Child stars in general have a dreadful time growing up. Cast primarily for their looks (or their connections), the onset of acne ordinarily proves fatal. No longer cute, they are nothing, fit only to be cast into the bottomless dustbin of history. But sometimes child stars have something else to them. Not simply precociousness, but a sense that they are far older than their years. Jodie Foster had it. Haley Joel Osment had it, so did Christina Ricci. Jennifer Connelly had it, too, though she had to wait 20 years for everyone to recognise it. And, of course, there's Natalie Portman, who began her career in two of the hardest-hitting films of the mid-Nineties (Leon and Heat), then acquitted herself well in comedy, ensemble pieces and high drama before starring as the regal love interest in George Lucas's 3-part prequel to the Star Wars trilogy. An extraordinary growth pattern, and all the more so because she also found time to undergo a high class academic education. No fool, her.
Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem on the 9th of June, 1981. Her grandfather had been a Polish Jew and socialist who, when young, had organised special camps to teach agriculture to young men moving to Israel - the first kibbutzim. Her name was not Portman, it was Hershlag. When debuting onscreen, Natalie wisely took her grandmother's name to avoid any interference in her schooling and private life. Her father, Avner, was a doctor, specialising in fertility. Throughout Natalie's youth, he would return from work and announce how many women he had made pregnant that day. At age 8, Natalie would be reprimanded for repeating his stories at school. Her mother, Shelley, from Ohio, was an artist, and later Natalie's agent. Coincidentally, Shelley was conceived on Natalie's dad's birthday, as was Natalie herself.
The family lived in Jerusalem till Natalie was 3, then moved to Washington for four years. Then came two years in Connecticut, before they settled on Long Island, where she'd attend Syosset High School. By this time, Natalie was well on her way toward a career in entertainment. She'd been dancing since the age of 4 but was really taken when she saw Dirty Dancing. Now she began to really perform, arranging pillows in rows in the family basement and charging adults 10 cents a throw to watch her. For an all-round education, her parents would take her to the theatre, to galleries and to many foreign lands. Her later co-star Susan Sarandon would describe Natalie's home-life as "a rarefied atmosphere", and she was absolutely correct.
A vegetarian since the age of 8 (she switched when she attended a medical conference with her father and witnessed laser surgery on a chicken), she also turned early to acting.