Star Wars Where Are They Now? #4 – Natalie Portman
In 1994, Natalie Portman made her silver screen debut in Léon: The Professional. Her decision to leave a pushed modelling career in favour of acting initially seemed to pay off, and her promising performances in Heat and Beautiful Girls quickly caught the eye of George Lucas. As Queen Amidala in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Portman received worldwide fame. However, despite grossing $431 million, critics panned the much anticipated film. Despite the negative reaction, Natalie reprised her role as Amidala in the last two episodes of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Just like co-stars Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen, the George Lucas School of Acting tainted Portman’s career to the point where no director wanted to work with her. Thankfully, she managed to move on from the prequel films, and has lived an incredibly successful acting career since. So how exactly did she do it? Well, let’s find out.
Although Star Wars has the ability to launch careers to the next level and transform unknowns into superstars, the sci-fi series can also indefinitely damage the credibility of its actors. Natalie Portman, unfortunately, is an example of the latter, which she has fully recognised:
"Star Wars [Episode I - The Phantom Menace] had come out, and everyone thought I was a horrible actress. I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me.”
Portman’s career looked to be dead in the water before it even began. But thankfully, Mike Nichols helped her out:
“Mike wrote a letter to Anthony Minghella and said, 'Put her in Cold Mountain, I vouch for her.'"
And just like that, the actress landed a role in the director’s 2003 historical drama, which garnered fellow supporting actress Renée Zellweger her first Oscar. With a little help from Minghella, the performance earned her the role of Evey Hammond in the Wachowskis’ V for Vendetta. Both portrayals re-established Portman as a performer with credibility, and her career looked to be back on track.
Between 2006 and 2010, Natalie performed in ten movies and even graced the small screen, displaying her knack for comedy in a Saturday Night Live sketch. With a once more flourishing career, Portman only needed one more accolade to cement herself as one of the world’s finest actresses; an Oscar. After being nominated for one for Closer in 2004, her incredible performance in 2010’s Black Swan went all the way, winning the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. In the same year, she was named the new face of the luxury fashion and beauty brand Dior. Branching out from her more serious roles of the past decade, Portman appeared in two R-rated comedy films in 2011. Although Your Highness flopped at the box office, No Strings Attached with Ashton Kutcher made $149 million worldwide. Natalie also appeared in both Thor films as Jane Foster. Despite her love for the silver screen, the actress’ heart belongs to Benjamin Millepied, whom she had a son with in 2011 and married in 2012. What’s more, off-screen, Portman graduated from Harvard University with an A.B. (Artium Baccalaureus) degree in psychology, and has campaigned for animal rights, supported antipoverty activities, and became an ambassador of Free the Children.
Unlike fellow Star Wars co-stars Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen, Portman managed to move on from the prequels to bigger and better things. It really is a huge achievement, and it just goes to show how horribly misused she was under George Lucas. Thankfully, J.J. Abrams never made the same mistakes as his predecessor in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, meaning newcomers to the series like Adam Driver, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are not doomed to fail…
So what do you think about Natalie Portman’s rocky road to success? Let me know in the comments below, as well as who you would like to see covered next in this series.