Natalie Portman is one of the most beloved actresses in all of Hollywood. She brings something special to every role that she accepts, illuminating her characters with a radiance that’s been stealing hearts ever since she was just a kid. She’s also vocal about the things she cares about most, and she’s unafraid to use her celebrity to make the world a better place.
It’s been decades since Portman first appeared on the silver screen, growing up with the eyes of the entire world on her. And throughout the years, she’s only become more versatile in her craft, expanding her horizons while maintaining the spirit that made her a star in the first place.
As hard as it is to believe, however, Portman wasn’t always the super-talented Hollywood royal that she is today. In fact, her story starts halfway across the world, far from the lights of Tinseltown. So what was the actress like before all of the fame, and how has she changed over time? Read on to witness the stunning transformation of Natalie Portman.
Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem
One particularly interesting thing about Natalie Portman’s childhood is that she was quite the nomad before she was even in double digits. And she didn’t just move from neighborhood to neighborhood or from state to state — she had already traversed the ocean before she was 5 years old. "I was born in Israel, in Jerusalem," she revealed in an interview with Interview magazine. "And when I was three, we moved to Washington. When I was seven, we moved to Connecticut, and then, when I was nine, we moved to New York where we’ve lived ever since." That’s quite a lot of traveling for someone so young!
By all accounts, Portman had a happy childhood, born in 1981 to a doctor father and an artist mother. However, there was one thing she felt she was missing: siblings. "I’m an only child. Which is kind of bad, because having a brother or sister is like another form of friendship," she continued. "That’s something I’ve missed out on."
But she added that the silver lining to this was having so much of her mother’s attention, which helped her become the person she is today.
Natalie Portman knew she loved acting when she was 11
The decision to become an actress wasn’t thrust upon Natalie Portman, as can often happen with very young actors. Instead, she knew from the age of 11 that acting was her calling, so that’s when she began pursuing a career in Hollywood. "That’s when I started," she recalled in an interview with Variety. "I feel that there is something around that time where you do have an instinct about what you really love. I don’t know where it came from, because there’s no one in my family who was ever a performer."
That made Portman something of an anomaly in her family, as there weren’t many thespians who shared her DNA. "I came from such a serious, academic family, where the only thing that was acceptable was to be very literate and educated," she continued. "You become a professor or a doctor or a lawyer." We’re certainly glad you followed your heart, Natalie!
Even after Portman had become successful, her father suggested that she enter graduate school. But Portman was already in love with the craft, and she stuck with it.
The Professional was Natalie Portman’s breakout film
Once Natalie Portman decided she wanted to become an actress, it didn’t take her long to catapult to fame by the age of 12. That’s when she starred in her first major motion picture, Léon: The Professional, a film about a young girl who befriends a hit man. And while the movie stirred up a bit of controversy at the time, Portman sees it as a story about two friends who find each other and share a deep connection. "It’s … about two people who by themselves are so unhappy, but when they’re together they’re very, very happy just because they have each other’s companionship," she explained when speaking to Interview magazine. "They’re taking care of each other. They’re nurturing each other."
As for what advice the adult Portman would give to the 12-year-old version of herself? "Don’t try to please everyone," she mused in an interview with Marie Claire. "It took me a long time to move past that and focus on myself instead of worrying about other people." Those are some wise words.
Star Wars nearly ruined Natalie Portman’s career
In 1999, Natalie Portman was cast in what should have been a dream role: She landed the part of Queen Amidala/Padmé in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, and she reprised it in the next two films in the franchise. But instead of the movie being a career-maker, it was almost a career-killer, given how hard the Star Wars prequels were dragged by people. "It was hard," she confessed in an interview with Empire magazine. "It was a bummer because it felt like people were so excited about new ones and then to have people feel disappointed [was hard]."
That had a pretty awful impact on Portman’s budding career, too. "Star Wars had come out … and everyone thought I was a horrible actress," she shared in an interview with New York Magazine. "I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me." What a horrible situation to be in!
Fortunately, Portman had a friend in director Mike Nichols, who vouched for her and recommended that she be cast in Cold Mountain, which re-affirmed her acting chops. After that, she was redeemed and was, once again, in demand.
