Attack Of The Clones star Natalie Portman was just 11 when she was discovered in a New York pizza joint and cast as the wise-beyond-her-years Mathilde in Luc Besson's Leon. And the character didn't seem far from the young actress' real-life personality. She was just 13 when she declared: "I'm going to college. I don't care if it ruins my career. I'd rather be smart than be a movie star."
The Jerusalem-born daughter of a fertility doctor and an artist went on to study psychology at Harvard, and, if the recent plaudits for her role in Black Swan is anything to go by, it doesn't seem to have damaged her career in the slightest.
Born on June 9, 1981, Natalie has long been on the serious side, deciding to become a vegetarian at the ripe old age of eight, taking time to learn three additional languages (French, Hebrew and Japanese) and making her Broadway debut while earning near-perfect marks as a full-time high school student. "I feel I'm a positive role model by not putting my education on hold," she said at the time. "I'm showing girls my age it's not dorky to want to study and go to school instead of just partying."
Natalie has also gone her own route in her film career. In fact, one can learn almost as much about her from the films she has turned down as from the ones she's accepted. She appeared in the musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You and wacky sci-fi hit Mars Attacks, but passed on Baz Luhrmann's Romeo And Juliet because, at 15, she wasn't comfortable with the on-screen love affair with 22-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio. She also rejected two other sexy film offers: the steamy teen seductress in Lolita and Christina Ricci's sexually-charged part in The Ice Storm because it was "too dark".
Susan Sarandon felt so strongly about including the highly principled young actress as her co-star in Anywhere But Here that she had the script revamped removing a nude scene in order for Natalie to sign on. "More young actresses have to say no to being exploited," says Natalie. "The same producers and directors aren't asking young actors to do these kinds of things."
Natalie "seems older than she is" and "has a natural grace" says Susan, while "controlled" and "cerebral" are the adjectives that come to mind for Anywhere But Here director Wayne Wang. And all of those complicated qualities came into play when the brainy brunette was chosen to play Queen Amidala in the three Star Wars sagas. "I wanted somebody who could be commanding, but who could still be young," says George Lucas. "I was looking for somebody who was smart and strong and a terrific actress and Natalie met all those qualifications."
The 2004 double-relationship drama, Closer, in which she starred opposite Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Jude Law, heralded an Oscar nomination, and in 2011 she won best actress at the Academy Awards for her role in Black Swan.
For her performance as a tortured ballerina, Natalie said she started ballet training a year ahead of time, working up to eight hours of physical training a day, adding that "the physical discipline of it really helped for the emotional side of the character because you get the sense of the sort of monastic lifestyle" of a ballerina.
"You don’t drink. You don’t go out with your friends. You don’t have much food. You are constantly putting your body through extreme pain and you really get that understanding of the self-flagellation of a ballet dancer," she said. But it was obviously not all work and no play.
She met her ballet dancer, fiancé Benjamin Millepied on the set of the film for which he was a choreographer, and the couple are expecting a child in summer 2011.
Indeed, it would be fair to say the role completely changed Natalie's life. As well as helping her find her dream man it earned her her Oscar.
In her acceptance speech, the pregnant actress - wiping away tears of joy - thanked her parents and her "beautiful love Benjamin who choreographed the film and has now given me the most important role of my life".
Though she's found a level of success which many aspiring actresses can only dream of, it's clear Natalie won't settle for just being a beautiful Hollywood starlet.
"You don't get to use your brain that much you do for certain roles, but not most," she says. "Acting's more of a hobby for me. There's such a big world beyond Star Wars and beyond films."