Kate's Notes

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman, born Natalie Hershlag (on June 9, 1981), came into focus with her first pivitol role, playing a young girl who develops a sweet relationship with a known hit man: Portman was was only 12 years old. She went onto foster quite a respected career in Hollywood, and became a Golden Globe-winning, Academy Award-nominated actress that decided to cultivate her education as well as her acting abilities and went to get her undergraduate degree at Harvard University, where she graduated in 2003.

As a young child, Portman spent her school holidays attending theater camps; this is where she developed her love for acting. After some experience in an off-Broadway musical, she was cast in Léon (aka The Professional) at age 12. During the mid-1990s, Portman was given roles in the films “Heat,” “Everyone Says I Love You” and “Mars Attacks!,” as well as a major role in “Beautiful Girls." Also, in the late 1990s, she was cast as the intrinsic role of Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, which proved to be a ten year commitment to the Star Wars series.

Even with all her garnered success in Hollywood, she placed a priority on her education, and pursued tertiary studies at Harvard University as a psychology major; even though it had the potential to conflict with her acting career. Her education only served to enhance her marketability and she was offered starring roles in Garden State, alongside Zach Braff, Closer, with Julia Roberts, Jude Law, and Clive Owen and V for Vendetta. For the dark and lascivious movie, Closer, she received a Golden Globe, and was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal as a lost American girl in unrequited love with a writer, who works as a stripper to make extra money. The director, Mike Nichols, was very careful to make Portman feel very comfortable in the stripping scenes, and no nude scene’s are in fact seen in the movie.

Early Life

Of Isreali dissent, Portman was born in Jerusalem, Israel to her father, Avner Hershlag, an Israeli medical doctor specializing in the research and treatment of human fertility and reproduction (reproductive endocrinology), and her mother, Shelley Stevens, a Jewish American homemaker who now works as her agent (she is an artist by hobby). 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's father's family members are descendants of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Romania, while her mother's family members 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 (she attended the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School), 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 has been a vegetarian since the age of eight.

Early Career

Portman dreamed of dancing on Broadway from a young age: she started taking dancing lessons at the age of four, and performed in local troupes, and she is trained in jazz, tap and ballet. At the age of 12, she was discovered in a pizza parlor by an agent for Revlon, who offered Portman 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.

Breakout Role: Léon Meets the Professional

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 through further auditioning won the part. S oon after getting the part, she took Portman as her stage name in the interest of privacy (in the Director's Cut of the film found on DVD she is credited as Natalie Hershlag). In the film, Portman plays an orphaned girl who befriends a much older man who is an assassin, played by Jean Reno. Léon opened on November 18, 1994, and marked her feature film debut at age 12. That same year she appeared in the short film “Developing,” which aired on television.

Starting at age 13, Portman spent her school holidays attending upscale theater camps Stagedoor Manor and Usdan Camp, where she fell in love with acting, playing roles in 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 obtained her first professional role, as an understudy for the off-Broadway musical Ruthless!

Portman is a Respected Actress: 1995–1999

In 1996, 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 Deniro, Al Pacino, and Val Kilmer. Following the success of Leon, Portman gained considerable fame for her performance, and was approached for the role of Marty in Ted Demme's Beautiful Girls, along side Uma Thurman and Matt Dillon. 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 had been considered for the role of Juliet in the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, but turned it down because of the age difference between her and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Portman then received the opportunity to play Padmé Amidala in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, with Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker and Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

During this time, Portman turned down the role of Wendy in The Ice Storm, because she felt the material was "too dark." The role went to Christina Ricci, who has said she often gets the projects Natalie turns down.

1996, to Portman's surprise, the 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 at the time, 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. She turned down the title role in Adrian Lyne's Lolita (1997), due to her feelings about young adult/actresses being exposed to sex in films. 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; while studying she also performed in 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 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 actress’s wishes were respected. Portman was shown a new script, and she happily joined the project.

In early 1999, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace opened and became the highest grossing film of the year and the second highest grossing film out of the Star Wars series. Its massive audience and mainstream appeal saw that Portman became 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 in the film.

In addition, Portman graduated from Syosset High School, Syosset, New York in 1999.

Harvard and Intrinsic Roles: 2000 - 2005

After filming Where the Heart Is, Portman moved into the dorms of Harvard to pursue her bachelor's degree in psychology. She said in a 1999 interview that, with the exception of the Star Wars prequels, she would not act for the next four years in order to concentrate on studying at Harvard University. She graduated with her B.A. in 2003.