Natalie Portman graduated from Harvard
In order to be a Hollywood actress, you don’t necessarily have to go to college or have a formal education. But that didn’t deter Natalie Portman from pursuing a world-class education, as she started attending Harvard University in 1999, graduating with a degree in psychology in 2003 (via Business Insider). Our girl is one smart cookie!
During Portman’s tenure at Harvard, she had the opportunity to meet a lot of her fellow students, and many of them really impressed her. "My peers here are pretty frickin’ accomplished," she shared in a 2002 interview with Rolling Stone. "It’s just a different kind of accomplishment I’ve had that they don’t necessarily see as above what they’ve done." That’s totally fair! It is Harvard, after all.
Predictably, however, Portman also had to be discerning in case some people wanted to be friends with her for the wrong reasons. "But you also have a lot of ambitious people who do want to rub shoulders," she continued. "You’ve got to be wary of that."
Natalie Portman never wanted to be a manic pixie dream girl
On the heels of Natalie Portman’s performance in Cold Mountain, she was cast as Sam in the 2004 Zach Braff film Garden State. And although the movie was generally well-received, it spawned the term "manic pixie dream girl," specifically for Portman’s character — a label she didn’t exactly embrace. "It certainly is stifling to be the one who’s enacting someone else’s idea of how a young woman should behave," she explained in an interview in Elle magazine. "I’ve seen a real change [in the industry] since I was 20. But not a total change; you still see those roles of just being a dream girl or whatever some person wants you to enact." That sounds exhausting.
But now that Portman is no longer a wide-eyed 20-year-old, she’s free to take on different roles, and she isn’t expected to be a certain kind of love interest. "It’s definitely a relief to be out of the phase where you’re supposed to be adorable," she added.
Natalie Portman won an Oscar for her performance in Black Swan in 2011
In 2011, Natalie Portman celebrated a career milestone when she won the Academy Award for best actress in the 2010 Darren Aronofsky thriller Black Swan. Of course, Portman had to do an insane amount of training for the film, which was extremely physically demanding. "It was about a year of ballet preparation that sort of ramped up as the film got closer," she revealed in an interview with Vanity Fair. "It started out for a couple of hours a day, then five hours a day, then more like eight hours and it was very intense but really fun, too." No wonder she ended up losing 20 pounds!
Portman especially loved working with Aronofsky, who allowed her to flex her creative muscles in addition to her physical muscles. "He gave me a lot of freedom and he also gave me a lot of inspiration," she continued. "He would always be like, Now that we’ve done what I have, now do one for yourself."
Black Swan was widely celebrated as a real cinematic achievement, as noted by IMDb. Congrats on the Oscar, Natalie!
Natalie Portman met her husband on the set of Black Swan
An Academy Award wasn’t the only thing Natalie Portman took away from working on Black Swan. That’s because she also met her husband on set, the French choreographer Benjamin Millepied, who choreographed the film and played David/The Prince. That made the experience even more intense for Portman, who truly treasures that special time. "I was in, like, dreamland," she gushed in an interview with SiriusXM, explaining that part of the attraction was in him "teaching [her] how to dance." Portman added that the depth of their connection wasn’t instantaneous, but that once they got to know each other, it became super clear. That really does sound romantic.
In addition to being dreamy and emotionally intense, Portman found herself just having a good time in general while filming Black Swan. "It was really special and making it was really wonderful and so fun," she shared with Us Weekly. "It was really incredible." That’s one for the memory books, for sure!
Motherhood re-aligned Natalie Portman’s priorities
It wasn’t long after meeting Benjamin Millepied that Natalie Portman because pregnant with her first child, who she gave birth to in 2011. Unsurprisingly, that prompted Portman to make some changes in her life, including accepting roles that allowed her to have the time she needed to be a wife and mother. "It kind of ups the stakes of what you want to do because it’s time away from your kid," she explained in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Now it feels like, I want to be so passionate and committed to what I’m doing; it feels like an incredible use of my time."
