that she is going to be a legend.” (Vogue (UK) 8/1999) He was a bit sceptical about her protective parents who were always at her side when she worked on movies watching over her. But after he had met them he understood their motivation. “They value her, and they weren’t going to let her go down the scary path so many actresses go down. I think that’s why Natalie feels lighthearted; she feels cared for. I think her parents are doing everything right. She’s sort of a miracle, that she hasn’t become this egomaniacal little bitch like the kid stars you hear about. She was an absolute dream to work with.” (Vanity Fair #465 5/1999)
But even if it looks as if there was always sunshine in her movie life, here and there some critical remarks came to the surface. Natalie politely refused to tell any names, though. “I’ve been treated badly by producers and I definitely speak up then – the way they make me work, the conditions. I am not difficult at all and I’m a really hard worker, but I have had some very high demands made of me. People have wanted me to break the law by overworking. Breaking child labour laws means they lose less money. But those are laws for a reason.” (The Telegraph (UK) 7/1999)
On her fifteenth birthday she was in Hollywood, and spent four hours putting in an appearance at an AIDS charity event. Her summer she spent at theater camp in the Catskills. Both, “Mars Attacks” and “Everyone Says: I Love You” premiered in December bringing Natalie back into the limelight of TV-shows and print media interviews. Because of all the other famous people in these films, she remained in the background, though.
Surprisingly Natalie Portman withdrew from the starring role in “The Horse Whisperer” to appear in The Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway instead. Ever since she read the book during the shooting of “The Professional” she felt drawn to the character of Anne Frank. Producer David Stone, who initiated the project, says of the preliminary reading, “Natalie was so magnificent that not only was she crying during the last scene, but so were the other actors; their mouths were agape at this girl.” (Boston Magazine 10/1997) So she got the part of Anne Frank.
This commitment even forced George Lucas to rearrange the filming schedule for “Episode I” a bit. In the middle of June the first scenes were shot in London, then in July the crew went to Italy for two weeks and to Tunisia for three weeks. But making “Episode I” wasn’t all fun for Portman. “This is the first job job I’ve had,” she says. “Every other acting job was more like playing. [...] So I woke up at six in the morning and got home at 9:30 at night. In Tunisia, it was over a hundred Fahrenheit – the locals don’t even go out during the day – and we worked from 3 a.m. to 5 p.m.” (W Magazine 11/1997) She admits that “on Star Wars, all of a sudden, it didn’t feel like fun anymore; it was very hard work, I was working sixteen hours a day! But, as work, it’s really fun.” (IMDb 8/2000) Eventually they went back London. “I kind of envisioned everyone being in the same hotel-playing and hanging out,” she says. “But Ewan and Liam have wives and kids. And Jake was only eight.” Lucas finally took pity on her and flew in one of her friends from New York. Until then she had been living there alone with her mother. But not only had she the troubles every adolescent goes through, her work as an actress changed as well. “I’d always been treated like a kid on sets,” Portman says. “Now I was, like, an adult, and I kind of wasn’t ready for it. It’s a big mind change.” (Premiere Magazine 5/1999)
Still she enjoyed shooting the film. “It was hard work, but I loved the people that worked with. All the actors are so nice. Ahmed Best is awesome. Ewan McGregor is so cool. Jake Lloyd is the cutest kid, and Liam Neeson is the best guy. And George is an amazing person, really nice and intelligent and a great director. He is so efficient, and the crew is awesome. The crew was so cool.” (Star Wars Insider #44 5/1999) Natalie Portman then returned to school, just to leave again when the rehearsals for “The Diary Of Anne Frank” began. During the preparations for the play, an adaptation of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s play (which won a Pulitzer and a TONY) by playwright and screenwriter Wendy Kesselman, that included new material from the 1995 version of the diaries, Portman wrote the following article:
We rehearse six days a week, seven hours a day (six hours if we’re doing well). School days, I wake up at 7:15, leave for school at 8:00, go to English class, physics and gym. Then, at 10:30, a car picks me up at school and drives me to Manhattan (a one-hour drive). Rehearsal begins at 11:30. We break for lunch from 2:00 to 3:00, and during that time I am tutored in one of the classes that I have missed at school: history, French, math or Japanese. Rehearsal ends by 7:30 PM, and I get tutored again from 7:30 to 8:30. On weekends, I get tutored before and after work both Saturday and Sunday. A car drives me home each day, and I go to sleep. After a month of rehearsal, I will leave for Boston where we will open the show, fix it if necessary, and basically prepare for New York City. We will open in December in New York and perform eight shows a week. We will have Mondays off and do two shows on Wednesdays and Saturdays. While I’m on Broadway, I will go to school full-time. I will finish playing Anne Frank toward the end of the school year. If my schedule sounds hectic, it is. I’m always pressed to finish homework, study for tests, learn lines. But I’m really excited to bring this show to people, and my parents and friends keep me sane. I go out with my friends at least one night a week, and that maintains my energy because I feel then that I have balanced work, school and play. I have the greatest friends in the world. They’re fun, nice, and they have never acted weird about my being an actress.
When I was twelve, I was in Paris filming The Professional. I was living with my mother; my father was working, so he only visited every other weekend. One weekend we went to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. I bought a copy of her diary there and began to read it at my father’s urging. I became so entwined in her writing that I did nothing else for the next week until I finished it. I wouldn’t hear what people were saying. I got yelled at all the time.
