Actress, speaker, film director and producer Natalie Portman has been gracing the big screen since she was 11 years old, when she stole hearts with her soul-crushing performance as the traumatized and abandoned Matilda in Leon: The Professional. Portman has locked down a successful acting career while also chasing her dreams of attaining a Harvard education (see fact #29). She is dedicated and passionate at both of her crafts (fact #22: She graduated with honors, and fact #12: She runs her own production company), making her a strong role model for women around the world. Read on to uncover 42 brilliant facts about Natalie Portman.
Portman has lived around the world, but she holds dual citizenship from the United States and Israel. Many of her family members were lost during the Holocaust, including her paternal great-grandparents who were killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
Portman was originally born in Israel, and was given the name Neta-Lee, a Hebrew name. After she got the part in Leon: The Professional, she took the stage name Portman (the maiden name of her paternal grandmother) to maintain privacy surrounding her family’s true name.
Since the age of 4, Portman has been taking dance lessons, which helped her train in preparation for her role in Black Swan.
Portman stands at a petite 5’3” tall. Once, when she landed at a London airport to do reshoots for the third Star Wars prequel, a customs official asked Portman if she was traveling with a guardian.
Since she was 8 years old, Portman has been a vegetarian, and she’s been vegan since 2009. At the 27th annual Environmental Media Awards benefit, Portman explained that she chose a vegan lifestyle based on how our three choices a day (or even once a day or once a week) affect the planet.
Portman’s favorite food isn’t pizza. Tofu and black beans are actually her go-to staples.
At the tender age of 9 (back when Portman did eat pizza), she was discovered in a pizza shop by a beauty scout from Revlon cosmetics, who encouraged her to pursue a career in modeling. Portman turned down the potential modeling contract to focus on acting instead.
Portman got a taste for drama, acting and musicals after spending three summers at the Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Camp, near Poughkeepsie, NY.
The 1987 classic Dirty Dancing was one of Portman’s earliest influences. She says, “That was my movie growing up.”
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In high school, Portman was voted by her peers to be “Most Likely to Appear on Jeopardy.” She describes that as “code for nerdy.” She claims that the girls in her high school had designer bags while all she had was Wite-Out on her hands.
Heading to Harvard was stressful for Portman. She felt like she had to work extra hard and prove that she’d made it in based on her own intelligence rather than her fame. She felt like if she made a stupid comment in class that she’d across as being even stupider. Someone should have told her that basically everyone has a stupid moment when they’re a freshman.
Portman didn’t get any special treatment while at Harvard, and she went through the same trials and tribulations as her peers. She gained the freshman 15, had very low, depressing moments, and struggled through the cold Cambridge winters. Luckily she leaned on friends, professors, and mentors for help.
Portman graduated with honors from Harvard in 2003 with an A.B. in Psychology. She once said, “I'm going to college. I don't care if it ruins my career. I'd rather be smart than a movie star."
Portman is extremely gifted, with an IQ score of 140. She’s also published not one but two research papers in scientific journals—"A Simple Method to Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar" was a 1998 high school paper, and "Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence: Data From Near-Infrared Spectroscopy" is from 2002, during her psychology studies at Harvard.
While a student at Harvard, Portman was active in the political debate between Israel and Palestine. She wrote a response letter to Harvard Crimson in the form of a critical essay discussing Israeli actions towards Palestinians. After graduating, she continued to study more by taking graduate courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Contrary to other kids around her while she was growing up, Portman confessed that she always felt different, saying “I was more ambitious. I knew what I liked and what I wanted, and I worked very hard. I was a very serious kid."
When Portman had her head shaved for V for Vendetta, you might have noticed that she has a slight indentation on her head. It’s the result of being extracted during birth by vacuum.
Portman has performed in all kinds of roles, ranging from serious to funny and everything else in between. A type of performance that she thinks she needs to work on, however, is improvisation. Portman believes that her performance in Everyone Says I Love You was sub-par because of her inability to improvise.
When Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace premiered in 1999, 17-year-old Portman missed the grand opening because she had a high school exam that she had to write the following day.
Portman has lived in Paris since her marriage to Benjamin Millepied, and the couple is TV free. That’s right, zero television screens. Even though she loves cooking shows, and watching the occasional episode of Transparent or Broad City, she gets her fix every once in a while on a computer.
