Not many actresses have compiled as diverse a portfolio before turning 30 as Natalie Portman. From hanging with a hit man in her early teens to being the mother of a complex Jedi family by her mid 20s, we've not only watched her grow up on screen but seen her abilities elevate to a level that's made her one of the most sought after talents working today.
In her latest film, Darren Aronofsky's seductive psychological thriller 'Black Swan' (in theaters beginning Friday), her skills are showcased in a way we've never seen before as she plays Nina, a New York City ballerina whose obsessive drive to become the lead in her company's production of 'Swan Lake' pushes her to madness. As emotionally draining as it is sexually charged, her tour-de-force performance has been a nine-year journey in the making, and because of that dedication it has moved Portman into an award season front-runner; one of the few things she hasn't experienced yet in her career.
Talking about playing Nina constantly with Aronofsky since he first tried to make the movie in 2001, Portman, who was a ballerina up to age 13, trained on and off for years while financing was still being worked out. Then when the picture was finally greenlighted last year, Portman became as focused as the competitive character she plays, training every twirl, pirouette, turn out and contortion at least five hours a day with dancer Mary Helen Bowers for a year -- regardless where she was in the world. It's that kind of De Niro-like dedication to the craft that may get Portman a little gold man by early next year.
But this is hardly the first time Portman's work has wowed us. Here we've complied her 10 best performances.
10. 'Star Wars' prequels (1999-2005)
Regardless if you're a fan of the films or not, Natalie Portman's role as Queen Amidala in Episodes 1-3 made her an international superstar. And you have to admit she tried her best with the material she was given. Case in point ...
9. 'Where the Heart Is' (2000)
Though she was immersed in the 'Star Wars' saga for six years, Portman was still able to try out different roles in that time. The first was this romantic comedy where she plays a pregnant teen left at a Wal-Mart by her baby's daddy. She gives birth there, the media attention brings her notoriety and hilarity ensues. Certainly a far cry from a galaxy far, far away.
8. 'V for Vendetta' (2006)
Though this adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel didn't slay the box office as many had hoped, Portman shows here that she'll sabotage her looks to pull of a performance ... though even with a shaved head she looks good. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EWnPG_yKYk&feature=related
7. 'Free Zone' (2005)
Proud of her Israeli roots, Portman made time to star in Israeli director Amos Gitai's ensemble about three women driving together in a cab for different reasons to the Free Zone on the Jordan-Iraq-Saudi border. Portman's character, Rebecca, has just broken off her engagement when she enters the cab.
6. 'Garden State' (2004)
In Zach Braff's Sundance hit, Portman had finally come to an age where she could play a legitimate love interest. Perfectly playing opposite Braff's shlubby, puppy dog character, this set the groundwork for the roles she would do in the years to come. It also highlighted her rarely seen comedic side.
5. 'Cold Mountain' (2003)
You may have forgotten her cameo in Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Charles Frazier's best-selling novel. Playing a widow who takes in W.P. Inman (Jude Law) while he's on his long journey through Confederate lines back to his wife, Portman gives a heart-wrenching performance, showing Hollywood she was ready for more challenging material. (And yes, that's Cillian Murphy in the scene.)
4. 'Beautiful Girls' (1996)
Though 'The Professional' put Portman on the map, it was playing a Lolita-esque Massachusetts girl in Ted Demme's coming-of-age drama that put her in our hearts. Playing Marty, a 13-year-old with "an old soul," she takes a liking to Willie (Timothy Hutton), a down on his luck piano player who returns home for his high school reunion. Their tête-à-tête here is one of the highlights from the film..
3. 'The Professional' (1994)
In Portman's feature film debut, the then 13-year-old plays Mathilda, a young girl who is taken under the wing of a professional killer (Jean Reno) after her family is murdered. The performance raised many brows due to Portman's mature performance, which would quickly become one of her trademarks. Originally, the casting director turned Portman down for the role because she was thought to be too young. However, she returned to audition again and director Luc Besson was so taken by the emotion she could display that he gave her the part.
2. 'Hotel Chevalier' (2007)
A prologue to Wes Anderson's 'The Darjeeling Limited,' this moody short highlights the evening Jack (Jason Schwartzman) spends with his ex-girlfriend (Portman) before joining his other brothers on their journey through India in 'Darjeeling' (in which Portman makes a brief cameo). Shot a year before Anderson made 'Darjeeling,' the short screened before the theatrical release for a brief time and then was made available on iTunes. Though for many Anderson enthusiasts 'Chevalier' was more fulfilling than 'Darjeeling,' many more flocked to the short once they caught wind that Portman had a nude scene. She plays the character with a dark, seductive attitude that would come in handy when developing Nina for 'Black Swan.'
1. 'Closer' (2004)
With the careful craftsmanship of Mike Nichols, Portman was inserted seamlessly in the ensemble of Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen to explore this examination of love, sex and betrayal in an adaptation of Patrick Marber's play. The performance would bring Portman her first taste of recognition as she won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. In the film, Portman plays Alice, a stripper who begins a four year relationship with Dan (Jude Law) filled with lies and deception that culminates in this powerful scene in a hotel room.