Her presence and depth in acting at age 13 in “The Professional” were amazing, and Natalie Portman continues to grow stronger and more compelling as an actor.
But beyond that, it is intriguing to read about how exceptional she is in other ways as well.
Here are excerpts from several publications about her educational and other achievements:
Fox News [various dates]
Natalie Portman is fluent in Hebrew, French and Japanese…she told the New York Post that she’s considered leaving show biz to become a vet or a clinical psychologist.
Before graduating from Harvard with a psychology degree in June 2003, Portman was credited — under her given name, Natalie Hershlag — as a research assistant to Alan Dershowitz’s “Case for Israel” and had a study on memory called “Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence” published in a scientific journal.
The Harvard Crimson
Law School Professor Alan M. Dershowitz considered Portman an exceptional student.
“She was in my seminar called Neuropsychology and the Law, and I didn’t know who she was because her name was Natalie Hershlag,” he said, referring to Portman’s birth name. “It was a few weeks into the semester that I learned she was an actress—but she was a terrific student.”
Portman’s paper on new methods of lie detection earned her an A+ from Dershowitz—the highest grade in the class. After that, Dershowitz hired Portman as a research assistant for a book he was writing.
“We talked a lot about her career,” he says. “She said she wanted to do acting, and she wanted at some point to be a psychologist.”
But Dershowitz in no way considers Portman’s divergence from psychology to be disappointing. “It’s all about choice,” he said. “And she has choices and options. She would be a great psychologist, and she’s a great actor. She probably influences more people in her acting.”
Dershowitz also said that he does not consider the two fields mutually exclusive. “Her psychology background helped her in formulating the role for [Black Swan] … She’s an actor who uses her academic background,” he said.
From “Professors Reflect on Natalie Portman” by Abigail F. Schoenberg, The Harvard Crimson, March 1 2011.
Photo: “That difference between how you are and your awareness of how the public perceives you, that friction between those things was super interesting.” – Natalie Portman on how she approached her role in Jackie, from Facebook page for Jackie.
Portman won the Academy Award, the Golden Globe Award, the Screen Actors Guild Award, and the BAFTA Award for her lead performance in Black Swan.
She has studied French, Japanese, German, and Arabic.
Due to her scientific publications, Portman is among a very small number of professional actors with a finite Erdős–Bacon number, a concept that reflects the “small world phenomenon” in academia and entertainment by measuring the “collaborative distance” between that person and Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős—and the number of links, through roles in films, by which the individual is separated from American actor Kevin Bacon.
At the age of 10, a Revlon agent asked her to become a child model, but she turned down the offer to focus on acting. In a magazine interview, Portman said that she was “different from the other kids.
“I was more ambitious, I knew what I liked and what I wanted, and I worked very hard. I was a very serious kid.”
In 2003, Portman graduated from Harvard College with a B.A. degree in psychology.
“I don’t care if [college] ruins my career,” she told the New York Post, according to a Fox News article.
“I’d rather be smart than a movie star.”
From Wikipedia profile.
New York Times
The Intel Science Talent Search is considered the nation’s most elite and demanding high school research competition…
As a student at Syosset High School on Long Island back in the late 1990s, Ms. Portman made it all the way to the semifinal rounds of the Intel competition.
While carrying out her investigation into a new, “environmentally friendly” method of converting waste into useful forms of energy, and maintaining the straight-A average she’d managed since grade school, Ms. Portman already was a rising movie star.
“I’ve taught at Harvard, Dartmouth and Vassar, and I’ve had the privilege of teaching a lot of very bright kids,” said Abigail A. Baird, who was one of Ms. Portman’s mentors at Harvard.
“There are very few who are as inherently bright as Natalie is, who have as much intellectual horsepower, who work as hard as she did. She didn’t take a single thing for granted.”
Ms. Portman is one of a handful of high-profile actors who happen to have serious scientific credentials — awards, degrees, patents and theorems in their name.
[The article continues with mentions of Hedy Lamarr; Danica McKellar; Mayim Bialik; Leonard Nimoy.]
From Natalie Portman, Oscar Winner, Was Also a Precocious Scientist, By NATALIE ANGIER.
One of my Talent Development Resources posts:
Writer Amy Kaufman comments, “It wasn’t until she attended Harvard University that she says she was able to find her own voice, abandoning the ‘yes, ma’am’ attitude she’d adopted during adolescence.”
“When you’re a child, and a director is telling you what to do, you’re just like, ‘OK.’ It’s like it’s your parents,” Portman recalled.
“There are certain people that have personalities, even as kids, where they’re like, ‘No! I won’t do that!’ But that’s just not me at all.”
Having to tap into that side of herself while playing the deferential Nina [in her movie Black Swan], she said, was more challenging than nearly all of the physical work.
A final quote of hers: “Overall, to get a real deep, nuanced understanding of human behaviour, art is the best way.”
Read about more multitalented creators like Gordon Parks, Julia Cameron, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Seymour, Natalie Portman, James Franco, Mayim Bialik, Jeff Bridges, Viggo Mortensen, David Lynch and others in article: Multitalented Creative People [an excerpt from my main book].
Also see my article High Ability Women in the Arts
Over the years of reading about and interviewing creative people, one of my main interests has been in the lives and perspectives of gifted and high ability women in the arts, including actors, writers and other artists.