Natalie Portman

Star Wars: Episode III

Interviewed by David Michael

“Star Wars fans have a reputation for being nuts ”

Sine an agent discovered her in a pizza restaurant at the age of 11, Israeli-born Natalie Portman hasn't looked back. Her stunning performance in Leon at just 13 years old made Hollywood stand up and notice. She spent the rest of her teenage years playing opposite Al Pacino in Heat and running away from aliens in Mars Attacks! before journeying to a galaxy far, far away as Luke and Leia's mother, Padmé Amidala, in George Lucas' Star Wars prequels. Impressive turns in Cold Mountain, Garden State and Closer - which bagged her a Golden Globe - have since only confirmed her status as one of Hollywood's brightest young things.

You were young when you signed on for the first Star Wars episode. Has the whole experience been what you expected it to be?

I don't think I knew what to expect. I was 14 years old when I signed on, and I'm nearly 24 years old now, so it's been almost ten years of my life with these films. I'd never done an action movie before and I'd never worked with blue screen before, so it was a completely new experience. I thought it would involve a lot of running and jumping, and a sort of general silliness. But it's probably been the most challenging acting experience of my career. You have to imagine more than just what your character is going through, but you also your setting and often other actors - you're literally miming. It takes child-like imagination to get there.

How have you coped with the attention from the Star Wars fans?

I thought there was going to be a little bit of craziness, because Star Wars fans have a reputation for being nuts. But I was pleasantly surprised that they've been just friendly and respectful. They're the most seen films I've been in but I still get recognised for Leon, which is bizarre because it was 12 years ago.

How have you found working with George Lucas? He's known for being shy and fairly introverted...

He's really one of the smartest people I've met. He keeps up with everything - science, politics, art, literature - and can talk to you about everything. It is true he is shy, and he isn't someone I can say I really know, but I feel I do know him when I see him with his kids. He's such an incredible father and I think his choice to live removed from the whole Hollywood scene is because of them. George has done an amazing job. He has great core values, and despite his money and success, he's still in his jeans and sneakers everyday on set talking to everyone and is very down to earth.

Padmé involved quite a transformation but now you've just shaven your head for futuristic tale V For Vendetta. Did you get to shave your own head, Travis Bickle style?

No, it was part of the film. My character gets imprisoned and has her head shaved. When it grows a little, I may do it myself next time. When I got it done, it wasn't as dramatic as I expected - I thought it would be much more traumatic. But it's good for the summer and removes you from vanity a little bit; it's a good transition.

Both V For Vendetta and the latest Star Wars films have a political subtext. Do you see them as a conscious prediction of the future?

As a psychiatry student at college, one of the things I studied was how people predict their own futures from past experiences. History is where a lot of predictions derive from. Most of the political talk in both Star Wars and V For Vendetta are connected to the politic situation now. It's sort of an oblique way of referencing today's political situation by saying, "Oh, it happens 20 years from now&quot. You can then criticise everything that's going on now and get it subliminally into people's minds without really hammering it in.

So who is today's Emperor?

Well, we know who the leader of the free world is!

Was it sad calling it a day on Star Wars?

It wasn't so sad. I think all of us were really excited to make this movie and there was a lot of great material to stink your teeth into. We were all comfortable with working with each other, so it was like returning to friends. There was something more celebratory about making this one.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 19th May 2005.