With an Oscar before the age of 30, repeated comparisons to Audrey Hepburn, and the drool of a thousand critics at her feet, Natalie Portman has emerged as one of the most promising actresses of her generation.
Born in Jerusalem on June 9, 1981, to an artist mother and doctor father, Portman moved to New York when she was three. Raised on Long Island, she was discovered by a modeling agent who signed her on the spot. Her modeling stint led to an audition for Luc Besson's Leon (or The Professional, as it was called in the United States). Due to her age (she was 12 when the film was cast), Portman was initially turned down for the lead role of Mathilda, a girl who asks a hit man (Jean Reno) to train her as an assassin to avenge her brother's death and falls innocently in love with him in the process. However, she ultimately won the part and her 1994 film debut earned a number of positive notices. In interviews, Portman allowed that making her first film in the toughest sections of Spanish Harlem was frightening, but not quite so frightening, she claimed, as going back to school once shooting wrapped.
Portman then took on the role of Al Pacino's step-daughter in another demanding film, Michael Mann's Heat (1995). She followed this up with lighter fare, like Mars Attacks! (1996), Everyone Says I Love You, and Beautiful Girls. After turning down title roles in both Lolita and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, Portman took on another title role with her 1997 Broadway debut in The Diary of Anne Frank. She stayed with the show until May 1998, during which time she received positive notices for her performance. After lending her voice to The Prince of Egypt (1998), Portman took on her most talked-about role to date, that of Queen Amidala in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999). Despite very mixed reviews, the film went into box-office hyperdrive, further propelling Portman toward her status as a rapidly emerging talent for the new millennium. She would end the 20th century with projects like Wayne Wang's Anywhere But Here and Where the Heart Is.
Offscreen, Portman also did some growing up, enrolling for her college education at Harvard University. A psychology major, she made it clear upon her enrollment that, aside from her role as Queen Amidala in the Star Wars films, she would not accept any film roles for the duration of her education. Perhaps to the disappointment of fans, she stuck to her word, remaining absent from the screen (save Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones) until she received her degree in 2003. Luckily, upon her return to acting, it was immediately evident that it had been worth the wait.
Portman's first foray following graduation was the 2003 Civil War ensemble drama Cold Mountain, alongside Renee Zellweger and Nicole Kidman. But in 2004, Portman was at the forefront of both Garden State, a moody dramedy that endeared her to fans, and Closer, a taught, intimate drama that earned her massive critical accolades, as well as her first Oscar nomination.
In 2005, as the curtain finally closed on the Star Wars franchise with the release of Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Portman could be seen with a now iconic pixie haircut after shaving her head for a role in the graphic-novel adaptation V for Vendetta. The dystopic action thriller received mixed reviews, but Portman's performance, as usual, earned accolades. Per her usual M.O. as an actress, she would complete a number of independent, arthouse, or otherwise challenging projects for every blockbuster under her belt, like the 2006 Milos Forman directed period drama Goya's Ghosts, and the Wes Anderson 2007 road (or rather, train) movie The Darjeeling Limited.
After appearing opposite Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana as Anne Boleyn, the famously beheaded wife of King Henry VII in the 2008 period drama The Other Boleyn Girl, Portman turned her high-brow image on its ear the very next year, playing a small town cheerleader turned army wife in the Iraq War drama Brothers. Portman had even more impressive turns awaiting her, however, as 2010 brought the lead role in the hallucinatory Darren Aronofsky film The Black Swan, about an obsessively diligent ballerina who, in order to play both the innocent and dark sides of femininity with the leading role in Swan Lake, must battle her own conflicting inner demons as a woman. Portman trained in ballet rigorously for six months to perform the role, and her efforts paid dividends. Her performance received massive adoration from critics and audiences alike, and she emerged with an Academy Award for Best Actress - which Portman accepted while five months pregnant with a baby she was expecting with fiancé Benjamin Millepied, her choreographer whom she met while filming.
Professionally, Portman had a mind to keep a balance with her choice of roles. In a change of pace from the gritty material in The Black Swan, she appeared in the stoner comedy Your Highness, the rom-com No Strings Attached, and the comic-book action thriller Thor, in 2011.