Portman gave birth to her second child in 2017, making her the mother of both a boy and a girl, a change that made Portman super conscious about gender roles. "It’s absolutely different when you know you are raising a next generation, both male and female," she explained in an interview with Vogue Australia. She added that she wants to make sure she doesn’t imprint onto her children any ideas about gender that are harmful and outdated.
Becoming a director was a big change for Natalie Portman
In 2015, Natalie Portman presumably checked yet another item off of her bucket list, as that was the year she made her major motion picture directorial debut. The film was entitled A Tale of Love and Darkness, a film about the life of Israeli writer Amos Oz, who came of age in Israel in the ’40s and ’50s. Portman also had a starring role in the movie.
Naturally, Portman’s long career in Hollywood prepared her for this new position. "[Directing] kind of felt intuitive after acting for 25 years," she explained in an interview with W magazine. "But of course there were things completely new and foreign."
The toughest part of the directorial learning curve for Portman was learning to be comfortable in her authority and to take charge and give clear guidance. "It definitely feels like a female thing to me, how I wasn’t comfortable being the boss right away," she continued. "It didn’t come naturally to me, I had to learn it." That’s totally understandable!
Natalie Portman’s take on the Me Too movement
Given that Natalie Portman’s movie career started in the ’90s and continues to thrive decades later means she’s spent a lot of time working in the entertainment industry. That includes being active in Hollywood both before and after the age of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, giving her a unique perspective. "All the stuff that’s going on, it’s this weird thing of having been in all of those environments," she revealed in an interview with Vanity Fair. "Like the set of Beautiful Girls – every woman in that movie has come forward." Yikes!
Fortunately for Portman, she somehow wasn’t impacted in that manner, which she acknowledges is a rarity. "I was able somehow not to have an experience like that, so it’s definitely a weird, privileged place to hold," she continued. "Learning what so many women have been through and were going through right next to me … it was completely shocking to know that they were going through that."
That’s not to say that Portman hasn’t had her fair share of creepy experiences, unfortunately, such as lewd and disturbing fan mail. Here’s hoping that stops.
Natalie Portman admired the first lady she portrayed
Stepping into the role of Jacqueline Kennedy would be challenging for any actress, given how large her figure looms in American history. But Natalie Portman was up for the task, as she played the former first lady in the 2016 film Jackie, which chronicled how Kennedy coped in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination. "The way she handled herself in that sort of crucible was so strong and intelligent," she mused in an interview with CNN. "It was really interesting to see that very private side — when you start looking into it — her crisis of faith, her doubts in God, her thoughts of suicide, but also her intense intelligence."
Clearly Portman admires the American icon, and had nothing but positive things to say about her after shooting the film. "She really just was so smart," she continued. "[She] really understood history and really understood that the people who write history are the ones who define it."
Being a vegan is important to Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman is passionate about her love and support of animals — and the importance of a vegan diet. "I was vegetarian before, and had eaten eggs and dairy," she recalled in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. "I thought, ‘that doesn’t really hurt animals, it’s a natural bi-product of an animal’ which I still believe if you’re on a nice farm and have a few chickens, but the vast majority of animals are raised in such devastating way." Specifically, Portman is referring to factory farming.
To that end, she narrated and produced the 2017 documentary Eating Animals, based on the book by Jonathan Saffron Foer, hoping to spread the word about animal cruelty and how to prevent it. "It’s devastating for the animals of course, but also for the environment," she continued. "I was changed by it and it made me feel that it was urgent to, not just change the way I was, but also to spread the word."
Natalie Portman will finally wield Thor’s hammer
Since 2011, Natalie Portman has played the role of Jane Foster — Thor‘s scientist lady love — in Thor and Thor: The Dark World, alongside the likes of Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Kat Dennings. But things might be extra special in the next installment of Thor’s personal story, Thor: Love and Thunder, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Portman’s character is going to get quite the promotion. "They came to me with the idea and said, ‘We have this idea for you that was a storyline in some of the comics where Jane becomes Lady Thor,’ and I was like, ‘This is very exciting,’" she gushed in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. That’s right: She’s finally going to wield Thor’s hammer! We’re so ready for it.
Portman previously announced she’d be in the film when she wielded Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, during a Marvel panel at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con.