Natalie Hershlag (born June 9, 1981), better known by her
stage name, Natalie Portman, is an Academy Award-nominated and Golden
Globe-winning Israeli-American actress.
As a young child, Portman spent her school holidays attending theater
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.
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 a Jewish American housewife who
now works as her agent (she is an artist by hobby and not profession).
Portman's father's family are descendants of Jewish immigrants from
Poland and Romania, while her mother's family were Jewish immigrants
from Austria and Russia; her paternal grandfather's parents died
in Auschwitz and her Romanian-born great-grandmother was a spy for
the British during World War II.
Portman's parents met at a Jewish student center at Ohio State
University, where Portman's mother was selling tickets. Portman's
father returned to Israel, but the two corresponded and were married
when Portman's mother visited Israel a few years later. When Portman
was three years old, her family moved from Israel to her mother's
native United States, where her father pursued his medical training.
The family lived in Washington, D.C. in 1984 and then Connecticut
in 1988, before finally settling down in Syosset, New York in 1990.
Portman has said that although she "really love[s] the States",
her "heart's in Jerusalem. That's where I feel at home."
Portman is an only child and very close to her parents, who are
often seen with her at her film premieres; her mother always accompanied
pre-adult Portman to filming locations.
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 theater 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!.
Her inaugural experience in professional theater led her to audition
for Luc Besson's 1994 film Léon (aka The Professional). She
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.
She 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 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.
She 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 sex 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 actresss 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, 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
Theater 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
Theater 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.
In 2002, Attack of the Clones opened around the world. 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 she 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 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 with her shorter hair after it was shaved for a scene in
V for Vendetta, 2006Portman made her Saturday Night Live debut on
March 4, 2006, as she 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).
V for Vendetta opened in early 2006. 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. Maxim magazine named Portman #33 on its annual
Hot 100 list, citing her V for Vendetta bald head as a huge accomplishment
proving "you don't need hair to be hot."
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 began filming in April
2006; Portman has said that she was "excited to do a kids movie".
Portman is currently in final talks to appear in The Other Boleyn
Girl, a historical drama in which she will play Anne Boleyn; Eric
Bana will co-star in the film.
Since a young age, 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.
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 traveled 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 that "I'm much more like
the product of a doctor than I am a Jew." 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. "Todays
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 DuBoiss 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
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' behavior violated the code of conduct.
It was reported that on July 8, 2005, 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?"
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, 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, 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 rumored
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.
- Portman was an understudy in the off-Broadway play, Ruthless!,
in which Britney Spears had a role. At a Manhattan hotel in 2003
they co-hosted a carnival-themed New Year's Eve party together.
- A number of songs and albums are named after her, by artists
such as Intel One, Team Sleep, Sage Francis, and Ozma. The make-up
brand Stila has a lip color named after her (a sheer plum titled
"Natalie"), and fashion designer Zac Posen has referred
to her as his "muse".
2007 My Blueberry Nights
2006 Goya's Ghosts
2006 Paris, je t'aime
2006 Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
2006 V for Vendetta
2005 Free Zone
2005 Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith
2004 Garden State
2003 Cold Mountain
2002 Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones
2000 Where the Heart Is
1999 Anywhere But Here
1999 Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace
1996 Everyone Says I Love You
1996 Mars Attacks!
1996 Beautiful Girls
1994 Léon (aka The Professional)
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