Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Natalie Portman talks insecurities, feeling like a fraud and heartbreak in Harvard speech


Natalie Portman has told graduating Harvard students to use their inexperience to their advantage, admitting she only accepted her Oscar winning part in Black Swan because she didn't know her own limitations.

Speaking to graduating students at Harvard College, Natalie, 33, said that she might not have taken the role if she had known how 'woefully unprepared' she was to pull off the intense choreography as a trained ballet dancer, but that the subsequent experience turned out to be one of the most fulfilling professionally and personally.  

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman won an Oscar for her part in Black Swan

"People said [Black Swan] was an artistic risk but it didn’t feel like bravery or courage to do it as I so oblivious to my own limits," Natalie says.

"The point is, if I had known my own limitations, I never would have taken the risk," she said. "And the risk led to one of my greatest personal and professional achievements.

"Make use of the fact that you don't doubt yourself too much right now because, as we get older, we get more realistic," she said.

"Accept your lack of knowledge and use it as your asset."

Natalie bagged an Oscar for the 2010 film and met her husband, choreographer Benjamin Millepied, 37, on the set  

The two married in August 2012, just over a year after Natalie gave birth to the couple's son Aleph who is now nearly four. 

Natalie Portman and husband choreographer Benjamin Millepied

Natalie Portman and husband choreographer Benjamin Millepied

In her Harvard Commencement Speech Natalie, who graduated from the college in 2003, revealed she felt insecure about being a student there because she was already an established actress - and joined just after the release of Star Wars: Episode 1.

"I’m still insecure about my own worthiness I have to remind myself, you are here today." she said.

“Today I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999.

“I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress," she said. 

"I started choosing jobs only I was passionate about and from which I knew I could gleam a worthy experience. I was able to own my meaning and not have it dictated by box office success. By the time Black Swan came out I felt immune," Natalie continued.

"The only thing you can be best at is being your best self."

"Sometimes our insecurity and inexperience may lead you to embrace other people’s expectations of you but that inexperience can lead you to carve out your own path, one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be defined," she adds.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman at Cannes film festival last month

Natalie talks about feeling like an outsider at school where the girls had "flat ironed hair and Prada bags" and they spoke with an accent she mimicked to fit after she moved to Long Island from Connecticut.

She faced more of the same at Harvard where her desire to be taken seriously led her to choose obscure subjects to study - among them neurobiology and advanced modern Hebrew literature.

She also touches on the very dark times she had at college: "A combination of being 19, dealing with my first heartbreak, taking birth control pills that have since been taken off the market for their depressive side effects and too much time missing daylight during the winter months led to some pretty dark times here during my sophomore year," she admits. But finding her way back to film, and realising which jobs she was and wasn't willing to take on, helped her find her true self again she says. 

"When I got to my graduation, after four years of trying to get excited about something else, I admitted to myself that I couldn't wait to go back and make more films," Natalie told the students. "I wanted to tell stories, imagine the lives of others, and help others to do the same. 

"Fear protects us in many ways, but what has served me is diving into my own obliviousness," Natalie says. "Being more confident than I should be ... trying things that you never would have tried. Your inexperience is an asset in that it will make you think in original, unconventional ways. Accept your lack of knowledge and use it as your asset."

Watch the full video of Natalie's speech below. 


The best A-list Instagrams from the week so far

From Amanda Seyfried’s new abode to Jessica Chastain’s feline friend

by Nicola Colyer
18 Oct 2017

Jennifer Lawrence was forced into a naked line-up by a producer

In the name of weight-loss “inspiration”

by Amy Swales
17 Oct 2017

Abigail Breslin’s photo reveals how domestic abuse can stay with you

The actor has opened up about the realities of living with PTSD

17 Oct 2017

“Why Liar is proof that TV's depiction of rape is damaging to women”

The proliferation of rape in TV and film is a real problem for the representation of women

by Harriet Hall
17 Oct 2017

Nigella Lawson reveals why red is the ultimate foodie colour

As she tracks her gastronomic love affair with all things crimson

by Stylist
17 Oct 2017

Reese Witherspoon says she was sexually assaulted at 16 by a director

“Producers made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment”

by Amy Swales
17 Oct 2017

Courtney Love tried to warn us about Harvey Weinstein in 2005

This video shows her speaking out against Weinstein over a decade ago

by Susan Devaney
17 Oct 2017

Hillary Clinton praises NHS after receiving medical treatment in UK

Clinton spoke about the UK’s health service during an appearance on The Graham Norton Show

by Moya Crockett
17 Oct 2017

Maisie Williams’ response to Sophie Turner’s engagement is perfect

There’s a reason these two have been dubbed #BFFgoals, you know…

by Kayleigh Dray
17 Oct 2017

America Ferrera reveals she was sexually assaulted as a 9-year-old

‘I believed that I was somehow responsible for the actions of a grown man’

by Kayleigh Dray
17 Oct 2017