As an esteemed actress and honors graduate from Harvard, Portman has a gift for memorizing, retaining and reciting volumes of information, including multiple languages. Portman can speak Hebrew, English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.
Portman won’t do just anything for her craft. She initially turned down the script for the 1999 film Anywhere but Here because she would have to appear nude. Susan Sarandon insisted she wouldn’t work without Portman, so the script was revised to accommodate the young actress. In her role in V for Vendetta, she boldly shaved her head.
While filming Black Swan in 2009, Portman began dating her choreographer, esteemed baller dancer Benjamin Millepied. Depending on how you read it, his last name is either fitting, or kind of gross—it’s French for “thousand feet.”
Portman’s intense performance as Nina Sayers in Black Swan earned her critical acclaim, and her first Academy Award for Best Actress, amongst other awards, including her second Golden Globe Award.
Both before and after she won the Oscar for Black Swan, Portman and Aronofsky were targeted by people from the ballet world regarding the amount of credit given to Portman's dance double, who covered the more complicated ballet moves in the film. Especially after she won, it was speculated that Portman's lack of acknowledgment of her dance double, Sarah Lane, in her Oscar acceptance speech was a method of erasing Lane's participation and performance in the film.
Portman went through a lot while filming Black Swan. First, she broke a rib. Portman also injured her ankle, and there was no medic on set as the production budget didn’t allow for it. She also lost 20 pounds for the role, training up to 16 hours a day.
Portman paid for all of her own ballet training for Black Swan.
Portman has been criticized for her young, immature sounding speaking voice. Throughout her career, she’s worked hard to lower and deepen it, however, for Black Swan, she was encouraged to regress for the role of the childish Nina Sayers. According to Portman, this was one of the most challenging character aspects of Black Swan for her.
Catch Portman in Paul McCartney’s music video My Valentine. In the evocative black and white music video, she’s shot alongside Johnny Depp, and she mouths the words of the song and uses sign language.
Portman and Black Swan co-star Mila Kunis are actually good friends in real life. Portman sums up their time spent on set of Black Swan, saying that one day they’d be sitting around having a “sweatpants night” watching Top Chef, and then the next they’d be on set together emaciated and tired in tutus.
Portman started her own production company, Handsomecharlie Films (a tribute to Charlie Chaplin and a departed dog) with the intention of creating more roles for women by women with a focus on female comedies. She is aiming to produce her version of The Hangover but with women.
Before landing her role in Star Wars: Episode 1– The Phantom Menace, Portman had never even laid eyes on the original Star Wars trilogy. She openly admitted that prior to being cast, she lived in a bubble and didn’t know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. Don’t tell the fans that!
Portman’s father is a fertility specialist and gynecologist, and when she gets older, she’d like to follow in his footsteps.
In 2003 and 2004, Portman pursued her passion for travel by doing some solo traveling, crossing off Morocco and Guatemala from her list.
Smart, talented and beautiful, Portman is a trifecta of appeal. No wonder mega-fashion designer Zac Posen refers to her as his muse.
Portman really enjoys professional wrestling.
On the set of Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky wanted to pit Portman against costar Mila Kunis for added drama while shooting. Aronofsky would fuel competition between the two by keeping them separated for days, and saying how well one actress was doing to the other actress.
Aronofsky claims he didn’t want Portman and Kunis to know each other’s motives, or compare notes. Coming from different places was important to him and for the authenticity of their respective dark and light roles.
Both Portman and pop star Britney Spears were once understudies for an off-Broadway play called Ruthless! Their friendship has spanned many years, and they even hosted a huge New Year’s party together in 2002 with 40 of their friends at the Hudson Hotel in Manhattan.
Then 11-year-old Portman had very strict guidelines put in place by her parents when she was cast as Matilda in Leon: The Professional. The biggest concern they had was the amount of gratuitous violence in the film, not to mention the fact that the Matilda character smokes, meaning that Portman would have to as well.
The only way Portman’s parents were able to reach an agreement with Leon: The Professional director Luc Besson regarding the part that smoking would have in her role was to reduce the number of smoking scenes down to five. They demanded that Natalie would never be seen inhaling or exhaling the cigarette and that her character would kick the habit by the end of the movie.
Portman has outwardly expressed interest in wanting to grab Scarlett Johansson’s breasts—she thinks they’re really pretty.
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