Of course, there have been other highs – her 1994 debut role as Mathilde, the young girl who befriends Jean Reno's monosyllabic hit-man in 'Leon.'
Then, in a run few actors could ever compete with, she worked with Michael Mann ('Heat'), Woody Allen ('Everyone Says I Love You'), Tim Burton ('Mars Attacks!') and George Lucas ('The Phantom Menace').
But following on from her Oscar-nominated turn in Closer as a provocative pole-dancer, 'Black Swan' represents a true transformation for the 29 year-old actress.
As Nina, a New York ballerina who begins to unravel after winning the lead role in a new production of Swan Lake, Portman claimed a remarkable clean sweep during the 2010/11 awards season.
Winning Best Actress at the Golden Globes, the Baftas, the SAGs and, of course, the Oscars, rarely has a role garnered such universal praise.
Now engaged to her Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied and expecting her first child, Natalie talks about the harsh training regime it took to become a ballerina, the pain she was frequently in and why the role was so hard to let go of.
'Black Swan' is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD
Q: A lot of people are saying your work in Black Swan is your best performance to date. How do you feel?
A: I'm very unobjective! It was definitely the most challenging and the most rewarding. It's sad that the cliché is true – the more you put in, the more you get out of it.
Q: Did you want to be a dancer when you were young?
A: I definitely had that aspiration when I was younger, which was quickly replaced with wanting to be an actress when I was 12. That's when I stopped dancing. It was interesting. I definitely romanticised it until doing the film. Then when I saw how much hard work and discipline and pain is involved in becoming as virtuoso, as these women are, it gave me a whole new respect for it.
Q: Can you describe what sort of pain you went through for the role?
A: You're always in some sort of pain. Something is always hurting. The worst injury I got was…I dislocated a rib in the middle of filming. You know the scene with the physical therapist? That was a real session that Darren [Aronofsky, director] filmed. She was an actual physical therapist and she was working on trying to get my rib back in place.
For the last three weeks of the film, they had to change all of the lifts so that they were carrying me under my arms – if I was touched there it literally felt like I was being stabbed. It was really, really extreme. But it's nothing to complain about. All of the dancers are always dancing with an extreme injury. Not just "I've got a sore muscle!" They're dancing on a sprained ankle or with a twisted neck or something.
Q: What was your training regime like?
A: So a year before filming, I started ballet training, I was doing two or three hours a day of ballet. My trainer, Mary Helen Bowers, was a dancer with New York City Ballet for years and she started with injury prevention. She had me doing exercises where I was standing on my feet right, and we did exercises for my toes where we would take our feet up and hold them there for half-an-hour to build the small little muscles in my feet. We'd do this for hours just to make sure I wasn't lifting my ankles, because you can completely strain and hurt yourself and not be able to progress because you have some stupid injury. So we started with these strengthening things and continued with the technique.
About six months before we started hardcore training that was meant to transform my body as well as the technique, where I was doing swimming for a mile a day. I was doing toning and the ballet, so that was about five hours a day and then the two months before we started with the choreography too, so that turned into like eight hours a day. Then they brought coaches in who were really phenomenal, to give me both acting, style and technique on top of the basic steps.
Q: You and Mila Kunis, who plays Lily in the film, are old friends. Did you help her get the role? And how difficult was it when it came to the sex scene between Nina and Lily?
A: Well, Darren asked me "Do you know of any actresses that are around your age with the same kind of colouring and height and size, who can dance, who are good?" Around this time, Mila and I went to a flea market that weekend and I was telling her that I was doing this ballet and she was like, "Be careful, I broke all my toes dancing." So I called Darren up and I was like "She dances, she dances!" And so they met over Skype, I think, and he loved her and hired her right away. But I completely did not think about the sex scene when I did that, because I think it probably would have been more comfortable to do that with a stranger than with a friend who you go shopping with. But it was also nice in a way, because, you know, we could like laugh.
Q: Was it a tough role to let go of?
A: Absolutely. I think I'm only starting to shake it off right now. I don't know how it affected me yet. It's one of those things where I know it has affected me but it's going to take some time to digest in what way. It was really, really challenging but it was amazing to have Darren in the war with me. We're very similar in our extremism. We're both very, very disciplined and very focused, and extreme. I think we both throw ourselves into things in a similar way.
Q: Your character is all about control. Is that easy to relate to?
A: I'm very demanding with myself. I definitely have...I like discipline. I like order and regiment. I'm a soldier! It's not always the best thing. There's the challenge of that, which is the freedom, so it was definitely interesting to explore. It also gave me the tools with which I could do this training.
Q: Why do you consider that you're a soldier?
A: I just enjoy the discipline. By nature, I’m more of an obedient person than a rebellious one – but I'm trying to work on that! So it's nice to find a director who is as demanding of me, or more demanding of me, than I am myself. It's exciting.
Q: So where do you differ from your character?
A: The thing that's different about me, from the rigidity in the character, is that I'm a pleasure seeker. I don't like pain. I don't do things that are painful. I can't starve myself. I can't cause myself pain. I'm the opposite of that. I get acupuncture. I go swimming. I like to cook. I like hanging out with my friends! When I'm not working, I need those days where I just stare at the wall for a few hours and refresh by doing absolutely nothing. I can relax, but when I work, I want to do the best job.
