From Dancer to Superheroine, How Natalie Portman Took Off Her Acting Career to Prove She’s More Than Just a Pretty Face


Natalie Portman is capable of playing different roles in all kinds of films, whether fantasy, science fiction, or historical. Although she started at a very young age, this actress managed to stay in the film industry over time and had to undergo an important transition to know how to choose her roles. Not only that, but she also had to match her career with her university studies and fight to be recognized by academics as a great professional.

Impresionante took a look at her filmography to find the highlights of her career. We also looked into how her university studies helped her to delve deeper into each character she played over the years.

Her beginnings as a movie star weren’t ideal.

Natalie Portman made her debut as a film actress at the age of eleven in the movie Léon: The Professional. She says it was a very exciting experience: “It was my first time on a movie set and with incredible actors.”

Sometime later, she would be part of Beautiful Girl’s cast. Both in this and in her first film, Portman appeared in scenes where she had to play very mature roles for her age. This affected her in some way to the point of questioning her own safety.

It was very uncomfortable for the young actress to see how men were attracted to her, knowing that she was a minor. So she set boundaries and proved to herself she was a serious and prudent person. Recalling what she felt in her early days within the industry, the actress said in an interview, “When I was a teenager, I didn’t want to have any love scenes or wear makeup.”

Her previous experience did not stop her from pursuing her dream of becoming an actress.

Natalie was very clear in that she wanted to commit to acting, but she was also aware that certain roles could become uncomfortable for her. For example, when she was offered the role of Padme in the Star Wars prequels in 1999, she considered it a big commitment because it was a whole saga in which, in addition, her image could be compromised.

Indeed, the problem was that she later had a hard time rebounding in her career because she was considered a bad actress: “I was in the highest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me”. Luckily, director Mike Nichols recommended her for the film Cold Mountain. This performance was better received by critics.

After that, she got a role in the movie Closer where she played an attractive girl as she had done in the past. The difference was that being an adult, she already had control over her image. She also had a better understanding of the commitments she was making. Still, she said about that role that “I have the body of a little girl”.

Years later, and with the idea of moving away from the child-adult image she showed during her early career, she began to take on other types of roles in more complex films, such as Goya’s Ghosts. She was also aware that to convince the audience, she had to know her character. In that film, she studied personality disorders in people who had been imprisoned for a long time.

Natalie Portman proved to be a versatile actress, playing diverse roles in her films.

In 2010, she starred in Black Swan and moved away from Hollywood’s “sweet girl” image. She showed a different side of her, one capable of surpassing any expectations about her acting talent.

Then she went on to win an Oscar for the role: “It certainly is stifling to be the one who’s enacting someone else’s idea of how a young woman should behave,” said the actress. “I’ve seen a real change [in the industry] since I was 20. But not a total change; you still see those roles of just being a dream girl or whatever some person wants you to enact”, she added.

She also surprised people in V for Vendetta by shaving her head in the middle of production, showing that she wasn’t afraid of how she looked to others and contrasting her character’s apparent fragility in an inhospitable place. However, she not only limited herself to her character, but also researched historical events related to the plot and even attended dialect classes to imitate the British accent perfectly.

But she didn’t stop there. In 2011, she was part of the cast of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Thor. The actress was excited to play a scientist in a world of superheroes. Plus, it would be a film where CGI played a huge role, something with which she had already gained previous experience in Star Wars.

Years later, she moved away from pure fiction to star in a biopic called Jackie, for which she also did prior research on her character. “The film gives you that sense of the mystery of a human being, because we can’t really understand anyone, and each person acts according to the different situations that arise at different times in their lives,” the actress stated.

Although Portman did not appear in the other Marvel films, she will return in 2022 to Thor: Love and Thunder, where she can be seen wearing an armor similar to that of the Asgardian hero. In the comic book, her character becomes worthy of carrying the hammer. Thus, this film version could bring great surprises to all fans.

She was able to go to uni and work at the same time.

Natalie Portman gave priority to her academic studies. So much so that, during her time in Star Wars, she had to suspend acting for a while to go to college. She has a degree in psychology, which, according to her professors, helped her to play her role in Black Swan.

During her time at university, she published two scientific papers under the name Natalie Hershlag. One deals with the production of hydrogen enzymes from sugar, and the other deals with a study of the frontal lobe during object permanence.

When asked if combining her education with filmmaking would be a problem, the actress replied, “I don’t care if college ruins my career. I’d rather be smart than be a movie star.” She also speaks several languages and, for a long time, considered leaving show business to become a clinical psychologist or veterinarian.

Natalie Portman managed to overcome her insecurities by revealing the objectification she went through during her early days as an actress. Likewise, she lived her life quietly even as an actress, achieving her dream of finishing college and taking every character she played seriously to go beyond all expectations.

What were the films that you liked the most about Natalie Portman? What other characters do you think she needs to play to expand her versatility even more?