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Natalie Hershlag (Hebrew: נטלי הרשלג; born June 9, 1981), better known by her stage name Natalie Portman, is an actress with dual American and Israeli citizenship. Her first role was as an orphan taken in by a hitman in the 1994 French action film Léon, but mainstream success came when she was cast as Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy (released in 1999, 2002 and 2005). In 1999, she enrolled at Harvard University to study psychology while still working as an actress. She completed her bachelor’s degree in 2003.
In 2001, Portman opened in New York City’s Public Theater production of Anton Chekhov‘s The Seagull. In 2005, Portman received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture for the drama Closer. She won a Constellation Award for Best Female Performance, and a Saturn Award for Best Actress for her starring role in V for Vendetta (2006). She played leading roles in the historical dramas Goya’s Ghosts (2006) and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). In May 2008, she served as the youngest member of the 61st Annual Cannes Film Festival jury. Portman’s directorial debut, Eve, opened the 65th Venice International Film Festival‘s shorts competition in 2008. Portman directed a segment of the collective film New York, I Love You.
Portman was born in Jerusalem, Israel. She is the only child of Shelley (née Stevens), an American homemaker who works as Portman’s agent, and Avner Hershlag, an Israeli citizen who is a fertility specialist and gynecologist. Portman’s maternal ancestors were Jewish immigrants to the United States, from Austria and Russia (her mother’s family had changed their surname from “Edelstein” to “Stevens”). Her paternal ancestors were Jews who moved to Israel from Poland and Romania. Her paternal grandfather, whose parents died at Auschwitz, was an economics professor in Israel, and her Romanian-born great-grandmother was a spy for British Intelligence during World War II.
Portman’s parents met at a Jewish student center at Ohio State University, where her mother was selling tickets. They corresponded after her father returned to Israel, and were married when her mother visited a few years later. In 1984, when Portman was three years old, the family moved to the United States, where her father received his medical training. Portman, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, has said that although she “really love[s] the States… my heart’s in Jerusalem. That’s where I feel at home.”
In Washington, D.C., Portman attended Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. Portman learned to speak Hebrew in addition to English, and attended a Jewish elementary school, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Glen Cove, New York. She graduated from Syosset High School in Syosset, Long Island, in 1999. Portman skipped the premiere of her film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace so she could study for her high school final exams.
In 2003, Portman graduated from Harvard College with a A.B. degree in psychology. “I don’t care if [college] ruins my career,” she told the New York Post. “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” At Harvard, Portman was Alan Dershowitz‘s research assistant. While attending Harvard, she was a resident of Lowell House and wrote a letter to the Harvard Crimson in response to an essay critical of Israeli actions toward Palestinians.
Portman took graduate courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the spring of 2004. In March 2006, she was a guest lecturer at a Columbia University course in terrorism and counterterrorism, where she spoke about her film V for Vendetta.
As a student, Portman co-authored two research papers that were published in scientific journals. Her 1998 high school paper, “A Simple Method to Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar”, co-authored with scientists Ian Hurley and Jonathan Woodward, was entered in the Intel Science Talent Search. In 2002, she contributed to a study on memory called “Frontal Lobe Activation during Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy” during her psychology studies at Harvard. This publication placed Portman among a very small number of professional actors with a defined Erdős–Bacon number.
Social and political causes
Portman, who is an advocate for animal rights, has been a vegetarian since childhood. She became a vegan in 2009 after reading Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Eating Animals. She does not eat animal products or wear fur, feathers, or leather. “All of my shoes are from Target and Stella McCartney,” she has said. In 2007, she launched her own brand of vegan footwear. During her pregnancy in 2011, Portman went off her vegan diet and returned to vegetarianism.
In 2007, Portman traveled to Rwanda with Jack Hanna, to film the documentary Gorillas on the Brink. Later, at a naming ceremony, Portman christened a baby gorilla Gukina, which means “to play.” Portman has been an advocate of environmental causes since childhood, when she joined an environmental song and dance troupe known as World Patrol Kids. She is also a member of the One Voicemovement.
Portman has also supported antipoverty activities. In 2004 and 2005, she traveled to Uganda, Guatemala, and Ecuador as the Ambassador of Hope for FINCA International, an organization that promotes micro-lending to help finance women-owned businesses in developing countries. In an interview conducted backstage at the Live 8 concert in Philadelphia and appearing on the PBS program Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria, she discussed microfinance. Host Fareed Zakaria said that he was “generally wary of celebrities with fashionable causes,” but included the segment with Portman because “she really knew her stuff.”
In the “Voices” segment of the April 29, 2007, episode of the ABC Sunday morning program This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Portman discussed her work with FINCA and how it can benefit women and children in Third World countries. In fall 2007, she visited several university campuses, including Harvard, USC, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton, New York University, and Columbia, to inspire students with the power of microfinance and to encourage them to join the Village Banking Campaign to help families and communities lift themselves out of poverty.
Portman is a supporter of the Democratic Party, and in the 2004 presidential race she campaigned for the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry. In the 2008 presidential election, Portman supported Senator Hillary Clinton of New York in the Democratic primaries. She later campaigned for the eventual Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, during the general election. However, in a 2008 interview, she also said: “I even like John McCain. I disagree with his war stance – which is a really big deal – but I think he’s a very moral person.”
In 2006, she said that she felt more Jewish in Israel and that she would like to raise her children Jewish: “A priority for me is definitely that I’d like to raise my kids Jewish, but the ultimate thing is to have someone who is a good person and who is a partner.”
Portman began dating ballet dancer Benjamin Millepied in 2009. The couple met while she was filming Black Swan, for which Millepied was the choreographer. In December 2010, Portman announced that she was engaged to Millepied and confirmed her pregnancy. Portman gave birth to their first child, a son named Aleph Portman-Millepied, in 2011. In February 2012, it was confirmed that Portman and Millepied had married in a private ceremony.