To look at Natalie Portman’s career on paper — filming her stellar debut in “The Professional” at 11, acting opposite Al Pacino in her second flick, getting her own “Star Wars” action figure before she was 20 — you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the stuff of fantasy.
Now the Oscar nominee is reveling in fantasy on the big screen, courtesy a starring role in “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.” This time out she’s Molly, the heir apparent to Dustin Hoffman’s Magorium, a 243-year-old Willy Wonka type who’s nearing the end of his days.
Portman chatted with MTV News about her latest family-friendly flick, how some of the slightest “Star Wars” fans can’t separate fact from fiction and why she should keep her mouth shut when it comes to nudity onscreen.
MTV: I can’t remember the last time I saw a G-rated film that wasn’t intended solely for 5-year-olds.
Natalie Portman: It was one of the reasons I wanted to be in the movie because I was like, “This is a really sincerely good kids’ movie, but I would go with my friends.” It’s funny and smart and dealing with stuff we go through too. … It’s really optimistic, but it’s not sentimental in any way, which I really appreciated. None of it is cheap emotion. It’s all really true. I think that’s essential for a kids’ film, because kids are honesty monitors better than anyone.
MTV: You character, Molly, has an unusual blend of self-confidence and insecurity.
Portman: She’s able to see magic everywhere, except in herself, so it does give you that mix of confidence and also that extreme insecurity. Everyone has that to a certain degree.
MTV: Is insecurity something you deal with?
Portman: Absolutely. … I go between confidence and insecurity all the time. … I might think I won’t be able to do something, but I’ll do it anyway, because I’ve sort of known that failing isn’t that bad. Especially with my job, no one gets hurt. If I mess up, it’s like, “OK, somebody loses a little money,” which I know is a big deal to some people, but no one dies.
MTV: What’s an example of a time when you pushed yourself?
Portman: I did a film that was a really difficult character to do, and I was like, “No way am I going to be able to do this,” and, “Who’s gonna want to see this?” And it came out and people thought it was bad and it didn’t get good reviews and it didn’t make any money, and it was fine. It hurt and I put a lot of effort into it and it didn’t work out, but it’s fine. It’s going to be OK. … I realize that I can take big chances and it’s not the end of the world.
MTV: There’s always been a lot of talk about your first film, “The Professional,” and whether there would ever be a sequel. Are you interested?
Portman: I really love the film and I would work with [director] Luc Besson again in a second, but I have the feeling that when something works, you don’t touch it. You try to create something new that’s positive.
MTV: “Star Wars” is going to continue in all its various forms, including cartoons and live-action TV shows. Can you imagine ever playing Amidala again?
Portman: I’m so honored to have been a part of it. I got to basically latch onto this thing that was a huge success before I ever was involved. I spent 10 years working on these films, and it’s time to let it continue on its own.
MTV: Day to day, you must get a ton of reaction from kids about “Star Wars.”
Portman: Some of the kids in ["Mr. Magorium"] were really funny. They were like, “Did you really have babies in the movie?” I was like, “Do I look old enough to be a mom?” And they were like, “Yeah!” And I was like, “Wah!” And then they were like, “Did you really die in the movie?” And I was like, “Do I look dead?”
MTV: I asked you recently about whether you’d want to direct, and you were pretty cagey. And now it seems you are going to direct a film of the book “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”
Portman: [She laughs.] I’m still going to be cagey about it because it’s so far away. It’s one thing to announce your intention, but to actually follow [through with it] is another story.
MTV: Why do you want to direct this story?
Portman: I really love the book. It was the first book that I read that I was able to visualize as a film. While I was reading it, I felt like I was watching it. I felt like I knew how to do it. It’s a beautiful story. It’s [author Amos Oz's] true-life story and an incredible book and someone I truly admire.
MTV: You’re next filming “Brothers” alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire. Who do you play?
Portman: I play Tobey Maguire’s wife. Tobey plays a Marine who is sent off to war the same week that his brother, who Jake Gyllenhaal plays, gets out of jail. So when Jake gets out of jail, he’s sort of taking care of his brother’s wife and kids while he’s away. Obviously when he comes back, there’s a problem.
MTV: There’s been a lot of talk recently about the nudity you did in the Wes Anderson short “Hotel Chevalier” and “Goya’s Ghosts.” Some quotes attributed to you made it sound like you regret doing the nudity.
Portman: Yeah. It was really silly.
MTV: What do you take away from that situation?
Portman: That I shouldn’t open my mouth.
MTV: So to clarify, you regretted the nudity in “Goya’s Ghosts”?
Portman: I don’t really have regrets. It’s more that I don’t like misappropriation of stuff, like when you create something as part of a story and then a piece of it ends up on a porn site. It’s meant to be a dramatic scene and part of a story. That really makes me angry. It’s inevitable and I should know what happens but …
MTV: Does what you’re talking about justify the trepidation you’ve had for nudity over the years?
Portman: Yes. It does. Because I really don’t have an issue with it artistically. I just don’t like when people take it out of a story. It’s meant to tell you something about a character and then to put a scene elsewhere is … but it’s inevitable now, so it’s like I should know better. [She laughs.]
Check out everything we’ve got on “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.”
Visit Movies on MTV.com for more from Hollywood, including news, reviews, interviews and more.
For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.
Want trailers? Visit the Trailer Park for the newest, scariest and funniest coming attractions anywhere.