Natalie Portman (born on June 9, 1981) is an Academy Award-nominated
and Golden Globe-winning Israeli-American actress.
As a young child, Portman spent her school holidays attending theatre camps where she developed her love of acting. After some experience in an off-Broadway musical, she was cast in Léon at age twelve. During the mid-1990s, Portman had roles in films such as Heat, Everyone Says I Love You and Mars Attacks!, as well as having a major role in Beautiful Girls.
In the late 1990s, she was cast as Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. She placed a priority on her education and pursued tertiary studies at Harvard University even though it had potential to conflict with her acting career. Recent roles include Garden State, Closer, and V for Vendetta. For Closer, she received a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem, Israel. Her father, Avner Hershlag,
is an Israeli medical doctor specializing in the research and treatment of
human fertility and reproduction (reproductive endocrinology). Her mother,
Shelley Stevens, is an American housewife who now works as her agent (she is
an artist by hobby and not profession).
Natalie Portman started taking dancing lessons at the age of four, performed in local troupes, and dreamed of dancing on Broadway. At the age of twelve Portman was discovered in a pizza parlor by an agent for Revlon, who offered her an opportunity to model. She asked to be introduced to acting talent scouts, and took "Portman", her grandmother's maiden name, as her professional stage surname.
Starting at age 13, Portman spent her school holidays attending upscale theatre camps Stagedoor Manor and Usdan Camp, where she forged her love for acting, playing roles in the camp productions such as the title character in Anne of Green Gables, Dream Laurey in Oklahoma! and Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In 1993 Portman was handed her first professional role as an understudy for the off-Broadway musical Ruthless!.
Natalie Portman was initially turned down for the role due to her youth, but further auditioning won her the part. Soon after Portman was given the part, she took Portman as her stage name in the interest of privacy. In the film, Portman plays an orphaned girl who befriends a much older assassin. Léon opened on November 18, 1994 and marked her feature film debut at age thirteen. That same year appeared in the short film Developing which aired on television.
Natalie Portman was cast in the high-budget action film Heat. Although she had a small role, she starred alongside some of the industry's biggest names such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Val Kilmer. Following the success of Léon, Portman had gained considerable fame for her performance and was approached for the role of Marty in Ted Demme's Beautiful Girls. Following an audition, she was cast in Woody Allen's comedy-musical Everyone Says I Love You. She was also given a role in Tim Burton's famously star-studded Mars Attacks!. She was the first choice to play Juliet in the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, but turned it down because of the adult content and the age difference between her and Leonardo DiCaprio.
In 1996, to Natalie Portman's surprise, casting director for the new Star Wars films Robin Gurland contacted her to see if she was interested in playing the female lead in the new films. Portman, still only 14 years old and having never seen the original three Star Wars films, was speculative at first about the commitment she was making and what impact it would have on her life, as the role would ultimately see her participate in three films over the course of a decade. After meeting with George Lucas and producer Rick McCallum she signed on to the prequel trilogy. Portman then auditioned for the role of Anne Frank in the Broadway revival of The Diary of Anne Frank. The decision to participate in this production caused her to pull out of the film The Horse Whisperer. In mid-1997, production began on the first of the three Star Wars prequel films, Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace.
Natalie Portman returned to complete her junior year in high school, whilst studying she also performed The Diary of Anne Frank. She did eight shows a week while attending classes full-time. The play was performed for a month at the Colonial Theater in Boston before making its Broadway debut at the Music Box Theater in early December. She would receive a Tony nomination for her role as Anne Frank. She was also offered a role in the film Anywhere But Here, but after reading the script turned down the role as her character was involved in a s-- scene. Director Wayne Wang and actress Susan Sarandon rushed to her support and demanded a rewrite of the script, allegedly saying they would not continue their involvement in the film unless the young actress’s wishes were respected. Portman was shown a new script and she happily joined the project. In early 1999, The Phantom Menace opened and became the highest grossing film of the year and the highest grossing film out of the Star Wars series. Its massive audience and mainstream appeal saw Portman become an instant star. Portman then signed on to play a persevering teenaged mother in Where the Heart Is. Anywhere But Here opened in late 1999; she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Ann August.