For those of you who don’t know, Anne Frank was a 13-year-old Jewish girl who was living in Holland when Hitler sent a notice for her older sister, Margot, to go work in a labor camp. Their family had already experienced a lot of anti-Semitism, and this was the final straw that made them go into hiding. They lived in a secret part of her father’s warehouse for two years. While there, Anne kept a diary, documenting not only the progression of the war, but also her feelings about life, love and maturation.
This is the most honest book I’ve ever read because it is a true diary. It made me feel as if someone understood me. Anne Frank wrote about things that every teenager goes through but doesn’t really discuss openly. At the end, the family and the other people they hid with were caught and sent to concentration camps. This horrific ending brings even more meaning to her diary. Her faith in humanity, even when she was starving and sick in the attic – all because she was Jewish – had a huge influence on me. She believed in good and she believed that people were good at heart, even when everything pointed in the other direction.
I decided to do this play because I am truly convinced that people need to be constantly reminded of compassion. We have starving people, war-torn countries and children who will not have the chance to change the world as they should. This sounds cliched and idealistic, I know, but it really is what the world is like, and people must remember that.
I also have a personal attachment to the play because my great-grandparents, my great-uncle and several other family members were murdered by the Nazis during World War II. I think that the world must acknowledge and understand how useless hatred and racism are, and fight against these problems. Every time I hear a racist, an anti-Semitic or any other hateful slur, I am reminded that people have not yet learned. We will soon perform the play and spread the message to our audiences – we hope. It is the least I can do in tribute to Anne Frank, who has helped me become a better human being. Every day, when I go to rehearsal, petty problems that seem like traumas are put back into perspective and become trivial. I can imagine a time when our generation is made up of parents and educators who are compassionate and caring. If we begin now to strive towards that goal, we may begin to reach it. (Seventeen Magazine 1/1998)
The play stayed for a month at the Colonial Theater in Boston before it had its premiere on Broadway at the Music Box Theater in early December. The cast featured Broadway veterans Harris Yulin, Linda Lavin, Austin Pendleton and George Hearn (as Anne’s father). “I’m not religious, but I speak fluent Hebrew and even dream in Hebrew when we visit there, once or twice a year. I have strong feelings about my people and my country. We don’t even belong to a temple; it’s more about a sense of patriotism,” says Portman who taught the other actors the Hebrew songs that were sung in the play. (Boston Globe 10/1997) One of her father’s uncles was murdered in the street, while her paternal great-grandparents were killed at Auschwitz. “So I mean, it’s very, very close to us,” she says of Anne Frank’s story, adding “I can’t imagine not knowing your grandparents.” (Boston Magazine 10/1997)
“She’s so centered, so together,” praised Lapine the actress. “She has a kind of maturity many adult actors don’t have.” (Vanity Fair #465 6/1999) and he added: “She has a magnetic quality, the same that one imagines Anne Frank would have had. What Natalie has is real emotional presence and intelligence. Boy, is she smart.” (Harper’s Bazaar 11/1997)
By the end of May Natalie Portman left the production of Anne Frank being rewarded with a Tony nomination and raves from the theater critics. All the while she had been attending school during day, taking classes like history, honors physics, math theory, French honors and Japanese II. Looking back on the play she recalls: “It was really amazing. But those were my most difficult days. I thought you got all your crying out on stage, and then you were fine, but anything would set me off. You get so emotional because on stage, you cry five or six times, and you’re doing this show eight times a week. [...] Doing Anne Frank was definitely an amazing experience, and it really shaped me. From the beginning to the end, I grew up. It was kind of perfect, because I went from being a girl to being a woman, and that’s how Anne progresses in the play.” (Jane Magazine 9/1999)
Earlier she had been by been approached by Wayne Wang to star in film “Anywhere But Here”, based on the Mona Simpson novel with the same title. But after reading the script Natalie refused the part of Ann. “In the original script there was a sex scene, and I want to emphasize that I don’t have any problems with sex scenes on film,” Portman said. “I’m not into censorship, but I just wasn’t prepared to do the scene at that point in my life.” But she also respected the integrity of the producers and screenwriter Alvin Sargent. “I didn’t really want to change their whole idea of the film, because I thought it was so well written, so I simply turned down the role and said I was not prepared to do it.” It was at this point that Wang and Susan Sarandon, who played Ann’s mother, sprang to Portman’s support, saying the young actress deserved respect for her position and that they weren’t prepared to proceed with the project if she was no longer involved. Then, to Portman’s “surprise,” she received a new script a week later and discovered that her controversial scene with Corbin Alldred, who plays an admiring teenage friend in the movie, had been extensively reworked. “It was really wonderful,” Portman said later, “and they did it by their own choice, so I don’t really feel I’ve ruined their art or anything, and I think the scene still works. I also think filmmakers should try to be more creative. I think the scene gets across the same message without having to be explicit and without having to exploit someone who’s young.” (The Ottawa Citizen 10/1999) She continues: “I think probably people view me as a goody-goody, which isn’t necessarily true. I mean, I’m a human being. I’m not an angel.” (CNN 11/1999) – still she has to admit that “I’ve never tried smoking, I don’t drink, I’ve never tried any drugs. I don’t condemn people who do; I’ve just never wanted to. I don’t really like high-school parties. My closest friends are very straight, compared with a lot of other kids.”
