"She was camera-ready when she arrived," Todd Thaler, casting director for The Professional, tells PEOPLE. Portman lands the role of a kid who charms a middle-aged hit man. "They literally could have gone into production without a stitch of rehearsal."
Tapping into her wise-child persona again, Portman gets attention for her Beautiful Girls role. She plays a precocious 13-year-old on whom her older neighbor Timothy Hutton develops a harmless crush. Meanwhile, Portman racks up prized parts in films including Heat and Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You.
Portman tackles the title role in The Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway. The actress earns critical praise in the $1.6 million revival. "There is ineffable grace in her awkwardness, and her very skin seems to glow with the promise of miraculous transformations," writes The New York Times critic Ben Brantley.
Portman wins the role of Queen Amidala in the blockbuster Star Wars prequel and worries about the attention she'll get from avid fans. "I thought it would be awful," Portman says to PEOPLE after the first installment, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. "But I can still walk down the street alone and not worry about anyone accosting me."
Portman enrolls at Harvard. "I felt like I had to prove myself more," she tells Vanity Fair in 2006, "and it made me nervous all the time, because I feel that people always thought I was there because I was famous and not because I deserved to be there." In 2003, she graduates with a degree in psychology.
Portman appears as the responsible teen to flaky mom Susan Sarandon in Anywhere But Here. Of the young star, PEOPLE film critic Leah Rozen says she has "the kind of ravishing beauty not seen in an adolescent actress since Elizabeth Taylor galloped through National Velvet." Anywhere But Here is followed by another starring part as the spunky mom-to-be in Where the Heart Is. "She's gorgeous," director Matt Williams says to PEOPLE, "but people are also drawn to her for her intellect, substance and heart."
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones premieres, followed by the last pre-chapter, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith three years later. "The attention I get at college isn't always flattering," Portman tells Allure in 2002. "Someone at a party will dare someone else to scream out 'Queen Amidala' to see if I turn around."
Though Portman adamantly guards her private life, the star is linked with Y Tu Mamá También actor Gael García Bernal. Portman is also spotted with Jake Gyllenhaal in the coming years, but both decline to comment. "I'm a really open person," she tells USA Today. "Everyone I'm close to knows everything about me. But I have friends to tell my problems to, and I have no desire to tell them to strangers. Public confessional is not something I'm tempted to do."
The recent grad appears in Cold Mountain, costarring Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger and Jude Law. She's "disarmingly intelligent," director Anthony Minghella tells USA Today. "She reminds me a little of Jodie Foster, because I can see her, as time goes on, wanting to spread her wings beyond acting. Her big brain wants to be fed."
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