Portman held a 4.0 GPA throughout high school and university. 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, Portman attended 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. Portman is credited as a research assistant to Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz's The 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.

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" was entered 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.

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 with Ben Stiller.

The second Star Wars prequel, Star Wars Episode 2: 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. Zach Braff wrote and directed the movie Garden State, which was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival, and won Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Apparently, Braff wrote the script with Portman in mind to play the part of the love-interest. Her role of Alice in Closer saw Portman win a Supporting Actress Golden Globe as well as a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. This was Portman’s first sexualized role, in which she played a stripper that gets involved in a love quadrangle. Portman was supposedly very nervous about the stripping scenes but the director, Mike Nichols, made sure that Portman was very well protected and comfortable. She said of the scene: "It's not exploitative, but it is about sex. No kids allowed. It's definitely a different thing for me, but I feel like I'm old enough to handle it now. I sort of understand more how to deal with it publicly, and it doesn't shatter me. I don't have to go to school the next day and have people be like, 'Oh I saw you in that movie; you were very dirty'".

In 2005 she filmed Free Zone, and also saw a close to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, with Revenge of the Sith which 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, released in March 2006. Her shaved head was first seen publicly at the Revenge of the Sith premieres, which wowed the media, not because it looked weird, but because it looked beautiful on the striking star. 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.

The Lucrative Future: 2006–present

Portman was a hit on “Saturday Night Live,” when she appeared on March 4, 2006, hosting the show with musical guest Fall Out Boy and special guest star Dennis Haysbert. In a now-famous SNL Digital Short, she portrays herself as an angry gangsta rapper (with Andy Samberg as her Flava Flav-esque partner in Viking garb) during a faux-interview with Chris Parnell, saying she cheated at Harvard University while high on pot. In another sketch, she portrays a student named Rebecca Hershlag (her actual surname) attending a Bar Mitzvah, and in an installment of the recurring sketch “The Needlers” (a.k.a. Sally and Dan, The Couple That Should Be Divorced), plays a fertility specialist (her father's profession).

The movie for which Portman shaved her head, 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 filming The Other Boleyn Girl, a historical drama in which she will play Anne Boleyn; Eric Bana and Scarlett Johansson will co-star in the film.

Portman recently landed a small role in the 18th season of the Emmy Award winning series, “The Simpsons.” She was the voice of Bart Simpson's love interest, Darcy, from a neighboring town.

In 2006 Blender Magazine named her one of the hottest women of film and television because of her intelligence and kindness.

Publicity and Controversy

Fashion designer Zac Posen refers to her as his "muse” and she often wears his designs on the red-carpet.

In addition to 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.

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 romantic links with actors including Liron Levo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hayden Christensen, and Gael García Bernal. 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 (though so has everybody else), but he claims they are friends.

Recently, she is reportedly dating Nat Rothschild, of the famous multi-billionaire, Jewish banking family. But despite the rumors of her and Rothschild, Portman has been spotted lately with Bernal again. The two were seen kissing in London and she has stated she has had an "intimate" relationship with him before. In the December 2006 issue of Elle magazine, Dustin Hoffman confirms that Portman and Bernal were dating when Hoffman and Portman worked together in Toronto, Ontario.

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."

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 a 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."

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 her role 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?"

Her comedic influences are Lily Tomlin and Diane Keaton. She said in an interview, "I love Lily Tomlin and I love Diane Keaton. They're sort of my heroes. Diane Keaton can do anything. She's just the best there is."

Portman is vegetarian and was voted Peta's Sexiest Female Vegetarian in 2002.

She became the first client of Artists Management Group to land representation at the powerhouse Creative Artists Agency. CAA refused to work with clients of its former founder Michael Ovitz's AMG; as soon as the one-time super-agent sold out his interest in the management firm, CAA went straight after Portman.

In December of 2006, fast friends, Portman and Scarlett Johansson who met on their movie The Other Boleyn Girl, showed up announced to Christina Aguilera post-concert party in London, and apparently proceeded to completely steal her spotlight at the bash after her sell-out Wembley gig.

In November of 2006, Portman was seen kissing Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal. The two were spotted getting hot and heavy at a concert in London.

Charity Work and Activism

Portman has advocated for environmental causes from a young age, becoming a member of the environmental song and dance troupe at age 12. She is a self-proclaimed "animal lover," and has been a vegetarian since she was eight years old.

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.


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