“She’s a really smart girl who has had a very rarefied upbringing, who has been raised with a lot on confidence and self-esteem, so she seems older than she is in many ways,” says Susan Sarandon. “I felt at times that I was working with an equal. She has a natural grace that doesn’t make her seem as if she’s of her generation.” Natalie herself is aware of her generation’s inclination to convenience. “I think a lot of people my age are behind. They’re less mature than they should be. A lot of kids I know have kind of been handed everything. I didn’t come from a hard-knock life, but I’ve worked hard. Most of the people where I live get their car on their 16th birthday. Most of them don’t really care about school. I see a lot of people who seem to have no interests. There’s a lack of individualism. They’re born into a world where you don’t have to prove anything to anybody. A lot of families have inherited their businesses; others have worked so hard they want their families to be comfortable, so they’re not pushing their kids. I’ve gravitated toward friends that are more rounded-toward people with ambitions.” (Vanity Fair #465 6/1999)
In June she started filming “Anywhere But Here” in Los Angeles. “George never once suggested guidelines for the movies I do between the Star Wars films. He knows that his movies are not the centre of my life. He knows I’ll be going to college, so he has scheduled our next shoot in Australia for my summer break. He has three of his own children and has incredible respect for education.” (Calgary Sun 5/1999) The movie is apparently a far cry from “Episode I”, still Natalie says, “I love it as much as Star Wars!” It’s a story about an excentric, irresponsible mother and her teenage daughter who move to Beverly Hills and struggle to make their way there. The film allows Sarandon and Portman to display all facettes of their characters’ relationship. Portman’s performances reminds one of her role in “Developing”, but this time she has more time and a more obnoxious counterpart in Sarandon’s Adele. Asked about her own life she answers: “I fight with my mom just like any teenager, but I’m very close to her.” (YM Magazine 10/1999)
In May “Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace” opened in the United States. The effect it had on Natalie Portman’s life can be described with one word: Exposure. “The thing I feared most has begun to happen. People are becoming too interested in me as a person and not me as an actress. I have purposely tried to keep my personal life out of the public domain, but it’s getting harder with each passing week.” (Calgary Sun 5/1999) Her face appeared on merchandise and soda cans all over the world, she had to give countless interviews and soon bootlegs of the movie were spread all over the world via the internet. Untouched by all the excitement about Star Wars, Portman also wrote an article for the TIME magazine entitled “From Teen To Teen: Thoughts From a Young Actor” which dealt with her adolescence and what influence the diary of Anne Frank had on it. She finally got her driver’s license in May as well. Despite all this she graduated from high school with honors in June. Earlier that year she had her wisdom teeth removed while preparing for her finals. She also found time to teach dance to fifth and sixth-graders in the inner city with some classmates.
In the interviews for the promotion of the film she talked a lot about Amidala’s impressive costumes which helped her to impersonate the young queen: “I’m so lucky to have been able to wear them. I think they’re some of the most beautiful – if not the most beautiful – costumes ever made for film. Trisha Biggar did an unbelievable job, and the people who made the original sketches did too. [...] It was just unbelievable, and it really helped me with the character, too – because you carry yourself so much differently when you’re wearing that kind of gear. [...] To put on, it really didn’t take very long. Hair and makeup is probably about two hours – that was long. But the costumes snap on, snap off – because if I had to go to the bathroom or something, you don’t want to take all day.”
She also changed her voice for the role: “George wanted me to do something very different than myself. So he suggested the accent be in a deeper tone of voice. I worked with a dialect coach for about two days to make up a “nothing” accent that’s kind of unidentifiable and all over the place – an accent that was somewhat reminiscent of the older actresses like Lauren Bacall and Katherine Hepburn, who had that kind of regal tone.” (Star Wars Insider 1/2000) “After we completed the film, George electronically modulated it even more.” (Calgary Sun 5/1999)
The consequences of Star Wars she describes as followed: “Professionally, participation in a success increases your commercial value. From now on, I am a product that allows a movie to be more easily sold. It’s in particular thanks to that that I could make an independent film this summer: it found its financing when I accepted the role. Personally, the success of “Star Wars” modified the nature of my public, of my fans. Now, I interest more kids of 10-12 years than men of ripe age and, frankly, I prefer that.” (La Libre Belgique 2/2000)
The title of that independent film was “Where The Heart Is”, an adaption of the Oprah Winfrey-endorsed novel by Billie Letts with the same title. Directed by Matt Williams, the movie also stars Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing, with a cameo appearance by Sally Field. Portman who accepted 48 hours after receiving the script explains her choice: “I was looking for a film to do during summer. This script was just so great, so quirky and different from everything else. A lot of the scripts I get are really just bland. What really impressed me was it was a good-natured, sweet story which is really unusual to find because everything’s trying to be edgy, cool and cutting-edge.” (The Sunday Telegraph 8/2000) Although she was brought up completely different than her character Novalee, she can relate to her: “There are definite parallels during this period of my life,” says Portman. “I’m going from living dependent on other people to making my own movement to take care of myself and in turn take care of others. You discover that not everyone’s good and people will disappoint you. It’s disillusioning. But rather than think everyone evil, you say, ‘I’ve got to be more careful,’ and there are people I can find who will be true friends.” (Boston Herald 4/2000)
It was the first time that she did a film without being accompanied by one of her parents. She enjoyed it, because “everyone was so much fun to work with. There was a lot of energy and spirit on the set. Even in the heavier scenes, it was light between the scenes. [...] It was an unusually happy set.” (Entertainment Tonight 4/2000) “We had the best time. Yeah. [...] It was so fun [...] Austin, Texas is one of the greatest cities in the country, I think, that I’ve been to. [...] And it was just so fun. And our cast was very close. And the crew. And, you know, we would hang out on weekends. And there’s a lot to do in Austin, too. So, it was really fun.” (The Today Show 4/2000)
Shortly after she had finished shooting “Where The Heart Is” in Texas, Portman flew to the Toronto and joined Wayne Wang and Susan Sarandon at the Toronto Film Festival where “Anywhere But Here” had its premiere. Afterwards she returned to the East Coast to attend her first classes at a New England Ivy League college and to move into a dorm there. Although she it meant leaving her parents and home, she is happy with the situation. “I live with three room mates on the college campus. It’s great. I love it. [...] I’m talking chemistry, a seminar on the Russian novel “War And Peace” and a writing class that’s required on “Theories of Influence”. So I’m reading a lot of psychology books. I’m also taking a course in Israeli culture.” (J17 Magazine 1/2000) In November “Anywhere But Here” opened in cinemas in North America. Its lack of success made clear that her participation in Star Wars hadn’t made her a movie star, still it shows that she’s everything but run of the mill. After all, it was her role as Ann that scored her first major award nomination, as Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes.
