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Natalie Portman - 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Natalie Portman


This weekend, Natalie Portman makes her directorial debut in A Tale of Love and Darkness, a drama in which she also stars. The production is based on Amos Oz’s international best-selling memoir by the same name. But for her part, Portman finds her own autobiography somewhat tedious. “I get really bored reading about myself,” she has said. “Really nice, good parents. I grew up really well. Happy.” We, however, take great heed in revisiting Portman’s past, and on the occasion of her directorial foray, have been gathering a few of our favorite fun facts about the actress turned director. Here, five things you may not have known about Natalie Portman.
1. Natalie Portman was discovered at the age of 9 when a scout for Revlon approached her in a pizza parlor and asked her if she would be interested in modeling. “No, but I would like an agent,” was Portman’s response. “I kept my cool,” Portman later recalled. “I told him that I wanted to act.” At that time, Portman had already begun to push for a childhood career in Hollywood (her parents said no) and cites Dirty Dancing as one of her earliest influences. “That was my movie growing up,” she has said. Portman landed her first film, Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional (1994), just two years later. “I went into that film and I didn’t know what I was doing—but I was 11, and it was before the whole preteen self-doubt set in,” Portman said. “I was at that stage where I was completely unselfconscious, free and open, and it was really fun. I trusted Luc, and, luckily, my first experience was with such a great director. Luc really guided me.” Portman’s father, too, didn’t hesitate at voicing his own parental guidelines. “My dad had stipulations about how many drags on a cigarette I could take [in a scene], how many times I could curse,” Portman said in 2006. “I wasn't actually allowed to inhale. My dad would have people standing behind me, blowing the smoke out.”
2. Portman initially turned down the role of Ann August in Anywhere But Here (1999) because it included a love scene with actor Corbin Allred that required nudity. But Susan Sarandon, who had costar approval, refused to do the film opposite anyone other than Portman. “Natalie was cast for her intelligence and strength,” Sarandon said after the film’s release. “I needed someone I could go at full force who could hold her own. When Natalie fell out, they talked about other people, but I told them I wouldn’t do it without her.” A week later, to Portman’s “surprise,” a revised script was sent to her door and she accepted. “I loved the part, but I just wasn’t ready for that,” Portman explained of her decision. “I’m not one of those people who’ll do anything for their art.” The end result would involve Allred in his underwear and a passionate embrace. “[The] scene gets across the same message without having to be explicit and without having to exploit someone who’s young,” Portman later said. Sarandon agreed: “I think it’s better. Natalie’s integrity actually forced the writer to be a tad more inventive.”
3. Portman, who in 2003 graduated from Harvard University with a degree in psychology, has always been something of a bookworm, and in high school was voted “Most Likely to Appear on Jeopardy,” which she later claimed was “code for nerdy.” Recalling her pre–Ivy League education: “I went to public school in Long Island. The girls I went to school with had Prada bags and flat-ironed hair. People didn’t pay much attention to the fact that I was an actress. I was known for having a backpack bigger than I was, and always having Wite-Out on my hands.” According to Portman, that changed when she headed to college. “I felt like I had to prove myself more,” Portman said in 2006, “and it made me nervous all the time because I felt that people always thought I was there because I was famous and not because I deserved to be there. And so it makes your stupid comment in class even stupider. Everyone’s got a moment when they say something really lame. But me, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m just confirming everyone’s belief here—everyone thinks I’m the dumb actress.’ ” When Portman enrolled, it was just after the release of Star Wars: Episode 1, but as she told Vogue in 2011, her education wasn’t without internal battles. “I gained my freshman 15 or 20 and had super-depressed moments. That Cambridge winter is tough. It was important to know how to go through that and how to get myself out of it. You start learning how to ask your friends or professionals for help, or go to mentors.” She touched on these darker moments during a 2015 speech she gave to graduating Harvard seniors during the university’s class day, where she was the keynote speaker. “There were several occasions I started crying in meetings with professors, overwhelmed with what I was supposed to pull off when I could barely get out of bed in the morning.”
4. Perhaps nothing, not even Harvard, could have prepared Portman for her Oscar-winning role in Black Swan (2010), for which she lost roughly 20 pounds, trained up to 16 hours a day, and suffered numerous injuries, including a dislocated rib. “There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die,” she said in 2010. “It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down.” Reportedly due to budget restrictions, filmmakers couldn’t afford both a trailer and a medic for Portman, and she was told to choose between them. She picked the medic. For her part, Portman has said she unknowingly took to method acting, while the film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, did his part to pit her against her costar Mila Kunis in an effort to cultivate the jealousy between the two characters in the film. “He’d say, ‘Oh, Mila is doing really well on her stuff. She’s so much better than you,’ ” Portman said. “Darren would tell us things about each other to try to make us jealous. I think he was trying to create a rivalry in real life between us.” Although Aronofsky has denied any attempt to fuel competition between the two, he admitted keeping the actresses apart during nearly all of the 42-day filming process so that they couldn’t discuss their respective acting approaches. “I knew it might be really hard to keep them apart because they’re friends, but I just didn’t want them to know each other’s motives,” he said. “I didn’t want them to compare notes. I wanted them to come from different places.” Although they would remain close after filming, they became friends long before it started. “Mila and I had had ‘sweatpants nights’ watching Top Chef,” Portman said, “and suddenly we were on set together in tutus, emaciated and tired.”
5. Along with a partner, Portman started her own production company, Handsomecharlie Films (named after Charlie Chaplin and a departed dog), to create more roles for women, by women. “We’re very into female comedies; there just aren’t enough,” Portman told Vogue in 2011. “We’re trying to go for that guy-movie tone, like Judd Apatow’s movies, or The Hangover but with women—who are generally not allowed to be beautiful and funny, and certainly not vulgar.” Portman cited Lena Dunham in Tiny Furniture as a reference. “She walks around in her underwear for the whole movie; it’s harsh. She’s the subject, she’s not the object, and it’s beautiful—that’s the kind of thing we need more of.”

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