Natalie Portman says being sexualised as ‘Lolita figure’ made her afraid
Natalie Portman has been in the limelight for a long time, picking up acting at the tender age of just 12 years of age. Reflecting on her career in a recent episode of Dax Sheppard’s incredibly popular ‘Armchair Expert’ podcast, the star claimed that unwanted attention made her afraid from childhood.
It’s not hard to see how growing up in the spotlight could welcome a whole host of negative notions in an adolescent mind. That said, one film, in particular, saw Portman suddenly realise the perception of her as an actor and, perhaps more importantly, as a female in Hollywood.
It was a situation which happened early on in her career, especially after taking on the role of 13-year-old Marty starring opposite Timothy Hutton in Beautiful Girls. Portman has now explained how she was “was definitely aware of the fact that I was being portrayed… as this ‘Lolita’ figure” — a reference to the 12-year-old girl of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 book which portrayed the character as asexually involved with a middle-aged man.
Later, Portman even went on to turn down the role of Lolita in the film adaptation of the book back in 1997. It was a pivotal moment in her career and one which saw her reject the preconceived notions of her career path.
“Being sexualised as a child, I think, took away from my own sexuality, because it made me afraid,” she continued, speaking with the open and affable Sheppard. Later in the conversation, Portman suggested the only way she could feel “safe” was “to be like, ‘I’m conservative’ and ‘I’m serious.'”
It was a way of deflecting the unwanted attention on her adolescence, “But at that age, you do have your own sexuality, and you do have your own desire, and you do want to explore things, and you do want to be open. But you don’t feel safe, necessarily, when there’s, like, older men that are interested, and you’re like, ‘No, no, no, no’,” explained the star.
Instead, Portman built “fortresses” which she could use to defend herself against the pressures of Hollywood and its treatment of young girls. Her serious demeanour was all a part of those defences: “I consciously cultivated that (persona), because it was ways to make me feel safe. Like ‘oh, if someone respects you, they’re not gonna objectify you’,” she explained. “When I was in my teens, I was like, ‘I don’t wanna have any love scenes or make-out scenes.’ I would start choosing parts that were less sexy, because it made me worried about the way I was perceived and how safe I felt.”
Thankfully, Portman managed to navigate such attitudes and flourished in her acting career. Now, with a larger platform, she can share her experience in the hope that it may help others who are affected. Listen to the entire episode, below.