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With a major part in the most anticipated film of the 1990s, George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace, 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 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 as Jack Nicholson's daughter in Mars Attacks! (1996). Despite a triumph of casting (the ensemble also included Glenn Close, Annette Bening, and Rod Steiger) and the direction of the dependably original Tim Burton, the film was a critical and financial disappointment. Portman emerged relatively unscathed, going on the same year to make Woody Allen's musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You. The film met with a decidedly happier fate among critics and filmgoers than her previous venture and Portman continued to ride high with the success of her third film of 1996, Beautiful Girls. For her performance as Marty, the precocious teen who nearly steals a much older Timothy Hutton away from his fiancée, Portman received adulation from a host of critics, some of whom stated that she was the best part of the whole movie.
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 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.
Portman ended the 20th century with more positive reviews for her role as Susan Sarandon's moody daughter in Wayne Wang's Anywhere But Here and then, appropriately enough, kicked off the new century with her first more adult role in Where the Heart Is. For her portrayal of the film's protagonist, who ages from 17 to 22 over the course of the story, Portman was required to do her first love scene, something she professed a distaste for in various interviews.
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, a film that saw her overshadowed a bit by Renee Zellweger and Nicole Kidman, as the latter actresses had larger parts. But in 2004, Portman was at the forefront of both Garden State and Closer, a pair of films that garnered the young actress some of the biggest accolades of her career and, in the case of Closer, 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 sans-hair as the lead in the graphic-novel adaptation V for Vendetta.
Source: All Movee Guide