I also think there's a discipline to also being a good person while you're working. There are people who can lose their humanity in the name of their work and I have no patience for that. If there's someone being unkind on the set, that completely takes me out of my focus. So that's part of the discipline too. Being kind and calm. To see directors who can do that – because there is a great deal of stress – is remarkable.
Q: Were your parents more relaxed in terms of your own career than Nina's mother is with her?
A: Yeah, no, my parents are not pushy in any sense, work wise. They were always really demanding with academics. I guess that’s sort of Jewish or immigrant kind of trait. Like "You got a 97 on the test, you need to get 100" – like it's not enough! I know that desire in a lesser way.
Q: Would you ever encourage your child to take up ballet?
A: I would encourage my child's dream. There's something extremely beautiful about dancers because it's an art where there are no superficial rewards. You don't get fame. In a certain circle you do but you don't get fame, you don't get money. It's really for the pure art and pure love of what they are doing. But it is, it can be a very cruel world.
Q: Do you have many fears?
A: I'm afraid of a lot. I'm not a danger seeker. I mean I like extreme experiences but not ones that I feel will threaten my life, you know. I like scuba diving but I wouldn't free-dive. I'm afraid of everything! Work-wise I try and do things that scare me because I know they are gonna challenge me but I really didn't know what I was in for with this. I didn't realise what it was gonna be like. But it was amazing. I like trying everything. I always wanna do things that I haven't done before. That is my main criteria. And also things that interested me in the moment. I feel I can explore with the roles.
Q: How have you managed to stay sane in the film industry?
A: Well, thank you for saying I'm not insane. I've been doubting that recently! I have really amazing parents, and really wonderful friends. That's been the biggest luck in the world. They know who I am. They're not other people. They can see me as something else, an image of me that exists separate from who I really am. And to have people around you, who are a defence around you, and only know you as a person and only want you to be that person, and will tell you if you're not being the person you should be. That's the most important thing.
Q: Why have you been doubting your sanity?
A: I've just been working too much. I've worked too much this year and I overdid it.
A: It's been a very strange time in the film industry where things fall apart. This film only had its financing for real only two weeks after we started shooting. It was always going to happen, then kept falling apart. Shooting was delayed four or five times. Films rarely come together. I committed to things that I really liked, but none of which were really solid, except for Thor. Thor was the only one that was really happening, and then everything happened. Every film got financed. So I ended up doing four films in a row – and this was the second. It...won't happen again!
Q: Thor must be your first blockbuster since the Star Wars films...
A: Well, I did get to work on 'V For Vendetta.' But this being a Marvel film, it has a built-in audience. It was amazing. When I heard it was Kenneth Branagh directing it, I thought"That's such a weird, interesting, smart choice" – and it was great. He's absolutely dreamy to work with – just really kind and creative. To work with somebody who's so interested in character on a movie of that scale was amazing. It was really a great experience to go into after this.
Q: How important was your Harvard degree in psychology?A: First of all I think that university taught me how hard I could work. Because the first time you get your reading list for the week and you get like a thousand pages to read in four days, your stomach drops. Then you see that you can do that amount of work and what you can take from it and create your own thing from these other materials. And yes, the psychology stuff definitely helps for a role like this, considering her obsessive nature, her narcissism.
Q: Is it easy for you to lead a normal life without too much bother?
A: I am able to. I feel very, very lucky – to be able to have a relatively private life. I mean, it's not like my non-actor friends. I have more infringement on my privacy than them but it's also nothing I can complain about.
Q: Do you believe in Method acting?
A: I don't understand how you would play a serial killer! It's inevitable you would take something home with you...that's not even a choice. And that's why you have to be careful about what kinds of roles you choose, because it affects you definitely, but I just don't really understand the idea of becoming your character. That would get rid of half of the characters you could play, because it would be illegal!
Q: You've also just made Your Highness. How was that experience?
A: That's the film I did right before 'Black Swan,' so I was doing my training for five hours a day while I was shooting that, which was really extreme. Luckily, we were in Belfast, so it's not like I had friends to hang out with there!
It was extreme because of the training, but it was totally fun to work on. I think David [Gordon Green] is one of the great American film-makers. I think he's really, really brilliant, and Danny McBride is absolutely hilarious. It was a really fun experience.
Q: At some point you started to choose more mature material like 'Closer' and 'V for Vendetta.' Were you trying to be more adult?
A: Yeah, well I think that it was necessary while I was figuring out my own personal identity as a person, as a private person, because these roles do affect you very personally. I wanted to have sort of a solid sense of myself, before I could go and explore. Because you see it was scary with this experience because I sort of dipped my toe into seeing how doing this sort of role would unhinge you. I felt lucky that I had a sense of self that was strong enough to deal with it, because I felt this side of how it could totally unravel you.
Q: Are you on a break now?
A: Oh, yeah. Well, this is it! It'll be a long time before I act again.Watch the 'Black Swan' trailer