Monday, December 17, 2007

Pret With Portman

Natalie Portman moved with her family from Israel to America when she was three and grew up in New York. She began dancing lessons at four and by 10 was acting in an off-Broadway show as an understudy with a young Britney Spears. She was cast in her first film two years later. A committed vegetarian, she lives alone in New York and is reportedly dating Nathan Bogle, a male model

by Gill Pringle

You have to feel for Natalie Portman. Here is an actress, 26 years old, already nominated for an Oscar, winner of a Golden Globe and with a psychology degree from Harvard. But what made the headlines recently at the release of a short film? Her bottom. “Natalie Portman gets naked”, shrieked one; “Portman goes nude”, yelled another. The internet went into turbo drive: 500,000 people downloaded the video free from iTunes, and it then found its way onto YouTube and other websites. The film was a 13-minute short directed by Wes Anderson called Hotel Chevalier and was released on the internet as a prequel to the director’s big budget feature The Darjeeling Limited, out last month.

Audiences shunned the main event, but the distributor of The Darjeeling Limited quickly picked up on the public’s appetite for Portman in the buff and promptly started screening the Hotel Chevalier at cinemas before the film in the hope of drawing more crowds.

Portman sighs when asked if she regrets stripping off. “I don’t really have regrets,” she says, from her suite at New York’s glamorous Loews Regency hotel. “It’s more that I don’t like misappropriation of stuff and when you create something – like I’m part of a story, doing a dramatic scene – and then a piece of it ends up on a porn site, it really makes me angry. It’s inevitable and I should have known better.”

Natalie Portman in V For Vendetta - Watch the best video clips here
Portman is used to such controversy. Her first film, Léon, cast her as a Lolita-esque 12-year-old girl who befriends a hitman. The relationship between the two, although ambiguous, is unsettling and prompted an angry response from children’s charities. Meanwhile, rumours that she had appeared nude in the 2006 film Goya’s Ghosts prompted a rebuttal from her agent, who said Portman used a body double.

Her latest role is less contentious. She has just finished My Blueberry Nights, a road movie to be released in the new year. It was that film’s subject matter, a young woman driving across America in search of love, that attracted her to it, she says, and it brought back memories of her own road trip just after she learnt to drive.
“I was with my boyfriend at the time and we decided to drive from California to New York,” she says. “We were driving his not very environmentally friendly car and we did it in about 10 days.
“I remember early in the trip we had decided to go down to Mexico first and it was late at night, and we were driving and driving, looking for a place to sleep, and we couldn’t find a motel. So finally we found this parking lot outside of a motel. They were like, ‘We don’t have room for you but if you want to camp here . . .’ We used the car lights to light us pitching the tent.”

The episode wasn’t quite as romantic as it sounds. “We woke up in the morning and the car battery was dead. Also, we’d woken up expecting to be in this beautiful Mexican town with the ocean and whatever – but it was like a trash dump. Literally, it was a dump. I remember thinking, ‘How did we not smell it?’ So that was kind of a funny experience. And we had to wait till the afternoon until they got someone who could take us to town to get the battery replaced.”
Portman is probably best known for her role as Queen Amidala in the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. She agreed to take the role on the understanding that she would film only during the summer holidays while she studied psychology at Harvard.

It was not the happiest of times. “I think the most difficult time personally was probably my senior college year. Everyone hated my performances in Star Wars; everyone thought I was a terrible actress, and I wasn’t getting work – or not getting work that I wanted to do – and was just feeling bad about myself in general. I took time off and wasn’t sure if maybe I shouldn’t be there or whatever.”

The daughter of an Israeli fertility specialist and an American artist, Portman grew up in New York and was spotted when she was 12 at a pizza parlour and cast in Léon. A vegetarian since she was nine, she says: “I stopped eating meat after I saw a film about chickens. It was tough because I loved my mom’s brisket but I’ve not eaten meat or fish since. Giving up Gummi Worms and Jell-O was the worst part.”

Today she lives in New York, drives a Toyota Prius and eschews the glamour of showbiz in favour of quiet nights in and seeing friends from university. (“I’ve had a few drunken nights in my life. I’m not a puritan. I simply haven’t made a lifestyle out of it. Maybe I am kind of boring? I hope not.”) Does she feel she missed out on a normal childhood? “When I was a kid I was always pretending to be an adult,” she says cautiously. “And I still sort of feel the same way. I still feel like I’m pretending.” And she admits to sometimes wanting to quit acting all together. “I think about it [quitting] every day, and then, you know, a few more days pass and then I sort of want it again. It’s like an addiction.”
From: On the move: Natalie Portman

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