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January 30, 2011

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Portman primed for busy year

FOR Natalie Portman, 2011 is already shaping up to be an unforgettable year. The actress is getting big awards buzz for her turn as a ballerina gone mad in "Black Swan." She has already won a Golden Globe, she is up for a Screen Actors Guild award and this week she was nominated for the best actress Oscar in next month's Academy Awards. Portman also has four other movies slated for release this year.

Oh, and she is pregnant with her first child and engaged to be married.

"I'm very, very excited," she said during an interview to promote her romantic comedy "No Strings Attached," which opened this month. "I feel very, very lucky."

And maybe a bit overwhelmed.

Ever poised in interviews, and always the picture of perfection at events, the Harvard grad, who had already been nominated for an Academy Award before for 2004's "Closer," says having four movies in the pipeline at the same time she is starting a family is "a little insane."

Not that she is letting it get to her or letting it show, except for maybe the family part. Although she has a spate of scheduled appearances coming up - awards shows, film festivals, premieres - she is not dashing around town juggling meetings and fittings. Instead, the star who recently relocated to Los Angeles from her hometown of New York says she is simply relaxing with her mom and enjoying the West Coast weather.

"I think because so much is going on, it's sort of going over my head," Portman said. "I don't know that I'm taking it all in. I'm just like, 'Oh, the sun is shining. I'm with my mom. I'm with my dog. Life is good.'"

Indeed, things are good for the 29-year-old. She is engaged to Benjamin Millepied, a ballet dancer and choreographer who worked on "Black Swan," and they are expecting their first child together. He was her date at the Globes, and when she was named best actress in a drama, she thanked him for "helping me to continue this creation of creating more life."

In "No Strings Attached," Portman plays Emma Kurtzman, a doctor for whom love is like a nasty rash: irritating, painful and best avoided. Meanwhile, her colleagues (played by Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling) want boyfriends and lament the lack of good guys out there. They support Emma as she enters a sex-only relationship with Adam (Ashton Kutcher), zinging one-liners and cracking wise throughout.

It is the rare romantic comedy where women get laughs, Portman said.

"I had been looking for a funny female character for a long time," she said. "I feel like in romantic comedies often it's just the girl who gets to wear cute clothes and wants to get married at the end, which is always fun to watch but it's not necessarily a challenge or exciting to do."

Director Ivan Reitman says Portman found the script on her own and asked for the part. He recalls being surprised at her interest, then met with her.

"I realized as I was talking to her: Oh, this is the girl," he said. "She is as smart as this character is, because she needs to be that intelligent, but more than that, she has the strength that this girl has, and she has the complexity to portray somebody that is a little bit messed up."

The role called for Portman to be saucy, sexy and even drunk in one scene. Her character is bold, confident and sexually self-assured, the complete opposite of her award-winning "Black Swan" character, who is repressed, girlish and afraid.

The back-to-back contrasting roles was "one of those sort of accidents," the actress said.

"I'd been with 'Black Swan' for 10 years before it got made, and I'd been with this movie for three years before it got made, and it just happened to get financing in the same period," she said. "But it's always welcome to completely shed a character and do something very, very different."

She will be seen in two more very different roles this year. She plays a warrior opposite Danny McBride and James Franco in the comedy-adventure "Your Highness," and a human friend of a Norse god in Marvel Studios' anticipated "Thor."

Portman might be promoting her movies through most of her pregnancy.

"The thing that's great is that I'm really proud of all the movies. I'm really excited about every single one," she said. "I don't think it's great that they're all in this time period. I wish they were more spaced out, but I don't really have control over that. But at least people won't see my face for a while afterwards."

For now, though, expect Portman aplenty in what's becoming Natalie's big year.


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