Natalie Portman (Hebrew: Natalie Hershlag; born June 9, 1981) is an Israeli American actress. Her first role came in the 1994 independent film Léon (known in the United States as The Professional). She achieved wider fame after playing Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Portman, who has said "I'd rather be smart than a movie star," completed a bachelor's degree in psychology at Harvard College while she was working on the Star Wars films.
In 2001, Portman opened in New York City's Public Theater production of Chekhov's The Seagull, alongside Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. In 2005, Portman received a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actress in the drama Closer. In May 2008, she served as the youngest member of the 61st Annual Cannes Film Festival jury. Portman's directorial debut, Eve, opened the 65th Venice International Film Festival's shorts competition in 2008.
Portman was born in Jerusalem, Israel. Her father, Avner Hershlag, is an Israeli doctor specializing in fertility and reproduction (reproductive endocrinology). Her mother, Shelley Stevens, is an American homemaker who now works as her agent. Portman's maternal ancestors were Jews from Austria and Russia, and her paternal ancestors were Jews who immigrated to Israel from Poland and Romania. 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 her mother was selling tickets. Her father returned to Israel, and the two corresponded and were married when her mother visited Israel a few years later. In 1984, when Portman was three years old, the family moved to the United States, where her father received his medical training. The family first lived in Washington, D.C., where Portman attended Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, but relocated to Connecticut in 1988, and then settled permanently in Long Island, New York, in 1990. Portman has said that although she "really love the States... my heart's in Jerusalem. That's where I feel at home." She is an only child and very close to her parents, who are often seen with her at her film premieres.
Although she says her family was not religious, Portman attended a Jewish elementary school, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Glen Cove, New York. She graduated from a public high school, Syosset High School. Portman skipped the premiere of Star Wars: Episode I so she could study for her high school final exams.
In June 2003, Portman graduated from Harvard College with a bachelor's degree in psychology. At Harvard, Portman was Alan Dershowitz's research assistant (he thanks her in The Case for Israel) in a psychology lab. While attending Harvard, she was a resident of Lowell House and wrote a letter to the Harvard Crimson in response to an anti-Israeli essay.
Portman took graduate courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the spring of 2004. In March 2006, she appeared as a guest lecturer at a Columbia University course in terrorism and counterterrorism, where she spoke about her film V for Vendetta.
In addition to being bilingual in Hebrew and English, Portman has studied French, Japanese, German, and Arabic.
As a student, Portman co-authored two research papers that were published in professional scientific journals. Her 1998 high school paper, "A Simple Method To Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar," 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.
Portman started dancing lessons at age 4 and performed in local troupes. At the age of 10, a Revlon agent asked her to become a child model, but she turned down the offer to focus on acting. In a magazine interview, Portman said that she was "different from the other kids. I was more ambitious, I knew what I liked and what I wanted, and I worked very hard. I was a very serious kid."
Portman spent her school holidays attending theater camps. When she was 10, she auditioned for Ruthless!, a play about a girl who is prepared to commit murder to get the lead in a school play, and she was chosen as the understudy for Laura Bell Bundy. In 1994, she auditioned for the role of a child who befriends a middle-aged hitman in Luc Besson's film, Léon (aka The Professional). Soon after getting the part, she took her grandmother's maiden name "Portman" as her stage name, in the interest of privacy; in the director's cut of the film on DVD, she is credited as Natalie Hershlag. Léon opened on November 18, 1994, marking her feature film debut at age 13. That same year she appeared in the short film Developing, which aired on television.
During the mid-1990s, Portman had roles in the films Heat, Everyone Says I Love You, and Mars Attacks!, as well as a major role in Beautiful Girls. She was the first choice to play Juliet in William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, but producers felt her age wasn't suitable. In 1997, Portman played the role of Anne Frank in a Broadway adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank. She initially turned down the lead role in the film Anywhere but Here after learning it would involve a sex scene, but director Wayne Wang and actress Susan Sarandon demanded a rewrite of the script; Portman was shown a new draft, and she joined the project. The film opened in late 1999, and she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Ann August. Critic Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon called Portman "astonishing" and said that "nlike any number of actresses her age, she's neither too maudlin nor too plucky." In the late 1990s, Portman was cast as Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. The first part, The Phantom Menace, opened in early 1999. She then signed on to play the lead role of a teenaged mother in Where the Heart Is.
After filming Where the Heart Is, Portman moved into the dorms of Harvard University 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. During the summer break from June to September 2000, Portman filmed Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones in Sydney, along with additional production in London. In July 2001, Portman opened in New York City's Public Theater production of Chekhov's The Seagull, directed by Mike Nichols; she played the role of Nina alongside 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 2002 comedy Zoolander. Portman was cast in a small role in the film Cold Mountain alongside Jude Law and Nicole Kidman.
In 2004, Portman appeared 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 performance as Alice in Closer saw Portman win a Supporting Actress Golden Globe as well as a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination.
