What a difference an episode makes. With the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, Natalie Portman went from teen ingenue (The Professional, Broadway’s The Diary of Anne Frank) to international superstar. Now, with Attack of the Clones, the 20-year-old Portman arrives as a true leading lady, profoundly changed by her college years. Fresh from spring break in Spain (”I slept all day and partied all night,” she laughs), the third-year Ivy League psychology major chats about being older, wiser, and packing blow-dryers for heat. — Jeff Jensen

EW So how has Queen Amidala changed since Episode I?

NATALIE PORTMAN Well, she’s no longer queen. She’s now a senator. She wanted to leave government altogether, but the new queen asked her to stay on.

EW Is Amidala pleased that she doesn’t have to wear the heavy ceremonial garb anymore?

NP [Laughs] Your real question, of course, is ”Were you pleased?”

EW You caught me. Were you pleased?

NP It was obviously a relief. It’s very hard to concentrate when you’re in pain. On the last film, we had one headpiece that had a cord attached to the top and hooked up to a pulley. Someone would walk behind me and pull down to lessen the weight.

EW Amidala gets a lot more action in this movie — fighting-wise. Was that fun?

NP It was. But a lot of the stunts have to deal with running from and fighting with imaginary creatures, which was somewhat…amusing.

EW Is that easy for you — fighting imaginary creatures?

NP Not before this. But you get surprisingly good when 90 percent of your shots are with a tape mark against a blue screen.

EW Does your imagination gravitate toward fantasy? Like, are you into The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter?

NP Not really! [Laughs] I like more Amelie-type fantasy than scary-monster-type fantasy.

EW I understand the Jedi actors get to pick their lightsabers before every movie. Do you —

NP I get no say in my weapons. [Mock indignantly] I always get, like, a blow-dryer. Check out my weapons — it totally looks like I just came from doing my hair.

EW [Producer] Rick McCallum says Episode II was a much better experience for you than Episode I. How so?

NP Episode I was really, really hard for me. Being 16, in London for the summer with no people my age, not knowing anyone there — that was just really difficult. The weather was awful, and the studio was like this old factory — it was just a very depressing summer.

EW When you look at your performance in Episode I, do you see how that tough time affected it?

NP Absolutely. And I feel bad about it, because it was very unprofessional. When you’re 16, it’s easy to be selfish and go, ”I’m not having a good day and I can’t deal.” Now I’m old enough to know this is my job. I have to put my own things aside.

EW Last time we talked, you had just started college and were reconsidering how acting fit into your goals. Have you come to any conclusions?