Natalie Portman

08/02/2004 at 06:00 AM EDT

Natalie Portman
"I have this reputation, I think, for being really serious," says Portman. "And I do take myself seriously. I'm trying to be a serious person."
She's no Jersey girl, but Natalie Portman, a native of Long Island, N.Y., knows what it's like to grow up in suburbia. The 23-year-old Star Wars actress is putting her experience to use in Garden State, the directorial and writing debut of Scrubs star Zach Braff. Her role as a pathological liar in the romantic-comedy was a welcome change: "You can conserve your resources and be creative" on an independent film, she says. A Harvard graduate, Portman recently talked about her good fortune, being a sex symbol and what made her head to the other side of the George Washington Bridge.

What attracted you to Garden State?
It was like no other character that I've ever done before. In Hollywood, when they see you do one thing, they send you 40 scripts of the same thing. I just get bored. I have to be able to imagine myself in a part. I can't think that anyone would believe me as a fashion executive who falls in love really cute-ly. I feel like I'm so much weirder than that.

What was it like working with Zach Braff?
It was such a wonderful experience. It was very clear that he was confident and smart and funny. He had all the pieces that go into what makes a great director, but you don't really know until you get there. It has so much to do with how your styles mesh and what your chemistry is.

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How was it to do a romantic comedy?
It was fun. Zach created this atmosphere where we were all just hanging out, laughing all the time and it translated onto film.

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