RIF: You appeared on Sesame Street a few years ago—dressed as an elephant! What was it like performing alongside the loveable Elmo?
Natalie Portman: It was really a dream come true! I learned how to read from watching Sesame Street, so it meant a lot to me to get to meet all the characters. I was sad, though, because I lost my voice after the first day. So I couldn't be on as many shows as I was supposed to. But I hope I get invited back!
RIF: Speaking of elephants, you’re a huge animal-lover, right?
NP: I do love animals. I've been a vegetarian since I was 9 years old. My dog, Charlie, who I love very much, passed away a while ago, so I've been very sad. Hopefully, I can adopt more dogs in the future, since there are so many who need homes.
RIF: A few years ago, in your movie, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, you played Molly, a young woman who inherits a magical toy store. What was your favorite toy as a kid?
NP: I loved my Tub Toys—they were these little plastic people with holes in the bottom so you could put them on your fingers and make them walk around. I made up whole soap operas for them, and I would stay in the bath with their stories until my fingers were all wrinkly.
RIF: What was your favorite movie as a kid?
NP: I always thought cartoons were so scary, like in The Lion King when the dad dies. So I liked musicals a lot, like Mary Poppins and Grease; and older movies like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and My Fair Lady.
RIF: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is one of your favorite books. How old were you when you first read it?
NP: I was 12 when I first read it and I was just amazed to hear someone my age be so honest about how she felt about her parents, her crushes, and her sister. It also seemed like a way to learn my own family's history, because my grandparents escaped the Holocaust but never discussed it.
RIF: Kids may not know that you were born in Jerusalem, Israel. What do you cherish most about your Jewish American heritage?
NP: It's amazing to be part of an ancient tradition with so much wonderful tradition. I like best that you can break any rule in Judaism to save a human life. It's the most important rule in life and also one of the most forgotten.
RIF: In Mr. Magorium, your character learns to believe in herself and in her ability to run a magical toy shop. Have you ever struggled with self-doubt?
NP: I always struggle with self-doubt. As soon as I turned 12 and until this day, I am always concerned that I might not be smart enough, or talented enough, or focused enough, to do the best job possible as a friend, actress, or daughter. Luckily, I have friends, family, and co-workers who encourage me and love me no matter. They help me get over my self-doubt.
RIF: You’re quoted as saying, “I’m going to college. I don’t care if it ruins my career. I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” Why was going to college so important to you?
NP: I don't think there has to be a choice between being an actress or being educated. That was something I said before I went to school and reporters kept telling me I was giving up my career by going to college.
But I thought, "I just want to be the best version of myself I can be." For me, education—as well as the social experience of being with other young people who have interests and passions and so much to teach me—was something I wouldn't trade for anything.
Luckily, I've been able to keep acting after I graduated from college, and I think my education has made me a fuller person and therefore a better actress.
RIF: You have traveled a lot, both for film shoots and on your own. What are some of your favorite places?
NP: I loved Rwanda, where I went to film an Animal Planet show on mountain gorillas. The people are so friendly, the land is very beautiful, and the gorillas are the most incredible animals!
I also love going to Israel because my family and friends are there and it's such a magical city.