This year Natalie Portman made the decision to major in psychology at college. In April “Where The Heart Is” premiered on North American screens. During the interviews for the movie (held in Los Angeles and New York) she talked a lot about her college life and about the love scene in the film, yet another first in her career. “I keep saying it was the ideal situation,” Portman says, “because James [Frain] was a very close friend of mine, so we were very comfortable with each other. But there was nothing romantic going on, so it was kind of ideal. And the cast and crew that were around during the day I was very comfortable with. But it’s just strange to be kissing someone not by choice. Not any insult to James, but you know, I’m not in love with him or crushy with him. So it was strange to be told to kiss someone, and while you’re kissing they were, like, screaming things out at us. Like, ‘Turn your head more to the left, face the camera more, turn your body so we can see you!’ That kind of thing. That was just really bizarre. But I think it was appropriate for the film, and that’s why I decided to do it after many years of deciding not to do love scenes.” (Hollywood.com 4/2000)
Nevertheless she enjoyed making the movie a lot of as she looks back on it, especially the work with Ashley Judd with whom she had most of her scenes: “Ashley is great. I only have amazing things to say about her.” (Access Hollywood 4/2000) She sounds quite amused when she recalls “Well physically, they gave me some boobs. They gave me different hairstyles, more mature makeup. When people physically buy that you’re older than you are, it helps a lot in your confidence and acting more mature.” (Hollywood.com 4/2000)
Portman’s participation in the Public Theater Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of “The Seagull” (written by Anton Checkhov, translated by Tom Stoppard) along with Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline had already been confirmed by then, but director Mike Nichols was still looking for a suiting location. The fact that Portman would only do it during her summer vacations delayed the whole production for a year. This year’s summer vacation she spent in Sydney filming “Episode II”. This commitment included short visits to Tunisia and Italy as well. Again, her parents weren’t with her on the set (they visited her, though). Instead she had two friends with her who got jobs as co-workers, and, of course, Hayden Christensen, who has probably better chances to play with light-sabers than Natalie. Still she jokes: “I can’t wait till they have girl-light-saber fights, that would be awesome.” (The Big Breakfast Show 7/1999)
In spring Natalie returned to London to film some additional scenes for “Episode II”. Apart from that she stayed out of the limelight. Meanwhile the production of “The Seagull” finally took shape. Rehearsals began in June shortly after her 20th birthday which she celebrated in a club in New York, just like the two previous ones. By the end of July the first public performance took place at the Delacorte Theater where the play would stay until the end of August. The demand for tickets was enormous and People spent 16 hours and more in line to get ‘the hottest ticket in town’ all through the night on the street and in Central Park. Natalie was by far the youngest cast member. She harmonized perfectly with the cast, especially with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Konstantin who is desperately in love with Nina (Portman).
Natalie spent a lot of time doing research on Checkhov so she could impersonate her character properly. “Nina’s really complicated. On a very surface reading, she seems to be this innocent ingenue who’s so entranced with the glory of leading an artistic life. So when she has an affair with Trigorin, an older man, the Kevin Kline character, at first you think, Oh, he’s taking advantage of her. You think he has nothing better to do than destroy her like she’s just some seagull shot down for sport. But there are all these little clues in the writing. And my reading is that she’s sort of going after him. She’s not the seagull, because in the end he hasn’t destroyed her. She’s calculated. And she’s not quite as innocent as you think.” (Nylon Magazine 8/2001)
Ever since she started acting she wasn’t sure how long she will pursue this career. “I’m taking it day by day.” Natalie says. “Right now I like acting, but if something else sparks my interest in college, I’ll do that. It’s so limiting to say, ‘This is it for the rest of my life.’ There are so many things that interest me.” Apparently she’s still able to juggle movies and college. “I feel like I’m having the best of both worlds.” (Vanity Fair #465 5/1999) “I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied just doing one thing.” (The Sunday Telegraph 8/2000) “I’m taking next semester off, but I haven’t made any commitment yet. When I choose something, it will be for the director. I’m very director-oriented right now,” says the now 20-year old, still uncertain about her future. (Nylon Magazine 8/2001)
In fall Natalie Portman had a short cameo-appearance in Ben Stiller’s movie “Zoolander” playing herself. She was also said to have accepted a role in the movie “The Bride Wore Black”, but it never happened. Meanwhile the first harbingers of “Episode II” appeared on the official Star Wars site. A weekend of additional shooting in England would follow in early November.
