Tragic Details About Natalie Portman's Life

Trigger warning: The following article contains mentions of mental health issues and sexual misconduct.

Natalie Portman's stunning transformation from child actor to one of Hollywood's biggest stars is nothing to sneeze at. Her incredible acting career has spanned several decades, explored multiple genres, and racked up nearly 100 awards. However, as we've seen with countless celebrities, fame and fortune don't automatically erase hardship, heartbreak, tragedy, personal obstacles, or self-doubt.

In a 2023 interview with Harper's Bazaar, Portman shared that even she has moments of insecurity. "I have to remind myself that I've been doing this for a long time, and I have to give myself little pep talks. Rejection hurts, and it's normal for it to hurt," she said. "You can't grow too thick a skin because, as an actor, your whole job is being sensitive and feeling things. I think it's about being comfortable with the pain."

Unfortunately, she's no stranger to pain; Portman has overcome an incredible amount of adversity throughout her life. Here are some tragic details about Natalie Portman's story, and how she's found many silver linings along the way.

Her family has a tragic connection to the Holocaust

Natalie Portman was born Natalie Hershlag on June 9, 1981, in Jerusalem to Jewish parents, whom she emigrated with to America when she was just a few years old. She later adopted her stage name Portman (derived from her maternal grandmother's surname) and attended Jewish schools in America. To this day, Portman has remained connected to her Jewish roots over the years, as she is still fluent in Hebrew, and has spoken out about antisemitism.

In August 2015, she spoke with The Independent about how the Jewish community should view incidents like the Holocaust today. "Sometimes it can be subverted to fear-mongering and like 'Another Holocaust is going to happen'. We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, anti-Semitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I don't mean to make false equivalences, we need it to serve as something that makes us empathetic to people rather than paranoid," Portman explained.

The rise in antisemitism of late has understandably devastated the actor, as it's a topic that hits close to home for her. Portman's family tree was impacted by the travesties that occurred during World War II. While her maternal grandparents relocated to America before 1939, members of her father's side of the family suffered a different fate. As she told Harper's Bazaar in July 2019, "My great-grandparents were killed in the camps, and my grandfather's younger brother was shot in Poland during the war."

Natalie Portman was sexualized as a child

In 1994, 13-year-old Natalie Portman's breakthrough movie, "Leon: The Professional," hit theaters. Tragically, what followed was the realization that she'd been sexualized as a child. Portman told the crowd at the Women's March in January 2018, "I excitedly opened my first fan mail to read a rape fantasy that a man had written me. A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday, euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with. Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews. I understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually, I would feel unsafe."

It's an unfortunate reality those who enter into the spotlight at a young age have had to deal with for years. Former child stars like Millie Bobby Brown, Emma Watson, and the Olsen twins have all been the target of the "countdowns," and many other child stars have long been the subject of gross sexualization.

In a February 2024 interview featured in Variety, Portman spoke with Jodie Foster, who had also experienced this dark side of child acting. The "Star Wars" actor adopted a tough persona to keep any potential predators at bay, and her mom (who also served as her agent) was present and protective. "[She] was with me all the time and made sure that no one got near me," Portman recounted.

She was bullied as a kid

Despite making a name for herself in Hollywood when she was still a kid, Natalie Portman strived for a relatively normal life when she wasn't working. She went by her given name at school and maintained impressive grades while moonlighting as an actor: She filmed six movies before turning 18 and had a stint on Broadway. However, while you might think all her classmates would have wanted to buddy up with a bona fide star, Portman's fame actually made her a target for relentless bullying and teasing.

On a December 2020 episode of "The Drew Barrymore Show," Portman and fellow former child star Drew Barrymore reflected on the way they were treated by their peers as kids. "I think people get bullied for all sorts of reasons and that's a lucky reason to be bullied for, because you are doing something that you love. ... I do think that that sort of creates your empathy like being on that side of the teasing certainly makes you never want to make anyone feel like that ever again," Portman remarked.

