When Natalie Portman came into prominence she was only 13 years old. It’s just one of those cases in which an actor’s been around for so long it’s easy to forget they’re still incredibly young. Natalie is still 33 years old, and she already has won an Oscar, two Golden Globes, a BAFTA and a film as director selected to the Cannes Film Festival.
It’s certainly a striking career for someone so young, especially considering how incredibly mature as an actress she already seemed when she debuted in Luc Besson’s Léon.
We have not seen the last of this wonder girl born in Israel, but we’ve certainly seen a lot. Let’s pick our 10 favorite performances:
10. Hotel Chevalier (Wes Anderson, 2007)
Wes Anderson’s prelude to The Darjeeling is a pretty simple 13 minute short film, yes, but it still has a pair of striking performances by Jason Schwartzman and Portman. She plays Jack’s (Schwartzman) girlfriend or ex-girlfriend, as she comes to his hotel room and they seem to reconnect after some time apart. Their weird behavior toward each other seems like the prelude to a break-up, with both of them doubting the other’s fidelity.
Portman is not only terribly charming and seductive in the role; she also plays their soon-to-be break up in an understated and properly lived-in way, filling the short film with a life and a history that’s not explicitly stated in the script.
9. Brothers (Jim Sheridan, 2009)
The horrors of war become entangled with family affairs in Jim Sheridan’s Brothers, a remake of the original Susanne Bier drama made in 2004 in Denmark.
Portman plays the good wife to military man Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire), who welcomes home his recently released from prison brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) soon before he goes out on his second tour in Afghanistan. After being captured and presumed dead, Sam returns traumatized and suspects his wife and brothers of having had an affair while he was out.
Between two stellar performances by Maguire and Gyllenhaal, Portman stands out as a voice of reason as much as an balanced presence that spends the film trying to reach out to her husband and deal with her pain of losing him, than getting him back in such a damaged way.
8. The Other Boleyn Girl (Justin Chadwick, 2008)
Justin Chadwick’s vibrant (and kind of soapy) version of the infamous story of Henry Tudor and the sisters Boleyn is immensely beneficiated with its committed cast, including valuable supporting players like Mark Rylance, Jim Sturgess and Kristin Scott Thomas. The main trio of Eric Bana, Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman is what the film lives and dies for, though, and at least the two ladies don’t disappoint, portraying their relationship like a sibling rivalry gone to the ultimate consequences.
As the unfortunate one of the duo, Anne Boleyn, Portman plays a woman desperate to maintain her position, a woman living in a time where the protection and favor of a volatile and selfish (but powerful) husband was all she could count on. It’s an intense and brilliant performance.
7. Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004)
A charming little love story from Scrubs star Zach Braff, Garden State is the endearing indie film no one expected to be actually good, but a few well-picked actors elevated it to something every spectator can relate to. Portman plays Sam, a weird kind of manic pixie dream girl for Braff’s Andrew, a depressed man who’s been manipulated and mistreated by his father his whole life, because he blames his son for his mother’s paralysis.
A pathological liar who always admits to her lies, Sam represents something Andrew need in his life after getting away from his father’s grasp – a sense of liberty and embracing your own flaws, and a sense of living through the worst of them. Portman, injecting life into this not-at-all stereotyped character, seems to have a blast building chemistry with Braff, and it’s impossible not to have fun along with her.
6. My Blueberry Nights (Kar-Wai Wong, 2007)
Kar-Wai Wong’s wanderlust drama My Blueberry Nights is still underrated to this day, a glowing (and yes, deeply flawed) portrayal of heartbreak and strained relationships that’s very much in line with the masterful filmmaker previous works in his own country.
And even though Norah Jones is not the best singer-turned-actress in recent years, she’s backed up by a roster of amazing talent, including Portman as a gambler in Nevada who, after borrowing Elizabeth’s (Jones) money to stake in a high rollers’ game, need to confront her estranged father.
Sensitive and high-strung in her own winning way, Portman plays an endearing rogue whose bitter and broken heart is Elizabeth’s last stop before she returns home to finally get over her breakup. In a film that’s all about finding its way back to some kind of love, Portman’s work is the most moving of all.