Natalie Portman was just 11 years old when she landed her debut breakout role in Léon: The Professional. The film was released in 1994 when she was 13, and proved to be a less-than-exciting experience for the young Portman. The Black Swan actress fell victim to sexualization by adult men, who went to extreme lengths, such as setting a countdown to her 18th birthday, the legal age for consent.
Her character, Mathilda Lando, is portrayed as the young protégée of a hitman, and their relationship carries some s*xual undertones. Portman’s personal life has been a subject of media scrutiny, with recent media reports on alleged cheating by her husband, Benjamin Millepied.
Natalie Portman Exposed Radio Show That Sexualized Her
Natalie Portman opened up about her distressing experiences after appearing in Léon: The Professional during the 2018 Women’s March. She revealed that her first fan mail was a r*pe fantasy from an adult man. One of the most disturbing instances was when her local radio show initiated a countdown clock to her 18th birthday when she would become a legal adult.
A website also went live with the countdown but was later removed. The V for Vendetta actress also took a restraining order against the creator of the website. She called out movie reviewers who commented inappropriately about her br**sts at the time of Léon: The Professional‘s release. Portman spoke at the 2018 Women’s March:
“I was so excited at 13 when the film was released, and my work and my art would have a human response. I excitedly opened my first fan mail to read a r*pe fantasy that a man had written me. A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday, euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with. Movie reviewers talked about my budding br**sts in reviews.”
This wasn’t the first or last time that adult men projected their s*xual fantasies onto young actresses under 18. Earlier, Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, who appeared as successful child actresses in several shows including Full House, experienced a similar treatment with a website countdown clock. More recently, Millie Bobby Brown faced a similar Reddit attack when she started her role in Stranger Things.
Natalie Portman Has Complicated Feelings About Her Debut Role
The themes of Léon: The Professional were re-examined in the wake of s*xual assault allegations against director Luc Besson. At the time of filming, Besson’s wife was underage, and she revealed that the film was inspired by their relationship. Natalie Portman harbors complicated feelings about the film, sharing that the film took away from her sexuality. Describing her role as a ‘Lolita’ figure, Portman shared with Dax Shepard on the Armchair Expert podcast:
“I was definitely aware of the fact that I was being portrayed … as this ‘Lolita’ figure. Being s*xualized as a child, I think took away from my own sexuality because it made me afraid, and it made me [feel] like the way I could be safe was to be like, ‘I’m conservative,’ and ‘I’m serious and you should respect me,’ and ‘I’m smart,’ and ‘don’t look at me that way.’”
The Jackie actress built fortresses around her, to protect herself from s*xual objectification. She revealed that she had to present herself as a serious and conservative actress so that people respect her and not objectify her. Portman continues to fight against the objectification of women. In September 2023, the May December actress spoke at the United Nations Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls.