Women In Cinema: Natalie Portman

I’ve had people come to me and ask me to write about Natalie Portman. And I thought about it and enjoyed the fact that people love her so much. To me, she has always been considered an artsy type of actress, even though she’s been in some high profile movies such as Star Wars and V for Vendetta, but she is unique and an actress who is a delight to watch. She’s so versatile and very rarely plays a character twice. She is a wonderful actress, who has taken the necessary steps to get to where she is in her career right now.

Natalie Hershlag was born June 9th, 1981 in Jerusalem, Israel. While she was just a toddler, her family moved to Washington, DC and eventually settled in New York. While at a local pizza parlor, Portman was discovered by a representative of Revlon Cosmetics who encouraged the 11 year old to pursue and career in modeling. She found modeling to be mundane and took an interest in acting.

She made her film debut in the magnificent film, The Professional (1994). Her demanding role as a hit mans apprentice was received very well by audiences and critics. Failing to win a part in the movie Little Women, Portman was cast in a far more superior film; Heat (1995), Directed by Michael Mann. She sustained her popularity by playing a small but captivating performance as Al Pacino’s troubled daughter. In an interview Michael Mann was reported saying that Natalie Portman was a “prodigy”.

Portman’s following projects proved that she could hold her own alongside a stellar cast. In 1996, Portman co-starred alongside Timothy Hutton in Ted Demme’s heartwarming film, Beautiful Girls. Her character is a 13 year old girl, wise beyond her years that continually has in depth conversations with Hutton’s character about what men see and don’t see when it comes to women. She played so well off of Timothy Hutton, you could almost believe that if everything they were saying wasn’t written for them, they would actually talk like two mature adults. She followed with Woody Allen’s musical, Everyone Says I Love You (1996) and Tim Burton’s crazy alien mess Mars Attacks (1996).

Two years into her career, everybody wanted a piece of Natalie Portman. But she was smart. She had a vision of where she wanted her career to be taken and how she wanted to be perceived that she became very picky about the roles she chose to do. She wanted to be considered a positive role model for young girls and wanted to only do positive roles. She eventually turned down movies such as The Ice Storm because the material was too dark, Romeo and Juliet because she didn’t like the age difference between her and Leonardo DiCaprio, The Horse Whisperer and Lolita. She had turned down the role of Lolita because she didn’t feel it was necessary for a 14 year old girl to have sex with an adult. At the young at of 14, she made decisions that not many young actors would tend to make. Many young actors feel the need to take on every role that is handed to them, but she dissected each role and decided whether or not it was good for her. After turning down all of those roles, Portman took a brief break from acting to star as Anne Frank on Broadway in The Diary of Anne Frank.

In 1999, Portman graduated High School with Honors from Syossett High School. Portman later attended Harvard University and graduated in 2003 with Honors. She made it a point to go to college and was reported saying “I don’t care if it ruins my career. I’d rather be smart than a movie star.”

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In 1999, Portman returned to the big screen, and gained international recognition starring in George Lucas’s prequel; Star Wars: Episode one- The Phantom Menace. She starred as Padme/Queen Amidala. While the movie wasn’t great (Sorry, but its true) the film showed Portman a whole new side of fame. She received even more recognition when she starred opposite Susan Sarandon in Anywhere but Here (2000). Her role as Natalie, a young girl who wants to take her life in the opposite direction of her mother’s plan, earned her a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The film almost didn’t happen for Portman because she refused to do a part that involved nudity. When Sarandon said she wouldn’t do the movie without Portman, the writers changed the character to fit Portman’s comfort.

In 2000, Portman starred alongside Ashley Judd in the film, Where the Heart is. She played a pregnant 15 year old girl, who gets dumped and hides out in a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma until her baby is born. Portman was featured in a much more mature role, in which her character ages five years during the course of the film. In 2002, she reprised her role as Padme, in Star Wars: Episode two- The Attack of the Clones. The movie takes place 10 years later and begins the romance between her and Anakin Skywalker.

