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Natalie Hershlag mutters a phrase in Hebrew, then tempers her impressive display of bilingual prowess with a giggle. She’s calling from Jerusalem, her birthplace, where she’s hanging out with friends and family. “It’s sort of a double life,” says the 23-year-old actress, who is better known by her professional name, Natalie Portman. “[My media image] doesn’t seem anything like me.”
Portman’s image – elegant, Harvard-educated and girl-next-door sweet – is about to get an adjustment thanks to her portrayal of a stripper in the Mike Nichols-directed drama, Closer. Portman, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Jude Law play four lovers whose lives become intertwined through a series of breakups and betrayals.
Before having them rehearse their lines, Nichols spent four weeks talking with the actors about the themes of love, sexual politics, betrayal, and relationships. “Julia mentioned that we were all in such different stages of relationship life to be making this film,” Portman says. “She was just married, Clive had been married for a while, Jude was a year into dating someone, and I’m the baby.”
Portman’s own rehearsal process led her to interview exotic dancers and take pole-dancing lessons. Still the actress avoided nudity from the beginning of her career and she hints that Closer might not be the film to break this trend. “I’m not a prude around my friends,” she says. “But I don’t particularly want any person to be able to look on the Internet and find a picture of me naked.”
Despite Portman’s new steamy side, her aura of refinement is unassailable. “Even in one of those pink wigs in the club, she still looks like Audrey Hepburn,” says Owen laughing. “She still looks devastatingly beautiful.”