The year began with Portman abandoning the Merchant/Ivory-project “Le Divorce”. She was replaced with Kate Hudson. In April Natalie responded to an article dealing with the thought of anti-Palestinian rascism being the origin of the conflict in Israel. She ended with the following lines: “I pray for the safety of all those in the region and hope that we may someday use our unique human assets of language and empathy rather than military technology or propaganda to resolve this conflict.” (Crimson Online, April 17, 2002) Her contribution was later taken up by the Washington Post.
Portman appeared in a commercial for Mt. Rainier, a Japanese coffee brand. Around that time she participated in a film called “Domino One”, an independet movie shot on her campus which would only appear a couple of years later. Besides that, “Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of The Clones” premiered in cinemas around the globe. All of a sudden, Natalie Portman was back in the limelight. She appeared in many TV-shows and gave a lot of interviews to promote the movie. Most of them focused on run of the mill topics as her studies (“College was really the first time I had my own ideas.”) and – surprise, surprise – Star Wars (“It’s a great movie to see after you shoot it [...] You’re basically working against a blue screen the whole time, and then all of a sudden you’re seeing yourself in this amazing environment that wasn’t even remotely like that when you were actually shooting. So it’s like seeing travel pictures of yourself, in places you’ve never been.”).
In “Episode II” Padmé Amidala, Portman’s character, falls in love with Anakin Skywalker, who’s supposed to be five years younger than her. “So I’m the cradle-robber, I’m the pedophile in this case.” She laughs. “Hayden [Christensen] is actually two months older than I am, but he was directed to play the character very young, and he’s quite the petulant one in the movie.” Her only comment on a rumored offscreen affair was: “I don’t ever talk about my private life, so i won’t talk about that at all.” She did say, “I’m in a new phase.” (Premiere 6/2002) This had at least partly to do with her 21st birthday, which she celebrated in June. Around that time rumors turned to news that she’d be participating in the Civil War drama “Cold Mountain” along with Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. The film was directed by Anthony Minghella. She also spent a couple of weeks with her parents in Scandinavia during summer.
In early August, Portman shot a film in Paris. Tom Tykwer had chosen her to star in his contribution to a movie called “Paris, je t’aime”. The movie features short films by directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen, Agnes Varda, Sally Potter and Johnny Depp. Each of them filmed a story in one of the 20 Arrondissements of Paris. Tykwer’s short movie “True” tells the story of a young actress who’s framing her blind boy-friend (played by Melchior Beslon) via phone. All in all 98 Scenes were filmed on 31 different locations in only four days. “It was an incredible way to shoot because it stripped the film down to its essential elements – there were never more than five people around, hair and makeup became tangential, and it opened us up to a lot of spontaneity and experimentation.” (True Press Pack 2/2004)
Natalie still doesn’t read her fan mail. “I already get so much weird, gross mail that I can’t read any of my fan letters.” (Allure 6/2002) But she appeared in public several times, including a couple of movie premiers in New York. She also accompanied Jimmy Fallon in a couple of spots for the MTV Video Music Awards, more or less enthusiastic about him. Further, she presented her new dog and “best friend” Charlie to the public respectively the New York Times. “Cold Mountain” was shot in various countries in autumn. Eventually, Portman was supposed to shoot John Duigan’s “Head In The Clouds”. Natalie celebrated New Year’s Eve together with Britney Spears at a party at the Hudson Hotel in New York. She was also reported to have showed up at Moby’s party in the Sky Studios in SoHo.
The year began with the news that Portman would play the female main character in Zach Braff’s drama “Large’s Ark”. “It’s not doing the cliché things that so many independent movies have been doing lately.” (Interview Magazine 7/2004) However, she dropped out of “Head in the Clouds” due to unknown reasons. She got replaced by Charlize Theron. In February it was announced that Mike Nichols (“my mentor, my rock idol, my daddy, my best friend” Elle 12/2004), who had been the director of “The Seagull” in Central Park in 2001, would make a film out of Patrick Marber’s play “Closer”. The preliminary cast included Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, and Natalie Portman, who meanwhile visited Israel and participated in a charity event of the International Neuroscience Foundation in New York. She also appeared in a “Sesam Street”-episode which was broadcasted in April and did a couple of commercials. “Large’s Ark” was filmed in New Jersey and Los Angeles in April and May during her final semester at Harvard where she graduated with a degree in psychology.”I was doing my finals so I would fly over, take a test or write a paper, then fly back for a scene. It was a lot of work but I’m most productive when I am busiest.” (Time Out London August 4, 2004) Natalie’s parts for “Episode III” were shot in Sydney between June and August. For the first time in ages (it seems) Natalie had some free time, eventually. She attended various events in New York and made a trip to Spain. She also moved into a house in Long Island not too far away from her parents’ place.
