Since making her Hollywood debut in 1994, Natalie Portman has become one of the most prominent and successful stars in the film industry. But a new interview reveals that her unique perspective as a working actress stems from the trauma of her earliest experiences on film.
Portman made a guest appearance on Dax Shepherd’s Armchair Expert podcast, and the conversation between the pair led to a discussion about the Black Swan actress’ complicated relationship with the films that helped launch her career in the nineties. She got her start in Hollywood by starring in Beautiful Girls and Léon: The Professional, and the movies demonstrated her talent for acting, but they also lent to an intense personal struggle with her sexuality and sexual expression. Both projects involved her portraying a problematic and sexualized Lolita-esque figure, something that would lead Portman to actively avoiding similar roles for years to come.
“Being sexualized as a child took away from my own sexuality because it made me afraid,” she explained on the podcast. “When I was in my teens I was like, ‘I don’t wanna have any love scenes or make-out scenes.’ I would start choosing parts that were less sexy because it made me worried about the way I was perceived and how safe I felt.”
“It made me feel like the way I could be safe was to be like, ‘I’m conservative,’ and ‘I’m serious and you should respect me,’ and ‘I’m smart,’ and ‘Don’t look at me that way,'” Portman continued. “But at that age, you do have your own sexuality, and you do have your own desire. You do want to explore things, and you do want to be open.”
Though borne out of the painful trauma of being sexualized as a child, Portman doesn’t at all regret the decision she made to create such strict boundaries around the roles that she took on so early in her career. Her coping mechanism — being hyper-selective about her projects — was not in vain because it ultimately kept her “safe” as a young upstart in an industry that is so often dangerous to young women. Plus, the roles that followed her strict self-policing weren't too bad, either; Portman's filmography also includes the Star Wars trilogy, Close, V for Vendetta, Black Swan, and roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Thor story arc.
It wouldn’t be a reach to assume that her troubling personal experience as well the encounters that other women in her field have had with the predators that lurk in the shadows have influenced her strong passion for protecting women in Hollywood. The reason that Portman is such a vocal advocate today is because she's been there — and she wants to make sure that no one else has to go through what she has.