Memory is a prime interest of Portman the student. The experiment she has planned for her thesis next year concerns the theory that "your identity is how you construct your memories into your life story." She credits her own late memory onset, from age four or five, to the fact she was brought up with two languages. She lived in Israel until she was four, when the family moved to Maryland, the first of several stops to accommodate her father's medical career. What she remembers best about Maryland is the pink carpet and her dolls. She had a lot of dolls. "I remember them being very sexual," she says. "I don't really remember ever not having my dolls have sex with each other."
So what would you have them do?
"It's very odd," she says, "because I don't remember ever talking to my parents about sex ... but I always knew about it. And all my dolls would get it on together. Even the Barbies would get it on with other Barbies, and the guys would get it on with each other."
So, I clarify, there was a whole poly-sexual orgy in your toy room?
"Yes," she says. "And my tub toys also had sex." She says that she didn't know how sex happened, so the dolls would just kind of get rubbed together. But she rebuffs my suggestion that she picked this up from her father's job.
"I barely saw my dad when I was little," she says, "because he was doing his residency." (I ask what exactly he does as a fertility specialist. "He inseminates and does surgery, and he's a reproductive endocrinologist," his daughter says matter-of-factly.) "The smell of a hospital is like the smell of my dad to me."
I involuntarily make a face.
"You're like, 'Natalie's such a creepy person,'" she declares, both accusing and laughing.
Portman is an only child. "The only sibling I ever wanted," she says, "was an older brother, so he could introduce me to cute boys. I would never have been an actress if I weren't an only child, because my parents would never have let me be the star of the family at the expense of another child." It made her feel like her parents were her friends: "All through my childhood, I went to their parties. I've known how to make believe that I'm an adult."
When Portman was eight, she gave up meat out of "respect for life." I point out to her that PETA has nominated her in its Internet poll of sexiest vegetarians (she has since won).
"No way," she says. "I don't know what being sexy and being... well, who am I up against?"
Jude Law ... David Duchovny ... Angela Bassett ...
"Those all are pretty sexy people," she says with a grin. "I don't know how my chances are after those names."
Do you date non-vegetarians?
"Yeah," she answers. "It's kind of unusual to find guys who are vegetarian. That makes Jude Law even sexier to me."
He's very married, though, I say.
"I know," she says. "I should shut up. That's not nice. But, I mean, I guess someone can still be sexy even if they're married. I mean, I would never go after him at all...."
The story of how Portman was discovered and became an actress involves her being approached in a Long Island pizza restaurant by someone looking to cast a Revlon campaign. Portman didn't want to model, but she used the opportunity to get an acting agent. Her film debut, in The Professional, didn't come immediately; her first part was as an understudy in the off-Broadway musical Ruthless. The play had featured another young hopeful: Britney Spears.
Natalie and Britney were able to reminisce about this recently. Portman was invited to a Spears party, an invitation she forwarded to her guy friends as a joke. "They told me they would murder me if I didn't go and take all of them, so I went with six boys," she says; her Ivy League posse drove down, after classes, to New York and Britney. "It was basically the thrill of their lives."
About six months after her play, she auditioned for The Professional, about a lonely hitman (Jean Reno) and a twelve-year-old girl. When the film was released, her parents came in for some stern, and inaccurate, criticism for "letting me do a Lolita film," Portman says. As a result, her parents became very protective. "They never wanted me to have to walk down the street wondering if people can visualize me naked."
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