After filming Where the Heart Is, Natalie Portman moved into the dorms of Harvard to pursue her bachelor's degree in psychology. She graduated in 2003. In July 2001, Portman opened in New York City's Public Theatre production of Chekhov's The Seagull, directed by Mike Nichols, playing the role of Nina alongside co-stars Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The play opened at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. That same year she was one of many celebrities who made cameo appearances in the comedy Zoolander. Attack of the Clones was filmed in Sydney during this time, including additional production in London.
Natalie Portman was cast in a small role in the film Cold Mountain alongside Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. In 2004, Portman had starring roles in the independent movies Garden State and Closer. Garden State was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and won Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. Her role of Alice in Closer saw Portman win a Supporting Actress Golden Globe as well as a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
In 2005 Natalie Portman filmed Free Zone, the year also saw a close to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, with Revenge of the Sith released worldwide on May 19. The film was the second highest grossing film of the year and was voted Favorite Motion Picture at the People's Choice Awards. Shortly before the film's opening, Portman shaved her head for her role in the film adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel, V for Vendetta which was set to be released on November 5, but was pushed back to March 17, 2006. Her shaved head was first seen publicly at the Revenge of the Sith premieres. She kept her hair short for most of 2005, had a fauxhawk mohawk, and briefly sported a full mohawk in late August, saying that it was "kind of wonderful to throw vanity away for a bit". During the latter part of 2005, Portman filmed Goya's Ghosts.
Portman made her Saturday Night Live debut on March 4, 2006, as Natalie Portman hosted the show with band Fall Out Boy. In the episode, she portrayed herself as a gangsta rapper during a faux-interview with Chris Parnell (an SNL Digital Short), jokingly claiming that she cheated on exams at Harvard University while high on pot. In the episode, she was also referred to as "Hershlag" (her actual surname) and played a fertility specialist (her father is a physician who specializes in fertility and reproduction).
Portman portrayed Evey Hammond, a young woman who is saved from the secret police by the main character, V. Portman worked with a voice coach for the role, learning to speak in an English accent.
Portman has commented on V for Vendetta's political relevance, and mentioned that her character, who joins an underground anti-government group, is "often bad and does things that you don't like" and that "Being from Israel was a reason I wanted to do this because terrorism and violence are such a daily part of my conversations since I was little", although the film "doesn't make clear good or bad statements. It respects the audience enough to take away their own opinion". Portman's upcoming films include Goya's Ghosts and Free Zone (an Israeli film which received a limited U.S. theatrical release in April 2006). She is set to appear in the children's film Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, which will begin filming in April 2006; Portman has said she is "excited to do a kids movie".
Since a young age, Natalie Portman has held socially and environmentally conscious beliefs, becoming a member of the environmental song and dance troupe The World Patrol Kids at age 12. She is a self-proclaimed "animal lover," and has been a vegetarian since she was eight years old, the decision from which came after she witnessed a demonstration of laser surgery on a chicken while attending a medical conference with her father.
Natalie Portman has spent some of her free time involved in causes such as the Democrats' 2004 U.S. presidential campaign and ending poverty. In 2004 and 2005 she travelled to Uganda, Guatemala, and Ecuador as the Ambassador of Hope for FINCA International, an organization that promotes micro-lending to help finance women-owned businesses in poor countries. In an interview conducted backstage at the Live 8 concert in Philadelphia and appearing on the PBS program Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria she discussed micro-financing.
Portman commented in an interview on the concept of the afterlife, she comments "I don't believe in that. I believe this is it, and I believe it's the best way to live."
