How Star Wars Nearly Ruined Natalie Portman's Career

Currently, everyone’s collectively excited for John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac. They are the newcomers to the Star Wars universe, and most assume that landing high-profile gigs in The Force Awakens can only boost their individual careers. Well, Natalie Portman would like to remind them that Star Wars isn’t always the benefit fans might assume it to be.

Natalie Portman, of course, held down the pivotal role of Padme Amidala in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, starting with Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. But the way Portman remembers it, the films did more harm than good. While speaking with New York Magazine about the ways that the late film director Mike Nichols influenced her career, Portman recalls:

Star Wars had come out … and everyone thought I was a horrible actress. I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me. Mike wrote a letter to Anthony Minghella and said, ‘Put her in Cold Mountain, I vouch for her.’ And then Anthony passed me on to Tom Tykwer, who passed me on to the Wachowskis."

And just like that, Natalie Portman had been rescued. Her work in Cold Mountain and V for Vendetta reestablished her as a performer with credibility. Her role as a stripper in Nichols’ own Closer probably helped remind people that she was far more than just Amidala. And, in time, she went on to claim a Best Actress Oscar for her incredible work in Darren Aronofsky’s blistering ballet drama Black Swan.

None of that would have been possible if the George Lucas School of Acting had succeeded in chewing up Portman and spitting her out, as it did poor Jake Lloyd and, later, Hayden Christensen. Talented actors like Sam Jackson, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor always were going to escape from the shadow of the Star Wars legacy, much like Harrison Ford did earlier. Portman needed a push – some help from the likes of Mike Nichols, who believed in her talent. Granted, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is helmed by J.J. Abrams and not George Lucas, so the point might be moot. But is the galaxy going to be bigger than Boyega, Ridley, Driver and Isaac? Or will they triumph come 2016?

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.