The final Star Wars prequel, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was released on May 19, 2005. The film was the highest grossing domestic film of the year, and was voted Favorite Motion Picture at the People's Choice Awards. Also in 2005, Portman filmed Free Zone and director Miloš Forman's Goya's Ghosts. Forman had not seen any of her work but thought she looked like a Goya painting, so he requested a meeting.
Portman appeared on Saturday Night Live on March 4, 2006, hosting the show with musical guest Fall Out Boy and special guest star Dennis Haysbert. In a SNL Digital Short, she portrays herself as an angry gangsta rapper (with Andy Samberg as her Flavor Flav-esque partner in Viking garb) during a faux-interview with Chris Parnell, saying she cheated at Harvard University while high on pot and cocaine. The song, titled "Natalie's Rap," was released - alongside other sketches from the show - in 2009 on Incredibad, an album by the Lonely Island. 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 (also known as Sally and Dan, The Couple That Should Be Divorced), plays a fertility specialist (her father's profession).
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 with an English accent, and she famously had her head shaved.
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." She said the film "doesn't make clear good or bad statements. It respects the audience enough to take away their own opinion".
Both Goya's Ghosts and Free Zone received limited releases in 2006. Portman starred in the children's film Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, which began filming in April 2006 and was released in November 2007; she has said that she was "excited to do a kids' movie." In late 2006, Portman filmed The Other Boleyn Girl, a historical drama in which she plays Anne Boleyn; Eric Bana and Scarlett Johansson co-starred. She was named one of the hottest women of film and TV by Blender Magazine.
In 2006, she filmed Wong Kar-wai's road movie My Blueberry Nights. She won acclaim for her role as gambler Leslie, because "or once she's not playing a waif or a child princess but a mature, full-bodied woman... but she's not coasting on her looks... She uses her appeal to simultaneously flirt with and taunt the gambler across the table." Portman voiced Bart Simpson's girlfriend Darcy in the episode "Little Big Girl" of The Simpsons' 18th season. She appeared in Paul McCartney's music video "Dance Tonight" from his 2007 album Memory Almost Full, directed by Michel Gondry. Portman co-starred in the Wes Anderson short film Hotel Chevalier, opposite Jason Schwartzman, in which she performed her first nude scene. In May 2008, Portman served as the youngest member of the 61st Annual Cannes Film Festival jury, and in 2009, she starred opposite Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal in the drama film Brothers, a remake of the 2004 Danish film of the same name.
Portman has been cast in the role of Jane Foster in Kenneth Branagh's upcoming film adaptation of Thor. She will also play a veteran ballerina in Darren Aronofskys Black Swan. Portman will produce and star as Elizabeth Bennet in the 2010 novel adaptation Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, under the direction of Richard Kelly.
Portman, who has been a vegetarian since childhood and became a vegan in 2009 after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, is an advocate for animal rights. She does not eat animal products or wear fur, feathers, or leather. "All of my shoes are from Target and Stella McCartney," she has said. It has been reported that she will appear alongside actress Elissa Sursara in a PETA public service announcement to support the group's anti-fur campaign at some point in 2009. In 2007, she launched her own brand of vegan footwear.
In 2007, Natalie Portman traveled to Rwanda with Jack Hanna, to film a documentary titled Gorillas on the Brink. Later, at a naming ceremony, Portman named a baby gorilla Gukina, which means "to play." Portman has been an advocate of environmental causes since childhood, when she joined an environmental song and dance troupe known as World Patrol Kids. She is also a member of the One Voice movement.
Portman was involved with the 2004 presidential campaign of Democratic candidate John Kerry and has supported antipoverty activities. 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 microfinance. Host Fareed Zakaria said that he was "generally wary of celebrities with fashionable causes," but included the segment with Portman because "she really knew her stuff." In the "Voices" segment of the April 29, 2007, episode of the ABC Sunday Morning Program This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Portman discussed her work with FINCA and how it can benefit women and children in Third World countries. In fall 2007, Portman visited several university campuses, including Harvard, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton, New York University, and Columbia, to inspire students with the power of microfinance and to encourage them to join the Village Banking Campaign to help families and communities lift themselves out of poverty.
During the 2008 Democratic primaries, Portman supported Senator Hillary Clinton for president, but said "I also like Obama. I even like McCain. I disagree with his war stance — which is a really big deal — but I think he's a very moral person." She later campaigned for Obama during the general election.
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." She has said that she feels more Jewish in Israel and that she would like to raise her children in the Jewish religion: "A priority for me is definitely that I'd like to raise my kids Jewish, but the ultimate thing is to have someone who is a good person and who is a partner."
In the May 2002 issue of Vogue, Portman called actor/musician Lukas Haas and musician Moby her close friends. After starring in the video for his song "Carmensita," she began a relationship with American folk singer Devendra Banhart that ended in September 2008.