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Natalie Portman Says Mike Nichols Saved Her Career After ‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’

Natalie Portman Says Mike Nichols Saved Her Career After 'Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace'

Let’s say you’re an actress who has just landed one of the key roles in a new “Star Wars” trilogy. Before that, you had turned some heads as a kid in “Leon: The Professional,” and had small appearances in films by directors like Michael Mann (“Heat“) and Woody Allen (“Everyone Says I Love You“). But “Star Wars” was your key to the big time, and the future looked bright. But that’s not quite how it turned out for Natalie Portman. And she reveals that the late, great Mike Nichols was the one who saved her career from a possibly skidding off the rails before the entire trilogy had hit theaters (Portman later starred in his 2004 effort “Closer“). 

” ‘Star Wars’ had come out around the time of [her performance in ‘The Seagull‘ in Central Park], and everyone thought I was a horrible actress. I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me,” the actress recently told New York. “Mike wrote a letter to Anthony Minghella and said, ‘Put her in Cold Mountain, I vouch for her.’ And then Anthony passed me on to Tom Tykwer, who passed me on to the Wachowskis. I worked with Milos Forman a few years later. He said, ‘Mike saved me. He wrote a letter so that I could get asylum in the U.S.’ He did that for 50 people, and it doesn’t make any one of us feel less special.”

It’s a pretty open and honest admission by Portman, but if anything it makes you feel that much more for Hayden Christensen, who managed to give a great performance in “Shattered Glass” between ‘Episode II’ and ‘Episode III,’ but whose stiff turn in both those movies seemed to overshadow everything that followed.

But this perhaps is not a surprise given that Lucas has never been a great director of actors (let’s face it, Harrison Ford is only one who ever was really acting in these things), but in an industry that can be very cruel, it’s nice to know there were guys like Nichols around eager to help new talent. Correction: As commenters have reminded me, Lucas didn’t direct ‘Episodes 6 and 7.’

Are there any other performances in those prequels that weren’t great by actors who deserved better? Let us know below.

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