The next year she played a supporting role in the war drama Cold Mountain, as Sara, a widow and mother seized by union troops who torture her child and threaten her with rape to get a hold of her livestock.

In 2004, she went on to star alongside Zach Braff in the dramedy, Garden State. This is actually one of my favorite films and performances by Portman. Her role was so carefree, funny, loving and cute, that I was surprised she didn’t receive any recognition for it. Though she didn’t get any personal recognition, the film written and directed by Zach Braff, went on to become an Indie hit. This is honestly one of my favorite films.

Even though she didn’t receive any nominations for Garden State, her role in Closer (2004) playing Alice, a woman betrayed by her lover, earned Portman her first Golden Globe win and an Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. This is the first film of Portman’s where we see an extremely sexual side of her. To me, this was Portman’s way of showing audiences she was no longer a kid actor, but now a serious adult actor. Her role throughout the films changes so much and it was so impressive to see her be sexual while having the traits of innocence, sadness, deviousness and desire.

In 2005, Portman reprised her role once again as Padme in Star Wars: Episode Three- Revenge of the Sith. I have to say that this is Portman’s worst performance of her career. When I watch this movie I feel embarrassed for her because it was overacted and just so bad. It didn’t help that the movie was terrible itself but it is so hard to watch her in that movie because most of the time I’m screaming at the screen “WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” It’s a good thing her horrendous performance in Star Wars was followed up by a strong performance in V for Vendetta (2006). The film was definitely a departure from her previous roles and showed a darker side to Portman.

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Through the years, Portman starred in few films that were ok, not great but ok. In 2007, she starred alongside Dustin Hoffman in Mr. Mogorium’s Wonder Emporium; A much lighter and fun movie for Portman. She also starred in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), New York, I love You (2009), and Brothers (2009). Out of all of those movies, she gave her best performance in Brothers as a grieving military wife who is told her husband was killed in Afghanistan. She portrayed the character of Grace so well and the pain she felt was so realistic to how a military wife would react to her husband’s death. I was hoping her name might slip in at the Oscars that year, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen, especially if Tobey Maguire name wasn’t going to.

The best performance of her career came in 2010 in the movie we all should know by now, Black Swan. Portman plays Nina Sayers, a ballet dancer who wins the lead role of Swan Lake. The innocence and child like behavior she has is perfect for the white swan but has trouble becoming the black swan. When Nina is threatened by a new dancer in the ballet company she slowly begins to lose her mind, becoming more like the sensual dark black swan. Portman delivers an intense but beautiful performance as Nina. She blew me away from start to finish, playing a girl who in the beginning just wants to please her mother transition to this women inching towards independence and adulthood. At the end of the film, when she is dancing in the ballet, her transformation from a once promising talent to a full blown powerhouse talent, was such a joy to watch. She was downright terrifying in some scenes, but proved her range as an actress. But the transition in the character Portman had to display was beyond brilliant. It is simply the best role of her career, and she deserved ever award she received for playing Nina Sayers, especially her Academy Award for Best Actress.

Natalie Portman is such a wonderful actress and a joy to watch. I love being surprised by the roles she chooses to take on, because like I have previously stated, there always different from any of her previous roles. I don’t exactly agree with the path she has chosen to take starring in films like Your Highness and Thor, but maybe that’s just her way of surprising audiences or her way of saying “Don’t take me too seriously.” Who knows. The point is; Portman is a magnificent actress with so much talent. She never fails to impress and entertain. Plus, she is the perfect role model for young girls who want to pursue a career in acting. I can’t wait to see what the next move in her career as an Academy Award Winning Actress will be, but I’m sure it’ll be nothing short of brilliant.

About Anna Young

I’ve grown up always being able to share my love of film with others. What makes it particularly important to me is that my passion started with my parents and my best friend Caitlin. Whether it has been spending the whole day at the theater with my parents, or sitting on the floor of a movie store for hours with Caitlin, this love of mine has always been a huge part of who I am. This love affair has been going strong for over a decade. My name is Anna and I’m in love with film. Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AYAwardsCircuit