Natalie Portman was barely 12 years old when she made her film debut in Luc Besson's Léon: The Professional, which she followed with roles in Michael Mann's Heat and Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! "I felt much more like a performer as a kid," the actress reflects now, "and then understood more about acting and film and the art of it later."
"I really wasn't exposed to it much as a kid. I just saw stuff on TV and big things that came out at the multiplex. I went to a lot of theater growing up, but I didn't go to a lot of movies and certainly not art movies or cinema," says Portman, who was born in Jerusalem and raised in Long Island, New York. "It really was only in my 20s that I started being exposed to everything else."
Portman received her first Oscar nomination in 2005 for her supporting performance in Mike Nichols' Closer. She won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2011 with her turn as an ambitious ballet dancer in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, and earned another nomination for Pablo Larraín Jackie (2016). All the while, Portman was honing her craft while working with filmmakers from Anthony Minghella to Wes Anderson to Terrence Malick, eventually stepping behind the camera to direct and produce projects of her own.
"It was a whole world to discover as I worked," Portman says. "I would panic because I didn't really have technique to fall back on, because I just started working — I didn't go to school for acting — and so I started grasping at whatever I could, and learning from the people I worked with, and getting referred to teachers and coaches and stuff to start building the toolbox that I had lacked."
Her latest project as both a star and a producer is May December, in which she plays a Hollywood actress who inserts herself in the life of the woman she will be playing in her next movie. Below, Portman shares with A.frame the five films that have had the biggest impact on her.
Written and Directed by: Todd Haynes
Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore made one of the greatest films ever, and one of the greatest performances ever — that has so much to do with a woman's role in society, and also with environmental catastrophe, and the relationship between the two. It's just great. Zach Braff showed it to me as an inspiration for Garden State, which is not obvious. I was like 21, and he gave me some reference films and that was one of them, shockingly.
Written and Directed by: Lars von Trier
Breaking the Waves was a really important film for me in terms of the way the story's told and the acting of Emily Watson. It's one of my all-time favorite performances. It's so extreme, and yet believable what she does. And then the way the story's told — with the intervals with music over those postcard images — is just so punk, and in between a classically-told story. It really impacted me a lot.
Written and Directed by: Terrence Malick
I've watched Days of Heaven so many times. To me, it is the most beautiful romance. Oh, my god. Young Sam Shepard and young Richard Gere are just so dreamy! And like in all Terrence Malick movies, the music is so beautiful. The magic hour is my first time being exposed to that Malick magic, and it has probably the most beautiful voiceover, I think, in any film. The opening Linda Manz voiceover is a thing of beauty. It sounds like a kid speaking in a way that creates such poetry.
Directed by: Emile Ardolino | Written by: Eleanor Bergstein
Dirty Dancing was probably the movie I watched most growing up, and was obsessed with, and just wished I could live inside of. I saw it on TV with my cousins for the first time, and then watched it again, and again, and again. I know every line in the movie. I know every dance in the movie. I dreamed about Patrick Swayze my entire growing up. As a Jewish girl with a doctor father, I really related to that. I guess I understood the importance of representation early on, because of how much I just really felt like that character in some way, even though I was really little. It was definitely the most sexually-exciting movie that I had seen as a young girl, so that's a big one for me!
Directed by: Krzysztof Kieślowski | Written by: Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Double Life of Véronique is really a major one for me. The cinematography is incredible. Sławomir Idziak, who I actually got to work with on my first movie as a director [2015's A Tale of Love and Darkness], is one of my all-time favorite cinematographers. He did Double Life of Véronique, and [Three Colors:] Blue, which I also love so much. I loved the way it looked, I loved the music, I loved the storytelling, and it has one of the most poetic images I've seen in a film: This old woman struggling to walk down the street, and you watch her for a long time, to recycle a bottle. It's one of the most beautiful symbolic gestures of any movie I've seen. I love it.