In August of 2000, tabloid photos surfaced of Portman sunbathing topless on a deserted Caribbean island near Saint Barts. "The creepy thing was there was someone there, someone following us," she said of the incident. "I was just so angry – it makes you feel dirty inside... OK, everyone's seen boobs, but I just don't like being objectified. I don't go wagging my boobs around in people's faces. I was on a deserted beach." She shrugs. "Today’s paper is used to pick up tomorrow's poop – right?"
Portman, who had recently read some of the works by W.E.B. DuBois, was interviewed for the August 2004 issue of Allure magazine where she was quoted as saying, "Oh my God! I'm not black, but I know what it feels like!" This prompted her to follow up with an apology letter to their editor, in which she wrote: "The 'it' I was referring to when I said, 'I know what it feels like,' was not intended to signify that I know 'how black people feel,' but rather that I know what DuBois’s concept of double-consciousness feels like, in variation. Had my quote included what I actually said preceding that statement, perhaps my meaning would have been clearer."
Natalie Portman also made headlines when she was moved away by Israeli Police on February 23, 2005 from Jerusalem's Western Wall after protests by religious Jews who were praying at the holy site. She and Israeli actor Aki Avni were filming a kissing scene near the Wailing Wall for the movie Free Zone. This was deemed to be immodest and men who were praying heckled the pair until police stepped in and suggested they return later. The site is under the authority of Orthodox Judaism, and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who is responsible for the site, said the actors' behaviour violated the code of conduct.
It was reported that on July 8, 2005, Natalie Portman was pulled over by the NYPD while driving in a transit tunnel underneath New York City for looking unusual and having an expired registration. She had a shaven head from playing a freedom fighter in V for Vendetta, and had just arrived back in the United States from Israel and film shooting in Berlin. The policeman told her not to drive in the tunnel, but to take the bridge instead. "I've never had that happen to me before," Portman said. "It's supposedly random... I didn't understand that logic. If you're a suspect, don't take the tunnel, take the bridge?"
Natalie Portman held a 4.0 GPA throughout her high school career. She has said that she was "used to As" but admits to reading about institutional grade inflation in the Ivy Leagues in the New York Times. She reported on a talk show, "I'd rather be smart than be a movie star" and that her goal was to graduate from college even if it ruined her acting career. Despite her high profile and the affluence of her parents, at 13 she switched ("because I couldn't stand it anymore") to the public Syosset High School in Syosset, New York, graduating in June of 1999. Portman reportedly had to miss the premiere of Star Wars: Episode I so she could study for her high school final exams.
After high school, Portman enrolled at Harvard University where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in Psychology on June 5, 2003. In 2005 Portman pursued graduate studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. Portman is credited as a research assistant to Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz's Case For Israel. She was a research assistant to Dr. Stephen M. Kosslyn's psychology lab as well, and made a cameo appearance as a guest lecturer for the Terrorism and Counterterrorism course at Columbia University in early March of 2006, discussing themes from her film V for Vendetta.
In addition to her native Hebrew and English, Natalie Portman has studied and/or can speak (to some degree) French, Japanese, and German. She has recently been learning to speak Arabic.
As a student, Natalie Portman co-authored two research papers which were published in professional scientific journals. Her 1998 high school paper on the "Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen" earned her a semi-finalist placement in the Intel Science Talent Search. In 2002, she contributed to a study on memory called "Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence" during her psychology studies at Harvard.
Portman keeps her personal life as far away from the media spotlight as possible. She has always had many close male friends and rumoured suitors who are frequently named as her boyfriends; the unverified gossip is often repeated as fact in tabloids and biographies. In reality, Portman has dated a couple of her college classmates, and has had alleged romantic links with actors including Gael Garcia Bernal, Liron Levo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Hayden Christensen. In the May 2002 issue of Vogue Portman called actor/musician Lukas Haas and musician Moby her close friends. She was linked to Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, but he claims they are friends. She is now reportedly seeing Jake Gyllenhaal again according the NY tabloid, the NY Post.
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