The Iconic Sci-Fi Blockbuster That Almost Ruined Natalie Portman’s Acting Career
In the year 1994, French director Luc Besson unveiled his latest project to the world: “Léon: The Professional.” This action-thriller centers on the titular hitman (played by Jean Reno), who ends up taking a young girl named Mathilda under his wing after corrupt Drug Enforcement Administration agent Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman) kills her family. The actress behind Léon’s protégée was none other than Natalie Portman, and her decision to join the production at a mere 11 years old marked the beginning of her big-screen journey.
Portman’s portrayal of Mathilda didn’t go unnoticed, and with each subsequent role she took, her stock in Hollywood grew dramatically higher. As the 1990s wore on, she landed minor parts in the likes of “Heat” and “Mars Attacks!” before really making waves in the industry throughout the 2000s. “V for Vendetta,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” and “Brothers” stand out as some of her more prominent titles from the decade, with “Black Swan,” “Thor,” and “Annihilation,” among others, keeping her busy in the 2010s. Suffice to say, her filmography is nothing, if not impressive.
Natalie Portman is now a household name in the 2020s, having taken on several career-defining projects, earned numerous awards, and used her platform to spread awareness on issues near and dear to her. However, thanks to one now-beloved science-fiction blockbuster, all of this success could’ve very well never come to fruition.
Revenge of the Sith did her career no favors
1999 was a huge year for Natalie Portman, seeing as she landed the role of Padmé Amidala — the future wife of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) and the mother of their twins, Luke (Mark Hamill) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) — in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” Though the news of more “Star Wars” movies from the mind of George Lucas himself was exciting, it immediately became apparent that this new trilogy would be vastly different from the one that came before. Sadly, that sentiment was not a positive one, with the fanbase practically fracturing upon its release.
While it’s widely regarded as the strongest of the trilogy, “Revenge of the Sith” did Natalie Portman’s career no favors. Character-wise, in “The Phantom Menace,” Padmé was introduced as the intelligent, determined queen of Naboo, and in “Attack of the Clones,” she showed that she wasn’t afraid to take the fight to her enemies on the battlefield. By the time “Revenge of the Sith” rolled around, however, those characteristics largely disappeared, relegating her to a plot device that existed purely to sell moviegoers on Anakin’s turn to the dark side.
As a result of Padmé’s degradation as a main character, Portman didn’t have a lot to do in “Revenge of the Sith.” Her work amounted to delivering a few lines and crying before dying of sadness — something the film itself did a poor job of explaining — just before the credits rolled. Overall, she did what she could with Lucas’ notoriously weak dialogue, but evidently, it wasn’t enough. By her own admission to New York Magazine in 2014, she even struggled to find acting parts in the wake of the trilogy’s end.
Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for the stigma of “Revenge of the Sith” to wear off. Natalie Portman’s career is still very much intact and will hopefully remain as such well into the future.