Natalie Portman: Shredding Stereotypes

    It’s a bit odd to think at one point Natalie Portman was not a household name nor considered a great actress.

    Upon first glance, you may see her as the Oscar-winning actress from the psychological thriller film Black Swan or you might see her as Padmé Amidala from the Star Wars prequels.

    These two films couldn’t be more opposite of each other and Natalie Portman’s journey between them is nothing short of incredible.

    Regardless of your opinion on the Star Wars prequels, they did not have a good effect on Portman’s career. There could be any number of reasons for this, but let’s not dwell on those.

    Instead, let’s look at how Portman shook off the stereotypes and proved the critics utterly wrong.

    “…No director wanted to work with me…”

    In 2014, Natalie Portman revealed that after the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, no director wanted to work with her and she, like everyone, thought she was a horrible actress.

    You may have different reactions to that statement, but it was definitely a near universal thought. Many people, Hollywood filmmakers and moviegoers alike, drew the conclusion that Natalie Portman was not a good actress.2

    With the impact and buzz from large films such as the Star Wars prequels, Portman’s career and reputation suffered despite some great performances in other films.

    Portman was metaphorically dragged through the mud having to appear in other two films in the prequel trilogy. Critics jumped on the opportunity to make more claims against her acting abilities, completely ignoring some of the incredible work she was doing in other films.

    But despite being perceived as having a lack of acting ability, Portman was slowly building a foundation for her to shake off the effects of Star Wars.

    The Way Back

    In 2004, Portman had roles in Zach Braff’s Garden State as well as Mike Nichols’ Closer.

    Garden State was well received and currently holds an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was also an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival.

    This film came out a year before Revenge of the Sith, but Portman’s performance in the film was ignored. People were still convinced that Star Wars was the limit of her talent.

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    For her work in Closer, however, Portman won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, and was also nominated for an Academy Award in the same category.

    While the film was not necessarily well loved, garnering only a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film’s cast were highly praised, specifically Natalie Portman and Clive Owen.

    So finally, Portman was being rewarded for her hard work and acting abilities.

    But unfortunately in 2006, the year after the release of the third Star Wars prequel, her performance in the cult film V for Vendetta was once again criticized, with one critic going as far as to say: “Portman still seems to believe that standing around with your mouth hanging open constitutes a performance.”

    Portman didn’t let this get her down, however, and kept working. She joined a handful of projects over the next few years, ranging from Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited and the 2009 film Brothers.

    Gone Mainstream

    Then the moment came. In 2010, the Darren Aronofsky directed film Black Swan was released. The bizarre and creepy psychological thriller starred Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel.

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    Portman straight up shined in the lead role of Nina Sayers and was highly praised from critics everywhere. Even critics, who did not enjoy the movie, commented on Portman’s great performance.

    The role of Nina was unlike anything Portman had ever done before. She remarked that that was one of the reasons she took the role. Black Swan gave Portman a chance to prove to the world what she was truly capable of.

    And prove that she did. Portman won numerous awards for her performance, including the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. It was finally the moment of recognition she deserved.

    While technically Portman is only credited as one character, she does truly embody both the White Swan and Black Swan during her on-screen performance. Portman also spent approximately six months in training and preparation for the role and lost 20 pounds to better physically portray a ballet dancer.

    So despite the criticisms she still may face for films like the Star Wars prequels, no one can now doubt her acting prowess or how dedicated she is to her craft.

    Black Swan was a triumph on many levels, but Natalie Portman’s outstanding performance gave the film that extra “it” factor. The film firmly cemented her as a great actress, shredding the stereotypes she had fallen under earlier in her career.

    The Future

    So where does this leave Portman? She has continued to appear in a variety of films, including Your Highness, Thor and its sequel Thor: The Dark World, Knight of Cups, and Jane Got a Gun.

    Other earlier films I would recommend checking are Where the Heart Is, The Darjeeling Limited, and The Other Boleyn Girl.

    Next she will be seen in the biopic Jackie, a film based on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.

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    The film has already been getting some early Oscar buzz and was quite well received at its screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

    Of course most of us have yet to see the film, but no longer is Portman’s acting in question or taking heat. I look forward to seeing Jackie and her future projects and trust that Natalie Portman will continue to prove to us that she is phenomenal actress.

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    • Connor Campbell

      Screenwriter

      Connor Campbell is a writer/director, who lives in Calgary, Canada.

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