Actress stars in aptly-named ''Beautiful Girls''

By Degen Pener
June 28, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Within the bundle of energy called Natalie Portman there seem to be two actresses vying for screen time. One is a child possessed of full-grown wisdom — ”I’d do a kids’ movie if it was realistic, but those hunky-dory tales are stupid sometimes. They make kids with real lives feel they are not as happy” — the other is a budding adult with enough allure to suggest a PG Lolita. Now 15, Portman drew statutory stares from Jean Reno in her debut in 1994’s The Professional and played a disarmingly frank teen with Timothy Hutton in Beautiful Girls. ”I thought it should be a very innocent role,” says Girls director Ted Demme, ”and for just a second someone should go, ‘Hey, wait a minute.”’

”I am more a teenager than anyone else I know” is how Portman explains her cusp-riding persona. ”One minute I feel really adult and the next minute I say, ‘Let’s play hide-and-seek.”’

Portman is easy to find. Spotted at age 11 at a Long Island pizza parlor by a modeling rep, she opted for acting instead, gliding through a casting call into The Professional. Lately, she’s been racking up roles for A-list directors. She was the suicidal daughter in Michael Mann’s Heat and will be seen this winter in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You and Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! ”I play the President’s daughter. She becomes dark and rebellious. I don’t think this girl’s like Chelsea,” says Portman, whose mother is an artist and whose father is a physician. After that comes Robert Redford’s adaptation of The Horse Whisperer.

Will Portman coalesce into one grown-up actress? Demme doesn’t doubt it. ”She’ll go to college and then come back into the industry and take it over,” he says. Until then, though, Portman doubts she could win the lead in her school play. ”They don’t give good parts to freshmen,” she says. ”I’m constantly reminded of that in high school.”