Natalie Hershlag (born June 9, 1981), better known by her stage name Natalie Portman, is an actress with dual American and Israeli citizenship. Her first role was as an orphan taken in by a hitman in the 1994 French action film Léon, but major success came when she was cast as Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy (released in 1999, 2002 and 2005). In 1999, she enrolled at Harvard University to study psychology while still working as an actress. She completed her bachelor's degree in 2003.
In 2001, Portman opened in New York City's Public Theater production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull. In 2005, Portman received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture for the drama Closer. She won a Constellation Award for Best Female Performance, and a Saturn Award for Best Actress for her starring role in V for Vendetta (2006). She played leading roles in the historical dramas Goya's Ghosts (2006) and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). 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 directed a segment of the collective film New York, I Love You.
In 2011, Portman won the Academy Award, the Golden Globe Award, the Screen Actors Guild Award, Independent Spirit Awards, and the BAFTA Award for her lead performance as Nina Sayers in Black Swan.
Portman was born in Jerusalem, Israel. She is the only child of Shelley (née Stevens), an American homemaker who works as Portman's agent, and Avner Hershlag, an Israeli citizen who is a fertility specialist and gynecologist. Portman's maternal ancestors were Jewish immigrants to the United States, from Austria and Russia (her mother's family had changed their surname from "Edelstein" to "Stevens"). Her paternal ancestors were Jews who moved to Israel from Poland and Romania. Her paternal grandfather, whose parents died at Auschwitz, was an economics professor in Israel, and her Romanian-born great-grandmother was a spy for British Intelligence during World War II.
Portman's parents met at a Jewish student center at Ohio State University, where her mother was selling tickets. They corresponded after her father returned to Israel, and were married when her mother visited 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. Portman, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, has said that although she "really love the States... my heart's in Jerusalem. That's where I feel at home."
Portman and her family first lived in Washington, D.C., but relocated to Connecticut in 1988, and then settled on Long Island, New York, in 1990.
In Washington, D.C., Portman attended Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. Portman learned to speak Hebrew in addition to English, and attended a Jewish elementary school, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Glen Cove, New York. She graduated from Syosset High School in Syosset, Long Island, in 1999. Portman skipped the premiere of her film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace so she could study for her high school final exams.
In 2003, Portman graduated from Harvard College with a A.B. degree in psychology. "I don't care if college ruins my career," she told the New York Post, according to a Fox News Channel article. "I'd rather be smart than a movie star." At Harvard, Portman was Alan Dershowitz's research assistant. While attending Harvard, she was a resident of Lowell House and wrote a letter to the Harvard Crimson in response to an essay critical of Israeli actions toward Palestinians.
Portman took graduate courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the spring of 2004. In March 2006, she was a guest lecturer at a Columbia University course in terrorism and counterterrorism, where she spoke about her film V for Vendetta.
Portman has professed an interest in foreign languages since childhood and has studied French, Japanese, German, and Arabic.
As a student, Portman co-authored two research papers that were published in scientific journals. Her 1998 high school paper, "A Simple Method to Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar", co-authored with scientists Ian Hurley and Jonathan Woodward, was entered in the Intel Science Talent Search. In 2002, she contributed to a study on memory called "Frontal Lobe Activation during Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy" during her psychology studies at Harvard. This publication placed Portman among a very small number of professional actors with a defined Erdos–Bacon number.
Portman started dancing lessons at age four and performed in local troupes. At the age of ten, 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 ten, she auditioned for the Off-Broadway show Ruthless!, a musical about a girl who is prepared to commit murder to get the lead in a school play. Portman and future pop star Britney Spears were chosen as the understudies for star 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 and to protect her family's identity. Léon opened on November 18, 1994, marking her feature film debut. 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.
Also in 1997, Portman was cast as Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. The first film, The Phantom Menace, began filming in June 1997 and opened in May 1999. Following production on The Phantom Menace, she initially turned down a lead role in the film Anywhere but Here after learning it would involve a sex scene, but director Wayne Wang and actress Susan Sarandon (who played Portman's mother in the film) demanded a rewrite of the script. Portman was shown a new draft, and she decided to accept the role. 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." She then signed on to play the lead role of a teenaged mother in Where the Heart Is, which opened in April 2000.
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 2001 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 earned her a Supporting Actress Golden Globe as well as a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
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 hosted Saturday Night Live on March 4, 2006. 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 marijuana 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 the main character, who recruits Evey to join 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 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.
In 2008, Portman at age 27 made her directorial debut at the Venice Film Festival. "Eve", a short movie about a young woman who is dragged along on her grandmother's romantic date, was screened out of competition. Portman said she had always had a fascination with the older generation, and drew inspiration for the character from her own grandmother.
Portman played a veteran ballerina in Darren Aronofsky's 2010 film Black Swan, a role of which critic Kurt Loder wrote: "Portman gives one of her most compelling performances in this film, which is saying something." To prepare for the role, she went through five to eight hours of dance training each day for six months and lost 20 pounds. In 2011, she won both the Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award for Best Actress.
After Portman's Oscar win, controversy arose over who performed the bulk of the on-screen dancing in Black Swan. Sarah Lane, one of Portman's dancing doubles in the film, claimed that Portman performed only about 5 percent of the full-body shots, adding that she was asked by the film’s producers not to speak publicly about it during the Oscar season. Director Aronofsky defended Portman by issuing a statement insisting that Portman performed 80 percent of the on-screen dancing in the movie.
Portman's next film was No Strings Attached, for which she was also an executive producer. It was released on January 21, 2011. She then starred in Your Highness, opposite James Franco and Danny McBride, and also played the role of Jane Foster in Kenneth Branagh's superhero film adaptation Thor. In 2010, Portman dropped out of the lead role of Elizabeth Bennet in the novel adaptation Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but she continues as producer.
In February 2012, it was reported that she had signed on for two Terrence Malick projects named Knight of Cups and Lawless, both planned for release within two years.
Social and political causes
Portman, who is an advocate for animal rights, has been a vegetarian since childhood. She became a vegan in 2009 after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. 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. In 2007, she launched her own brand of vegan footwear. During her pregnancy in 2011, Portman went off her vegan diet and returned to vegetarianism.
In 2007, Portman traveled to Rwanda with Jack Hanna, to film the documentary Gorillas on the Brink. Later, at a naming ceremony, Portman christened 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 has also 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 developing 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, she visited several university campuses, including Harvard, USC, 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.
In 2010, Portman's activist work and popularity with young people earned her a nomination for VH1's Do Something Awards, which is dedicated to honoring individuals who do good.
Portman is a supporter of the Democratic Party, and in the 2004 presidential race she campaigned for the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry. In the 2008 presidential election, Portman supported Senator Hillary Clinton of New York in the Democratic primaries. She later campaigned for the eventual Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, during the general election. However, in a 2008 interview, she also said: "I even like John McCain. I disagree with his war stance – which is a really big deal – but I think he's a very moral person."
In 2006, she said that she felt more Jewish in Israel and that she would like to raise her children Jewish: "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."
After starring in the video for his song "Carmensita", she began a relationship with American folk singer Devendra Banhart, which ended in September 2008.
Portman began dating ballet dancer Benjamin Millepied in 2009. The couple met while she was filming Black Swan, for which Millepied was the choreographer. In December 2010, Portman announced that she was engaged to Millepied and confirmed her pregnancy. Portman gave birth to their first child, a son named Aleph Portman-Millepied, in 2011. In February 2012, it was confirmed that Portman and Millepied had married in a private ceremony.