Drew Barrymore echoed her sentiment, as she'd had a very similar experience growing up. Portman added that it was a sad thing to endure as a child. "Young people should be able to be proud of their accomplishments and I was like, 'Oh God, I should just keep my head down all the time.' Which isn't a good way to go through life," she said.

She had depression in college

In 1999, right after filming "Star Wars: Episode I," Natalie Portman enrolled at Harvard College to study psychology. She went by her birth name and aimed to prove that she deserved to be at the school and hadn't gotten in because of her celebrity status. In May 2015, Portman was the keynote speaker at a Harvard event, and she used the opportunity to tell the audience about the great times she experienced at the Ivy League school, as well as the less pleasant ones.

"It's easy to romanticize my time here, but I had some difficult times here," Portman said. She went on to share that at age 19, she was going through her "first heartbreak" and that her mental state was exacerbated by her medication. "[I was] taking birth control that's now off the market due to its depressive side effects," the actor explained.

In December 2010, Portman elaborated about this difficult time in her life while speaking with Vogue. "I gained my freshman fifteen or 20 and had super depressed moments. That Cambridge winter is tough. It was important to know how to go through that and how to get myself out of it. You start learning how to ask your friends or professionals for help, or go to mentors," she said. Thankfully, the star held out and graduated in 2003 with her degree. However, Portman had to admit that she missed filming and knew that she was destined to be an actor.

Natalie Portman had a 'creepy' relationship with Moby

In his 2019 memoir, "Then It Fell Apart," musician and record producer Moby claimed to have had a romantic relationship with Natalie Portman while she was attending Harvard. He wrote about how he, at 33, and the actor, aged 20, had begun dating after meeting at one of his shows, but that she eventually let him down after a few weeks. Portman, on the other hand, viewed their relationship very differently.

After the book came out, the "Where the Heart Is" actor shared her side of the story with Harper's Bazaar. "I was surprised to hear that he characterized the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school," she said. "We only hung out a handful of times before I realized that this was an older man who was interested in me in a way that felt inappropriate."

Portman also clarified that she was 18 when they had met, not 20 as Moby had claimed. "I was a teenager. I had just turned 18. There was no fact checking from him or his publisher — it almost feels deliberate," the actor remarked. It was unfortunately far from the only time that someone older than Portman would act inappropriately toward her.

Natalie Portman had her 'big heartbreak' when she was 25

By 2004, Natalie Portman was fresh out of college and back into the world of filmmaking. She starred alongside Jude Law, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen in the romantic drama "Closer" and developed a close relationship with the film's director Mike Nichols. They had previously worked together on a stage production of "The Seagull," and it was clear why Portman was happy to reunite with the director: he treated her with respect.

During a December 2014 interview with New York Magazine, Portman remembered how kind the late Nichols had been to her, especially when she was going through her first big breakup. "When I was 25, I had my heart broken — the rupture of my adolescence, the big heartbreak. I was at [Mike Nichols'] apartment on the floor, and he picked me up and gave me a pep talk and sent me to a doctor and straightened me out — literally peeled me off the floor," she said.

While Portman hasn't revealed who the man was that broke her heart, it may have been Jake Gyllenhaal, who she dated briefly in 2006. Since this time, the actor has gone on to have several high profile relationships, including with actor Gael Garcia Bernal, singer Devendra Banhart, and of course, dancer Benjamin Millepied. She married Millepied in 2012.

Many mentors have been 'creepy' with her

Throughout her career, Natalie Portman has teamed up with many acclaimed filmmakers. However, she has said there has only been one male mentor who did not cross the line with her on some level when they worked together. 

When the movie star was interviewed for Mark Harris' 2021 book "Mike Nichols: A Life," she spoke of her unique experience working with Mike Nichols on "Closer." "[Nichols was] the only older man who mentored me without there ever being a creepy element in it," Portman said. As Harris wrote, "With Portman, Nichols was careful and protective, particularly in the strip club sequence [in 'Closer'], for which, at her request, he was happy to eliminate some of the nudity. 'He wants to see my bare ass [even] less than my father would,' said Portman at the time."

In a 2018 interview with Porter, Portman shared that she didn't always recognize the times she'd been treated inappropriately while on the job. "I went from thinking, 'I don't have a story' to 'Oh, wait, I have 100 stories,'" she said. The Oscar winner became one of the founders of Time's Up just months after the Harvey Weinstein scandal surfaced. The non-profit organization was dedicated to fighting inequality and sexual harassment in the workplace, until it unfortunately disbanded. "There was something so powerful about just gathering women with similar experiences and sharing. ... It still is painful that Time's Up doesn't exist anymore as it was," Portman told The Hollywood Reporter in May 2023.

Natalie Portman was injured while filming Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky's 2010 psychological thriller "Black Swan" starred Natalie Portman as a ballerina struggling with the pressure of mastering both sides of her role in "Swan Lake." The actor had to do some serious training for the role, which included hours of dance classes, swimming, and dropping 20 pounds by living on a diet of mostly almonds and carrots.

Fortunately, Portman could rely on a body double, Sarah Lane, for some of the more difficult moves, but the actor still exerted herself to an extreme level. During a November 2010 interview with NPR, Portman explained what happened to her feet as she started dancing en pointe. "They get disgusting. Toenails fall off. You know, they get blistered and calloused," she said. But this was far from the worst injury Portman endured. "The sort of worst injury I had was a dislocated rib. ... No deep breaths for six weeks, and I didn't get lifted from my ribcage anymore. I got lifted under my armpits," she said.

In December 2010, the actor told Entertainment Weekly, "There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die. It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down." Ultimately, her dedication to the role paid off: She won the Oscar for best actress in 2011.

She's been subjected to body shaming

In 2018's "Vox Lux," Natalie Portman played a pop star grappling with grief and a career comeback. While promoting the film, she chatted with USA Today about some of the real pop stars who've had an impact on her own life. While she praised Madonna's unapologetic persona, she also referenced her mixed feelings about a particular magazine cover featuring a photo of Jessica Simpson. "I remember being a teenager, and there was Jessica Simpson on the cover of a magazine saying 'I'm a virgin' while wearing a bikini, and I was confused," she said. "Like, I don't know what this is trying to tell me as a woman, as a girl." Simpson initially took her words as criticism and body shaming, but Portman clarified that she'd only been commenting on the media's mixed messages toward young women at the time. As she told ET, "I would never intend to shame anybody and that was absolutely not my intention."

Unfortunately, Portman knows firsthand what it's like for people to comment on her body and make assumptions. In February 2021, Page Six shared some candid photos of the actor and floated the theory that she might be expecting. Portman promptly clapped back at the pregnancy rumors perfectly and defended herself in a post to her Instagram Story. "Hey, so I'm totally not pregnant," she wrote. "But apparently it's still OK in 2021 for anyone to speculate and comment on a woman's body shape whenever they want? Do better @nypost."

The 'terrible' gossip surrounding Natalie Portman's marriage

While filming "Black Swan" in 2009, Natalie Portman met French dancer Benjamin Millepied on set, as he'd been hired as a choreographer and trainer. The two hit it off and kept their relationship private until they announced their engagement and pregnancy in December 2010. Portman gave birth to their son Aleph in June 2011 and the happy couple tied the knot a couple months later. They welcomed their daughter Amalia to the world in February 2017 and all seemed to be going well in their relationship, and they even worked together on other films. However, everything took a turn in May 2023.

Rumors swirled around Millepied, as he'd allegedly had an affair with activist Camille Étienne, and when Portman was spotted without her wedding ring, it seemed the gossip was true. While the "May December" star said nothing about the incident publicly, she filed for divorce in July 2023. Portman's and Millepied's divorce was finalized in March of the following year, and as a source close to the exes told People at the time, "She and Ben really love their kids and are equally focused on being the best co-parents they can be. Nothing is more important."

During a February 2024 interview with Vanity Fair, Portman finally broke her silence around the topic when she was asked about how the speculation about her marriage had impacted her. "It's terrible, and I have no desire to contribute to it," the actor replied bluntly.

If you or anyone you know needs help with mental health or is the victim of sexual assault, contact the relevant resources below: