Natalie Portman's Israeli Film Project Is No Swan Song

The Israeli-born actress is exploiting her Oscar to take on new territory.

What do Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon and Hilary Swank have in common? All three are actors whose careers went into a tailspin after they won a Best Actress Academy Award. Traditionally, female actors who win the Oscar are relatively young. The average age of men who have won the Oscar since 2000 is 44, compared to 36 for women. As a result, quite a few young female actors find themselves at a crossroads after winning and are tempted to take roles in large-scale productions, which will allow them to translate the gilded statuette into generous salaries.

Halle Berry, for example, crashed in “Die Another Day” (2000), from the James Bond series, and the embarrassing “Catwoman” (2005). But another Oscar winner has recently been showing how to transform the prize into an opportunity for a career change. Natalie Portman, who won in 2011 for her role as a tormented ballerina in “Black Swan,” has taken advantage of the past two years to initiate a series of projects that have made her one of the most interesting stars in Hollywood.

She took a short break from acting to get married and give birth (to a baby boy). Since then, she has appeared in big-budget box-office hits like “Thor” (2011), “Thor: The Dark World” (2013, now playing in Israel) and commercial comedies such as “No Strings Attached” and “Your Highness.” In addition, she has undertaken challenging artistic projects, such as the new Terrence Malick film (due out next year) and “Jane Got a Gun,” a feminist take on the Western genre.

Portman is not just looking out for her bank account. She was in Israel these past few weeks ahead of shooting her debut film as a director, an adaptation of Amos Oz’s autobiographical book “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” She will also play the mother of the film’s protagonist. In other words, Portman is trying − and succeeding − to turn herself into a female version of James Franco: a star who moves between blockbusters and experimental films, and who, in between, initiates and directs projects of her own, instead of waiting for someone to write a role that might garner her another Oscar.

As the careers of Berry, Witherspoon and Swank founder because of poor role choices, Portman is proving that women, too, can parlay an Oscar into an opportunity to take fascinating risks.

Her decision to join the contemporary trend of actors who become directors (the group includes Franco, Ben Affleck, Ben Stiller, Ryan Gosling, Scarlett Johannson) is an inspirational example for other female stars.

In an industry in which female actors are gauged mainly by the texture of their facial skin and the shapeliness of their figure, the Portman model broadens and redefines the concept of the Hollywood female star. She is definitely beautiful, but the last thing she intends to do is shut up.

Reuters