Natalie Portman reflects on ‘cringey and ‘complicated’ role in Leon: The Professional aged 12

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Natalie Portman has reflected on her ‘cringey and complicated’ role in controversial 1994 movie, Leon: The Professional as a child star aged 12 in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

The Oscar-winning actress, now 41, shot to fame in the Luc Besson film, in which she played a young girl who made friends with a hit man in hopes of avenging her parents’ murders.

The French film attracted controversy for its moral ambiguity, with many viewing Portman’s character as a Lolita-esque figure and many were left uncomfortable with the relationship between her and the middle-aged killer, played by Jean Reno. 

Portman said: ‘It’s a movie that’s still beloved, and people come up to me about it more than almost anything I’ve ever made, and it gave me my career. 

‘But it is definitely, when you watch it now, it definitely has some cringey, to say the least, aspects to it. So, yes, it’s complicated for me.

Candid: Natalie Portman has reflected on her 'cringey and complicated' experience making controversial 1994 movie, Leon: The Professional as a child star aged 12 in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter

Candid: Natalie Portman has reflected on her ‘cringey and complicated’ experience making controversial 1994 movie, Leon: The Professional as a child star aged 12 in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter 

Controversial: The Oscar-winning actress, now 41, shot to fame in the Luc Besson film, in which she played a young girl who made friends with a hit man in hopes of avenging her parents' murders

Controversial: The Oscar-winning actress, now 41, shot to fame in the Luc Besson film, in which she played a young girl who made friends with a hit man in hopes of avenging her parents’ murders

When asked how she felt about allegations of sexual abuse being levied against Besson in 2018 – he denied all allegations and rape charges against him were later dropped by a Paris court of appeal – Portman said: ‘It’s devastating.’

When asked ‘Luc was a crucial figure in your career and the career of other young women. Do you think there was any indication that -‘ Portman responded: ‘I really didn’t know. I was a kid working. I was a kid. But I don’t want to say anything that would invalidate anyone’s experience.

The film has attracted further controversy when writer and director Luc Besson admitted that in the initial draft script, the girl and the hitman actually become lovers, but he changed his mind. 

In 2018 Portman said that at the age of 13, after starring in her first film, she experienced ‘sexual terrorism’ from fans and the media that impacted the way she went about the rest of her career.

When the movie was released a year later, she said she was excited to open her first fan letter. But inside the letter a man had written to her about a ‘rape fantasy’ he had about her. 

‘At 13 years old, the message from our culture was clear to me,’ Portman said. ‘I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world that I’m someone worthy of safety and respect. 

‘The response to my expression, from small comments about my body to more deliberate statements, served to control my behavior through an environment of sexual terrorism.’ 

Chat: The French film attracted controversy for its moral ambiguity, with many viewing Portman's character as a Lolita-esque figure

Chat: The French film attracted controversy for its moral ambiguity, with many viewing Portman’s character as a Lolita-esque figure

Style: Portman wowed in a structured mini dress as she posed for the publication

Style: Portman wowed in a structured mini dress as she posed for the publication

Radiant The star wore a woven ab cut-out gown for the shoot

Radiant The star wore a woven ab cut-out gown for the shoot

Role: 'But it is definitely, when you watch it now, it definitely has some cringey, to say the least, aspects to it. So, yes, it’s complicated for me;

Role: ‘But it is definitely, when you watch it now, it definitely has some cringey, to say the least, aspects to it. So, yes, it’s complicated for me;

In 2020 she said: 'Being sexualised as a child, I think, took away from my own sexuality because it made me afraid.

In 2020 she said: ‘Being sexualised as a child, I think, took away from my own sexuality because it made me afraid.

Portman then went on to call for a world in which women can express their sexuality and ‘desire’ without feeling physically unsafe. 

I know I was sexualized in the ways that I was photographed or portrayed, and that was not my doing,’ she added. ‘That becomes a part of your public identity.’ 

In 2020 she said: ‘Being sexualised as a child, I think, took away from my own sexuality because it made me afraid.

‘It made me feel like the way I can be safe is 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.’



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