Actor of the Week: Natalie Portman
With this week’s Actor of the Week, I learned something before I even started. This week’s winner is Neta-Lee Hershlag. For those unaware, as I was, this is the birth name of the wonderfully talented Natalie Portman! After unearthing her birth name, I then realised she was born in Israel, thus making sense of my discoveries!
Portman had a smash hit of a debut, starring alongside Jean Reno in Luc Besson’s 1994 thriller Léon. Portman plays Mathilda, a child who is reluctantly cared for by Reno’s Léon after her family are killed by Norman Stansfield, who is a corrupt DEA agent, played by Gary Oldman. Portman’s performance in Léon has been described as “striking”, “breakout” and many other superlatives, and it was immediately obvious she was supremely skilled and destined for big things.
After Léon, Portman was cast alongside a stellar cast for 1995’s Heat. Working underneath Michael Mann, and with Hollywood behemoths like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, her success and acclaim from Léon was clearly paying instant dividends, and she was climbing the ladder at quite a speed.
Despite the aforementioned high-end turns, 1999 was the year she was truly put on the map on a worldwide scale, for it was 1999 that she starred in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, as Queen Amidala/Padmé. Those who are familiar with us here at Life of Films will be well aware that we are massive Star Wars fans, and that we also stark defenders of the prequel era, saving for Episode II: Attack of the Clones. So for Natalie to be cast as such an important character in Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace, and, in turn, execute the job brilliantly, she will always be held in high regard with us! She also plays Padmé in Attack of the Clones, and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. In RotS, Anakin completes his defection to The Dark Side of The Force, and Padmé’s loss of faith in Anakin, and death, are pivotal in Lord Vader’s rise. Whilst the prequel era, and Star Wars generally, have been criticised for poor dialogue in the past, I actually feel Natalie Portman is exempt from this criticism in the main. In RotS, she makes you genuinely feel for her and the loss of her love to a warped outlook. She also does a perfect job of making you pine, alongside her, for Anakin to just make the right choice and turn back, even though we all know his fate already, and I think this is seriously impressive. The Phantom Menace also saw Portman star alongside a former Actor of the Week winner in Liam Neeson. Also, rather interestingly, she was still at high school during Episode I.
2010 saw the completion of the circle somewhat, as far as an actor’s aspirations are concerned, as she starred as Nina Sayers in Black Swan, and ultimately landed her first Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. Black Swan is a psychological horror film and focusses on Portman’s Sayers and how she earns the lead role in a Swan Lake production, but also finds herself losing her mind. The film was widely received as a massive hit, but was also considered a kind of love-it-or-hate it, which probably reflects the nature of the film - I find horror tends to be a genre where you have to be an invested fan.
V for Vendetta was yet another film of high quality, to which Portman contributed massively. Based on a DC comic, V for Vendetta sees a freedom fighter, who is known to the public only as V, attempt to change the world via the execution of various complex acts of terrorism. Evey, played by Portman, becomes inadvertently tangled in V’s agenda, becoming a friend of sorts along the way. This was an occasion where Portman showed great commitment to her profession, as she was required to shave her head. Not a skill, granted, but also not something everyone would be thrilled with doing.
It seems Portman’s talents are endless, as she has covered many different types of films. From another comic book character in Marvel’s Thor and Thor: The Dark World, to JFK’s wife Jackie Kennedy in Jackie, she has tried her hand at everything, and done a stellar job throughout. When I hear Natalie’s name mentioned, I’m instantly interested in the project, as she commands such attention and respect. Long may it continue. Thanks Natalie!