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Natalie Portman
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Return of the galaxy's new beauty

New look, love interest for Portman's role in 'Star Wars'

Portman made her film debut in "The Professional."  

(CNN) -- For 20 years, die-hard Star Wars fans swooned over only one royal maiden of a galaxy far, far away. Then brown-eyed beauty Natalie Portman swept onto the scene, stealing hearts and a galaxy of fans for a new generation of "Star Wars" lovers.

Look out Princess Leia. Queen Amidala is back in 2002.

Fans of the 20-year-old Portman, whose movie career tops many of her peers, are abundant and growing. More than 10 fan-based Web sites pay homage to her name and catalogue her decade-long career.

The promoters of "Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones" seem to have also discovered her appeal. The official Web site, Starwars.com, features Portman clad in a midriff-baring sand costume, holding a gun and looking simple and beautiful.

 
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A cultural phenomenon like director George Lucas' six-part, science-fiction epic "Star Wars" might cause some stars to grow a big head. Not Portman.

"I'm really lucky to have an incredible family and friends who would never let me get out of line ... and let me get too high on myself," the Harvard student said in an interview with CNN.

Not owning a television, she said, also allows her to lead a normal life. "It would be too distracting for me." Without a television, she said, "I'm not exposed to a lot of the bombardment."

Grounded and confident, Portman has been handling fame and the vicissitudes of a Hollywood lifestyle since she was 12 years old.

During Episode I, Portman underwent extensive hair and makeup. In Episode II, her look changes to from regal to more natural.  

Discovered in a pizza parlor

Portman was born June 9, 1981, in Israel. When she was three, her family moved to the United States. She spent her adolescence on Long Island, New York, and the East Coast, far away from Los Angeles and Hollywood lifestyles.

But, as it has happened before, Hollywood scouts are known to lurk around drugstore lunch counters in search of future stars. For Portman, it was a pizza parlor where she was reportedly discovered in a Lana Turner-type moment at the age of 11.

Whether it was luck or fate, Hollywood sought her out. And they have been doing it ever since.

The young actress' screen debut came in 1994 when she played opposite actor Jean Reno in director Luc Besson's "The Professional," the story of a hit man who befriends an orphaned 12-year-old girl and teaches her his trade. Not much older than the part she played, Portman was critically acclaimed for her role.

Since then, Portman has worked with some of the best in Hollywood, notably Woody Allen, Tim Burton, Michael Mann, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer.

Two years after "The Professional," she starred in "Beautiful Girls" with Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman and Mira Sorvino. After that, she balanced school and acting to make movies almost every year.

Other films include "Heat" (1995), "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996), "Mars Attacks!" (1996), "Anywhere But Here" (1999) and "Where the Heart Is" (2000).

But nothing could have prepared her for Star Wars fame.

"It's really different from being in other kinds of films. It's huge. It's everywhere you go," Portman said.

In the "Star Wars" saga, Portman plays Padme Amidala, the elected queen of the peaceful planet Naboo. She signed on for three films, which span eight years.

Amidala also is the mother of twins Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, key characters in the plot of Lucas' three previously released episodes.

Portman talked with CNN shortly before the opening of Episode II.  

Portman studied up on the film's themes and characters by watching the first three episodes, which she did not known very well before. She was 2 years old when "Episode VI, Return of the Jedi," was released, and she had never completely seen the movies.

"I really wasn't aware of how big a deal 'Star Wars' was... and when I saw the films, I really liked them, but I still didn't really understand how many ... were passionate fans of this film," she said in 1999.

In Episode II, Amidala advances from queen to senator. Costume and attitude changes were in order. In the second installment, Portman's character wears less elaborate clothing, changes her speech and falls in love with Anakin Skywalker, who, at some point, becomes Darth Vader.

The film hits theaters nationwide May 16.

Moviemaking, Portman said, takes up much her time, but attending Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is what keeps her grounded. Harvard allows her to discover herself, she said. And she takes much of her inspiration from her experiences there.

As for future roles, Portman leans toward intellectual films. "I'm looking for something interesting, challenging and smart," she said.

"I want something that will stimulate me as much as the books I'm reading at school ... There's got to be some sort of magic and craft that goes into making it."


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