She is known as Evey in V for Vendetta, Queen Amidala in the Star Wars series, and most importantly, as Nina in Black Swan, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2011. We also know that behind her stellar acting career, she graduated with honors from high school, earned a Psychology degree in Harvard, co-authored numerous scientific papers, and advocates animal rights and other causes.
She is none other than Natalie Portman, and the first thing to ask her would be: what is your secret?
The secret turns out to be an anecdote from childhood.
One day, a ten year-old Natalie was approached by a modeling scout after dance class. The agent wanted the doe-eyed girl to consider modeling for Revlon. Natalie, however, refused, boldly saying, “I don’t want to model, I want to act.”
The hard part was pursuing an acting career at an early age while remaining devoted to school. Theater camps during the summer soon became not enough. At the same time, though, the girl did not want to give up school. She enjoyed school so much that her classmates would call her a dork. Faced with this challenge, the young Natalie decided to take the plunge and test the waters.
At first, it wasn’t all too easy. During rehearsals, she would keep on joking around with her fellow actress, and people would tell her to be quiet. She lacked the discipline required of a cast member. In school, kids would tease her, “you think you’re so hot now,” and Natalie would cry every day whenever she went home from shooting. She felt out of place and out of focus in both worlds.
But this strengthened Natalie’s resolve to pursue acting all the more. She decided to devote six days a week, seven hours a day, to rehearsals, waking up at 7:15, leaving for school at 8:00, then starting rehearsals at 10:30. This would continue until 2:00. During her break from 2:00-3:00, she would be tutored in one of the classes that she missed in school (Japanese, history, or math), then rehearsal would resume until 7:30 in the evening. From 7:30 to 8:30, she would be tutored once again. The same goes for weekends before and after whole-day rehearsals. After school and rehearsals, that’s the time Natalie would allow herself her much-needed rest.
The hard work eventually paid off.
Natalie soon got more projects, and landed her mainstream role as Queen Amidala in Star Wars. The rising star, however, true to her commitment to education, preferred to study for her final exams than go to her own movie premiere.
The rest, of course, is history.
Natalie has become what she is today not simply by pure talent or mental acumen, but by imposing upon herself the proper discipline and hard work to do what she wants, and to do them well. Natalie, for all her beauty and talent, is not afraid to do the dirty work.
- There is no substitute for hard work.
- Be curious and keep on learning.