The Good Girl,’ she begins, ‘Smart Girl, Studious Girl… it’s very boxed the way people want to define you… the Conservative Girl. Sure, I would say overall it’s probably true, but…’ There’s a but.
In case you didn’t know, Portman is Harvard University educated, graduating with a degree in psychology in 2003. She’s fluent in Hebrew, the mother tongue of her Israeli father. This, coupled with a willingness to speak out, and knowledgeably, on political and ethical issues she holds dear, has gained the 26-year-old a reputation as something of an intellectual actress.
There are, she concedes, definite preconceptions that follow her around. Coldness, she says, is maybe one of them. ‘Yeah,’ she confesses, ‘I can be pretentious and talk about books for hours, but I’m not hyper-intellectual or anything. I mean, I like to read, but lots of people do. I’m not the hard, brainy girl at all. I’m really mushy. [Laughs.] I’m much more mush, I think, than anything else!’
She grabs an energy bar from the display basket and studies the contents of the label. She wonders if the energy bar contains milk. That’s Tobey’s fault. For the past ten days she’s gone from being vegetarian to vegan. ‘I was around Tobey Maguire in rehearsals [for upcoming film Brothers] and he’s vegan and I was, like, this is nice. I’m honest about caring about animals. You know, eggs and milk products, there’s a lot of animal discomfort in that, too. I don’t know if it’s a permanent thing.’ Rather than preaching, it’s like she’s making our excuses for us. ‘I haven’t been very healthy - eating a lot of fried foods, pizzas, so it’s good to detox - no caffeine or alcohol.’ She laughs: ‘It might spark speculation why I’m not drinking.’ You’re not pregnant? ‘No, there’s no grand occasion.’
Natalie admits that she herself ‘was a spoiled, only child in a Jewish family. Very outgoing… A Jewish princess, I wonder? ‘Yeah, but we didn’t have any money because my dad was still training to be a doctor while I was growing up. He was training until he was 40, so throughout my childhood it wasn’t like we were poor, but there wasn’t any luxurious spending. We drove everywhere in a used Chevy for our vacations, going to Disneyworld in Florida, or to Ohio to visit my grandma.
I remember that my dad used to make up the back seat with a bed and bookshelves and toys and call it my apartment, to make it feel more grown-up. I always wanted to be grown-up. I was definitely spoiled, but we didn’t have any money.’