natalie portman.JPG
Natalie Portman has been acting since she was 12 years old.
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
  • Dan Schawbel is a bestselling author, speaker, entrepreneur, and host of the «5 Questions with Dan Schawbel» podcast, where he interviews world-class humans by asking them just five questions in under 10 minutes.
  • He recently spoke with Natalie Portman, the Academy Award-winning actress and author of the new picture book «Natalie Portman’s Fables.»
  • Portman shared that after her childhood acting career, the friends she made in college reaffirmed her decision to become a full-time actress.
  • She says the best career advice is to find meaning and joy in your work, even during tough times, to make every experience and relationship something you can learn and grow from.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Natalie Portman started her acting career at the ripe age of 12 and has since starred in blockbuster movies like the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Black Swan, V for Vendetta, and No Strings Attached. Currently, she’s in Sydney Australia, where the upcoming Marvel film «Thor: Love and Thunder» will be filmed early next year, while promoting her new children’s book, «Natalie Portman’s Fables.»

In our conversation, Natalie Portman discusses why she decided to become an actress, how she stays grounded, why retelling fables is important to her, how she copes with her biggest life challenges. and her best piece of career advice.

Your acting career started at age 12, which is a year before your bat mitzvah. Why did you decide to become an actress, how did college reaffirm that decision, and what keeps you motivated to continue?

Well, first of all, I have to say that’s a little bit of a cheat, because that’s like five questions in one. I did not have a bat mitzvah, so it’s actually a poignant time, because it was a big time of transformation for me. I feel like it was really lucky for me to get to do what I loved so early and see that you could do that as a grown up, make believe for a living, which is pretty astonishing.

Going to college was amazing for me, mainly in terms of giving me a group of friends that are so interesting, and from such different backgrounds, and such different interests and went into different careers. We’ve all just been in each other’s lives now for 20 years and our kids are in each other’s lives. It’s just a remarkable gift because it is the first time in your life that you’re exposed to people outside your neighborhood, and in a real meaningful, deep way. 

That was really wonderful and reaffirmed my decision to be an actress for sure, because I think I had questioned it a lot and the seriousness of it and what it meant. I realized how much I loved it and how much I wanted to do it and how much I felt storytelling had meaning, which is related to the book as well. Storytelling is our way of developing empathy and practicing empathy. When we care about characters when we’re watching a movie or reading a book, it’s the practice of empathy.

Speaking of your book, how has the practice of re-telling these fables reinforced the lessons you’ve learned in your life and why do you feel the need to pass them down to future generations?

Well, the reason I chose these three fables, which are The Tortoise and The Hare, The Three Little Pigs, and Country Mouse and City Mouse were because they were the ones that I felt had really relevant lessons, still. Some of the lessons I couldn’t even really ascertain in some of the other fables. Some of them were just not relevant anymore or even really wrong in today’s 2020 sight.

But these were ones that were really poignant. Tortoise and The Hare, for me, is so much about paying attention, not trying to rush through everything. I think it is more resonant than ever because the world feels so fast and noisy with so much going on and the true meaning seems completely founded in attention and in taking time. That one was a message to myself. The beautiful thing about children’s books is that the children get the message of the story, but so do the parents, while reading it out loud to them over, and over, and over again every night. I like to read the things that enrich me too when I read to my kids at night.

The Three Little Pigs is about building strong foundations. I thought that was really relevant now with the environment, because of course we have to be so conscious of how we’re building strong foundations that we need to think about now. And then City Mouse and Country Mouse is a timeless fable about real fulfillment versus superficiality. The superficial charms of the city don’t compare to true friendship, which is what’s valuable. They all felt like things that I cared about, wanted my kids to value and that I’d love them to have in their lives.

Read more: 19 books that’ll give you hope and inspiration in uncertain times, recommended by founders, CEOs, and business coaches

How has storytelling helped you cope with your biggest life challenges and helped you grow as a person?

I definitely think that any kind of creative act is a completely healing and an emotional release and a way to bring excitement and joy for yourself. When I am able to act, or write, or direct, it’s a total joy and definitely you can take your kind of an angst from your life and put it into your work and it somehow releases it.

How have you been able to stay grounded and maintain your image for so long while many celebrities have fallen victim to the corruption of fame?

Most of the people I know who are in similar positions as I am, are doing wonderfully and dealing with it. It’s a very lucky position to be in. As long as you’re aware of the luck that you have and are grateful for it and feel that you have to work hard for it and treat everyone kindly no matter what and have loved ones around you who love you for you, and not for any of those superficial trappings of fame or anything, then you keep it together. Most people I know are in that realm.

Read more: You don’t need ‘one true calling’ to be a major success. Here’s how to make more money and a name for yourself by investing in multiple interests.

What’s your best piece of career advice?

I would say the best career advice would be if you have the choice, do something that’s meaningful to you and brings you joy. That’s the best way to spend your time. Then, if you can make it meaningful for yourself, like even things that aren’t on their face, meaningful, like I’ve done jobs that didn’t feel particularly meaningful, but you can find some friendship or some relationship within that, that can bring you meaning, you can make it more of a growing experience for yourself and less relating to what other people impose on you or what the environment imposes on you.

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