Natalie Portman Is Set on Being Queen for a Franchise

ALLENTOWN MORNING CALL

Natalie Portman, who plays teenage Queen Amidala in "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace," views the character as something of a role model.

Portman, 17, whose feature film debut was in Luc Besson's 1994 "The Professional," is all for it.

"The film ["Phantom Menace"] does a great job of creating a positive image for young women," she says. "It's good for young girls to see it because she's [Queen Amidala] very smart, she's very together, she's very compassionate and warm.

"It kind of brings together all the qualities of youth and womanhood that can aid a leadership position. It's really important for girls to see women in leadership positions, because you don't see that a lot on the screen."

In the "Star Wars" prequel, Queen Amidala's Planet Naboo is blockaded by the Trade Federation, enforced by a fleet of droids and the evil Sith, Darth Maul.

Assisting the queen are Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobe (Ewan McGregor), helped by young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), later to become Darth Vader.

In the "Star Wars" saga, Vader and Amidala become the parents of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Leia Skywalker (Carrie Fisher), who were in the first "Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope" (1977).

Portman didn't meet her "children," Hamill and Fisher, but has met Han Solo (Harrison Ford). "He's one of my favorite actors."

Portman likes the way the part of Queen Amidala was written. "She's really young and in a powerful position, but she maintains her idealism, which is really nice and shows what happens when you put someone so young in a position of power--that they can really keep their goodness in mind.

"On the other hand, it often makes her naive, although she's smart enough to get over the first trial when people try to take advantage of her."

Portman, a native of Israel who lives with her parents on Long Island, N.Y., is a bright, articulate and well-poised teenager. She knows what she's going to be when she grows up: Queen Amidala. And she's not just any queen for a day. She's queen for three movies, a good part of her life.

She's committed to the role in "Episodes II and III," set for release in 2002 and 2005, respectively. Filming for "The Phantom Menace" began in 1997. Preproduction has begun for "Episode II."

Says "Star Wars" writer-director-producer George Lucas: "Natalie is very intelligent and has a lot of presence and is a very strong person, and at the same time, she's very young. I needed somebody to play a 14-year-old girl who's basically been elected to rule a planet and make that believable."

Committing to Three Films at Age of 14

But Portman didn't jump at the opportunity to play Queen Amidala.

"I thought it over for a few weeks. There's a lot of issues that you really have to think about. First of all, the commitment is to three films. And when you're 14, to commit the next 10 years of your life to anything . . . you don't even know what you want to be when you grow up.

"It's such a huge decision to make when you're that young. And also it throws you into the limelight, and it's a scary thing to do with your life because you lose a lot privacy when you make a decision like that."

Even though she's been in a number of high-profile features ("Beautiful Girls," with Uma Thurman; Woody Allen's "Everyone Says I Love You"; Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks!"; "Heat," with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro) and is accustomed to being in the spotlight (upcoming: "Anywhere but Here," opposite Susan Sarandon and directed by Wayne Wang), Portman says that doing "Star Wars" has thrust her career in a whole new universe.

Portman doesn't know where the story line in "Episode II" will go, other than that a romance develops between Anakin and Queen Amidala.

"George hasn't written a script yet [for the next "Episode"]. This one is a setup movie where you meet all the characters and are introduced to all the situations. The next film will go deeper into the story lines."

And, no, she doesn't know who will play opposite her in the next "Episode." "There's no 16-year-old male actor who resembles Jake [Lloyd]." Lloyd, 10, won't be old enough to reprise his role as Anakin in "Episode II."

She says her characterization of the queen was based on the classic film roles of Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn--"the way they were, the way they carried themselves and the way they talked."

Portman says the queen's costumes were a challenge. "They were heavy. They were not fun to wear. But they were so beautiful and so amazingly made.

"They really helped me with how I carried myself and how I related to other people, because it just makes you feel so much grander to have these huge headpieces and costumes on."

The queen's fashion statement includes unusual lip gloss: red on the top lip, white on the bottom lip, with a vertical red stripe down the center of the bottom lip.

"I had a wonderful makeup artist, Paul Englund, who would constantly retouch it," Portman says. "When I was doing the film, I thought, 'This is the thing that will be remembered that's the trademark thing for the queen.' But it's not practical at all."

The Force of the Phenom Is With Her

Because Portman was born in Jerusalem and spent her first three years there, she missed the original "Star Wars" phenom. "I think I was alive when the second two came out," she says.

After being cast in "The Phantom Menace," she watched the original "Star Wars" trilogy at home. "I thought they were wonderful. They were ahead of their time the way this film ["Phantom Menace"] is ahead of its time now. George has such vision. He's our modern-day inventor. He's the one who's creating a moving flow of this technology, especially in this industry."

Now that "Phantom Menace" already has grossed more than $200 million and set box-office records, Portman is feeling the force of "Star Wars" celebrity.

"The real 'Star Wars' fans are really loving and respectful of my time and privacy. The people who are doing it for money--'cause that's their profession--they're the ones who make you uncomfortable."

Portman, an only child, said that her physician father, who is Israeli, is a fertility specialist, and her mother, who is American, studied art. "They're both great people."

Portman isn't certain that she'll continue making movies. "I've been working in films since I was 11 and by the time I'm 21 and done with college . . . if it keeps being the most interesting and amusing thing for me to do, then I'll keep doing it."

Of course, by that time she'll still be doing "Star Wars."

"It certainly limits your opportunities. You can't go and be a doctor and have your patient come in and say, 'Dr. Amidala.' "

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