Before the first rehearsals for “Closer” began in Manhattan in December, Cate Blanchett, had to drop out because of impending motherhood. Julia Roberts was announced to replace her in September. “Julia Roberts plays the role of Anna, and we were laughing about the dirty words we have to say. You blush at first, and then you get pretty liberal with them. [...] At the start of shooting I gave Julia a necklace that said “Cunt” on it [laughs], then as a wrap gift she gave me one that said “Lil Cunt.” ” (Interview Magazine 7/2004) Also in December “Cold Mountain” opened in U.S. cinemas. Since Natalie’s Role (Sara) turned out to be rather small. “It’s a really beautiful film [...] I am a widow, civil war widow, and I have a baby, and Jude Law’s character is walking back to his love Nicole Kidman and he needs a place to stay for the night.” (Late Night with Conan O’Brien December 19, 2003)
And then there was Charlie: “He’s a little terrier mutt; he’s very attractive. He’s not allowed to have a girlfriend – I’d be too jealous.” (Vogue 3/2006) However, Natalie’s said to have spent New Year’s Eve with Gael Garcia Bernal in Mexico City.
The filming of “Closer” eventually started in January in London and was finished in March. Natalie herself faced a new challenge during the production: “I’m usually the opposite of a Method actor. Just for my own sanity, as soon as they say ‘Cut,’ I’m me again. I have to separate like that. But this is the first time I really, really brought my work home with me. I felt cheated on, I felt betrayed, I felt all those things. It was tough to experience it. The breakup scene was so harsh. Afterward I started crying. I just lost it. Jude did a really good job of being a total asshole to me on camera and then turning around and being the nicest person, going, ‘Sorry! So sorry!’” (Elle 12/2004)
Meanwhile, the premiere of “Garden State” (formerly known as “Large’s Ark”) took place at the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City and “True” (the best movie about love ever made) was finally shown in German cinemas – its only major exposure so far (apart from another run in German cinemas in spring 2005). A couple of additional scenes were shot for “Episode III” in England in April. Eventually, Natalie relocated to Jerusalem for a semester, studying spoken Arabic, spoken Hebrew, the history of Israel, the history of Islam, and the Anthropology of Violence (“It has to do with the way violence is expressed and reacted to in different cultures.” W 5/2005) She also did some promotion for “Garden State” during the summer while the movie became more and more successful throughtout the U.S. Persisting rumors that she would be in a project called “The Smoker” didn’t turn true. A little bit later, Natalie could be seen smoking, anway.
At a meeting with Queen Rania of Jordan (“She’s the smartest, most eloquent, beautiful, kind and giving woman ever.” Time Out London August 4, 2004) Portman learned of the Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA). Since then she serves as the Ambassador of Hope for the organisation which helps women in the developing world build businesses through micro-loans. “I think it’s an amazing way to combat many of the side effects of poverty. [...] It’s sustainable, which is key. [...] A few years ago I had a very personal experience – one that I don’t wish to share publicly – with political unrest in Israel. And it made me want to get involved in a productive way, not in a political finger-pointing way.” (Newsweek International July 11, 2005) Ever since she’s travled to Guatemala, Ecuador and Uganda and made lobbying trips to Washington DC, as well. “I lived in Uganda for a month in April with Village Banking clients. I mean, it’s amazing what they have to face on less than a dollar a day. They have five kids, everyone is dying of AIDS and malaira… It’s a really dire situation. But they still have so much hope and work so hard – it was really incredible to see.” (Seventeen 8/2004)
Portman supported John Kerry in the presidential election in autumn appearing at various events either actively speaking or just passively wearing pro-Kerry-shirts. In November there was the premiere of “Closer” in Los Angeles – without the pregnant Julia Roberts, but with Law, Owen, and Portman. The movie deals with the problems of beautiful people who can’t help falling in love with each other. Law commented: “Natalie is wonderful, a warm hearted person and full of humor – but every time you talk to her, at some point she starts such a flash of genius that you can’t help but wonder if she isn’t on this planet since a few hundred years.” (Vogue Germany 11/2005)
The year began with the news that Natalie had been casted as Evey for “V for Vendetta”, an adaptation of a graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. (“I read the scene at the kitchen sink, and the scene where I realize that I have to stay in the Shadow Gallery.” Vogue 3/2006) Amos Gitai’s movie “Free Zone” was being filmed around February in Israel. It deals with two women driving around. Finally, Natalie Portman was awarded a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in “Closer” and also got a nomination for the Oscar in the same category. Concerning the ceremony of the latter one, she recounts: “It was my first time and, I don’t know, it was weird,” she says of the event, to which she wore a Lanvin bronze goddess dress that landed her on many a best-dressed list. “I was really honored and grateful to be there, but it was a lot less glamorous than I thought it would be.” (W 3/2005)
In March Natalie arrives in Germany in order to shoot “V for Vendetta” in Berlin. During the first press conference she confirms that she would have her hair cut for the movie. Two months later, the first visual proof appears in Time. “To make a dramatic reversible change always seemed like a fun thing to try.” (ABC Good Morning America March 13, 2006) During the production, James Purefoy got replaced by Hugo Weaving. Also in May the premiere of “Episode III” was celebrated at Cannes for which Natalie took a short break from filming in Berlin. The premiere of “Free Zone” took also place at Cannes a couple of days later. Frankly enough, there wasn’t anything of importance being said in the accompanying interviews. In July Natalie attended the Live 8-concert in Philadelphia where she announced the Dave Matthews Band and Alicia Keys. She also appeared at the Comic-Con in San Diego to promote “V for Vendetta” already.
Natalie spent the last four months of the year in Spain shooting Milos Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts”. The movie is a costume drama with Javier Bardem and Stellan Skarsgard. It involves the Spanish Inquisition. During her stay in Spain she “read a lot, visited every museum in Madrid about 27 times, and saw a lot of movies.” (Vogue 3/2006)
In February Natalie returned to Berlin to attend the premiere of “V for Vendetta”. In the wake of the movie she gave countless interviews. Sadly enough, she was asked the same five questions over and over again (i.e., hair, mask, violence, graphic novel, Berlin). Unsurprisingly, she praised the movie: “I literally begged for this part. I flew out to San Francisco and read for the role. And thank God I got it. I just think its so rare to find a movie that’s really entertaining and really fun on a big scale and on an impressive visual scale, that’s also really so interesting and is going to give you something to think about afterwards. I’ve not seen a movie like this – that’s this big and this interesting – in at least the past 20 years. Not since the Sixties and Seventies has there been some evidence of a big studio movie being compelling and visually exciting, entertaining, smart and interesting and something you could fight about afterwards. Big, big Hollywood movies have been disappointing until this.” (The Independent March 17, 2006)
Since she played the leading role in “V for Vendetta”, she did most of the promotional work for the movie all around the globe. Here are replies to the top five topics for the record:
On shaving off her hair: “Obviously for the character it’s a very traumatic experience because it’s a violence committed upon her. But for me, I got to choose to do it so it didn’t feel like a violent thing committed against me. It was actually kind of wonderful to throw vanity away for a little bit.” (bbc.co.uk March 10, 2006)
On the mask: “Hugo is just an incredible actor, so even though he had that barrier of not being able to use his face, which we’re so used to using as film actors, he was able to use his physicality and his voice to really create a specific character. Anything I was wondering as an actress, like, “What’s going on behind the mask?” the character was feeling, too, so I could use any of those doubts.” (ComingSoon.net March 13, 2006)
On violence: “The problem with non-violence is that if you have violent neighbors, you cease to exist which is sort of like violence to yourself. That helped me to understand violence, because that self-defensive violence is one that I can understand as a human being, but that can be extended to such a large thing. If you think that you would defend your family from a threat, or you’re a president, and your country’s your family, what if the threat is perceived rather than real? All of these things posed questions that you could talk about for a lifetime, and never really come to solid conclusions.” (blackfilm.com 3/2006)
On the graphic novel: “It’s such a great thing to have an almost storyboard of the movie and to have David [Lloyd]‘s illustrations of what she goes through physically. It was an incredible place to start.” (ComingSoon.net March 13, 2006)
On Berlin: “It was amazing, though. They’ve been through so much. I mean since that time, too. Obviously they went through the whole Soviet splitting of the city and all of that, so. They’ve had another history since and it really feels like it’s changing. It’s really cool.” (The Daily Show March 15, 2006)
Natalie hosting an episode of Saturday Night Live and rapping about Star Wars fans was certainly one of the year’s highlights. In it she laid waste to her super serious image and the short became as big a hit and water cooler moment as she’d had in her career thus far. In spring she went back to work and traveled to Toronto to film Zach Helm’s “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium”. It’s a children’s movie about a magic toy shop an its keeper (played by Dustin Hoffman). “He’s in his mid 240s, and he decides he’s done, and he’s going to leave the toy store to me. But I’m too scared to take that step.” (Vogue 3/2006)
May brought the news that Natalie was cast for the movie “My Blueberry Nights” by director Wong Kar Wai. Meanwhile, “Paris, je t’aime” was premiered in its entirety at Cannes. Tom Tykwer, who wrote and directed the “True” segment, said in an interview with Canal+: “I didn’t cast the queen of Star Wars but one of the best actresses of her generation.” After spending her birthday in Paris, she was confirmed to play Anne Boleyn in “The Other Boleyn Girl”. June saw the shooting of “My Blueberry Nights” in Nevada (among other places), and later on in Las Vegas. The cast included Norah Jones and, once again, Jude Law. Natalie interviewed Bryce Dallas Howard for Elle (“I’m happy to be on the other side!”), talking about dogs, movies and how she’s not inclined to go to a psychic. (“I’m cynical.”, Elle 8/2006) She also continued lobbying for FINCA and began appearing at talks about it at universities. “I just find it to be such an amazing thing to learn about, how women live in much of the world.” (Entertainment Weekly May 3, 2007) “I’m at my happiest when I’m working on stuff like this,” she remarked, “so it’s a lucky opportunity.” (Harper’s Bazaar 10/2006)
“Goya’s Ghosts” hit European movie theatres in autumn. Shooting “The Other Boleyn Girl” in England prevented Natalie from attending the premieres in Spain. She did some promotion, later on (e.g., attended the Czech premiere in early 2007). “The only thing I knew about the Spanish Inquisition was probably from the Monty Python sketch or History of the World,” she said. “I knew Goya’s paintings very vaguely – I’d been to the Prado gallery once before but, luckily, because we did all the pre-production work in Madrid, I got to go there every day for a month. There was an art historian that took me around and explained everything to me – it was really quite amazing.” (BBC News Online 5/2007) She also talked about how her degree in psychology helped her playing her character Inés (who is imprisoned during the Inquisition for heresy and goes insane, eventually): “I talked to my old professor – she had worked a lot with female prisoners – and she gave me a lot of the common personality disorders you find in women who have spent time in prison.” (Guardian 4/2007) Milos Forman praised Natalie for her “intelligence, talent and versatility. She’s brilliant. She has in a perfect balance her intellectual preparation for the role and instinct. If the intellect prevails or the instinct prevails, you don’t get the best. But when it’s in perfect harmony, as it is in Natalie Portman, then I am thrilled.” (CHUD.com 8/2007)
A Simpson episode featuring Natalie’s voice was aired in February. Natalie also contributed an essay to the book “What does Israel mean to you?”, which was compiled by Alan Dershowitz and includes texts from various politicians, journalists, celebrities and so on. Natalie did reshoots for “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” in Toronto in May and appeared in the music video for the song “Dance Tonight” by Paul McCartney. The clip was directed by Michel Gondry and features Natalie as some kind of fairy.
Once again, Cannes witnessed the premiere of one of Natalie’s movies; this time around “My Blueberry Nights”. (To use Dazza’s words: It “blew in and out of Cannes with a chorus of shrugs.”) Natalie couldn’t be there. She plays a gambler called Leslie in the movie, a rather small role, for which she (unlike the movie itself) received some positive press. During the summer, she was involved in filming a documentary about endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda, shot on location (the documentary, not the gorillas). It’s called “Saving a Species: Gorillas on the Brink” and was broadcasted in October 2007. In other news, a romantic link between Nathan Bogle and Natalie could hardly be denied. She still refused to talk about it in interviews, however.
Natalie returned to England in August along with the cast of “The Other Boleyn Girl” for reshoots. The release of the movie, directed Justin Chadwick, has been postponed to early 2008. Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson play Anne and Mary Boleyn, Eric Bana plays Henry VIII. Johansson had already nice things to say about Natalie, like: “She’s a wonderful actor, just a great scene partner. (…) She’s so professional. And she’s not pretentious or anything, just a really nice girl.” (Vogue 4/2007)
The short movie “Hotel Chevalier” was premiered in September at the Venice International Film Festival and released online later that month. It was shot in 2005 in Paris. Natalie plays the ex-girlfriend of Jack (Jason Schartzmann), who visits him in a hotel room and shows a lot of skin. The film was directed by Wes Anderson and represents the introduction to his full-length movie “The Darjeeling Limited”. Natalie commented: “I think it’s beautiful and I think it’s tastefully done and I love the short” (The Observer, November 2007) Natalie appeared in Francesco Vezzoli’s play “Right You Are (If You Think You Are)” alongside Cate Blanchett and Peter Sarsgaard at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, one night only. She also compiled “Big Change: Songs for FINCA”, a charity album available through iTunes. Charlie died.
The end of the year found her acting in the remake of a Danish film called “Brothers”. It features Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire (the husband of Natalie’s character) and is directed by Jim Sheridan. Natalie hasn’t seen the original version yet. “I’m not sure if I will because I’m a little scared. I’m always scared that my whole performance will be dictated by either trying to do the same or trying to do something different than what I see someone else do.” (EW.com 11/2007) Meanwhile, “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” premiered in November and reached US movie theatres, accompanied by various appearances of Natalie recounting the expected praise of the movie, like: “It’s really unique and sweet.” (NBC Today, November 2007) “I like a good laugh more than anything. [...] I aspire to make many more comedies because we never see enough good ones.” (Buy Magazine 7/2006) Besides her continuing acting jobs, Natalie’s first work as a director is also there on the horizon.
What will the future hold? “I can’t say anything’s forever. I know how much I change from year to year, so it’s hard for me to say what I am going to be like in the future, but I love acting now and that has been a constant in my life.” (Buy Magazine 7/2006) She’s also been travelling a lot besides her acting work, attended numerous movie premieres (of both, her own and other’s movies) and kept promoting FINCA throughout the years. It’s more than likely that she’ll continue on this path for the time being, making more movies and the world a better place.
The main source for this biography was NataliePortman.com with its article archive. Most of the stuff from 2003 to 2006 I gathered from NataliePortman.de. The very small rest was retrieved from a few other homepages and interviews with Natalie Portman in various magazines and tv shows. Apparently there are gaps, but hey, the title of this page says ‘unofficial’ biography.
Further, I couldn’t confirm wether “Mars Attacks!” was shot in 1995 or 1996. It’s unlikely that she did the movie while she went to school, especially regarding her statement: “In the past three years, I’ve only missed two months of school, so it’s not as if acting has taken over my life.” (Los Angeles Times 2/1996) So my conclusion is that “Mars Attacks!” was already shot in summer 1995, simply because I doubt that all the Martians-special effects could have been created within less than half a year. Portmaniacs might notice that sometimes I took whole sentences from other publications. English isn’t my native language, that’s why I ‘borrowed’ some parts where I couldn’t come up with a different way of telling the story during the early years. Sorry.
The story was last updated in November 2007, so pleasure excuse the lack of any children, marriages, divorces which occured in the meantime. Last and maybe least:”I get really bored reading about myself.” (Vanity Fair 4/2006)