When Natalie Portman was 13, a radio station made a 'countdown clock' counting the days until Portman turned 18 and would be 'legal to sleep with'

  • Natalie Portman's marriage to Benjamin Millepied has been in the news over cheating allegations for the last few days.

  • But Portman's life has been scrutinized since she became a star at age 13.

  • When Portman was a teen, she recalled, older men sexualized her and counted down to when she'd be "legal."

As Natalie Portman's marriage to dancer Benjamin Millepied is in the news — over a whiff of a possible affair on Millepied's part — it's worth remembering just how much of the 41-year-old's life has been spent being scrutinized by the media, and how much of that attention has been inappropriately sexual.

Case in point: The Natalie Portman 18th birthday clock, which existed as both a website and as a radio show bit.

Portman rose to fame in the 1994 Luc Besson film "The Professional," which tells the story of Leon, a professional hit man, who takes in 12-year-old Mathilda, played by Portman. Despite being just 11 years old at the time, the role had obvious sexual undertones. In a 2020 interview with IndieWire, Portman later described her character as being something of a "'Lolita' figure."

Jean Reno and Natalie Portman on the set of The Professional
Portman and actor Jean Reno on the set of the 1994 film "The Professional."Patrick CAMBOULIVE/Sygma via Getty Images

Playing such a sexualized role, she added, "took away from my own sexuality because it made me afraid, and it made me [feel] like the way I could be safe was to be like, 'I'm conservative,' and 'I'm serious and you should respect me,' and 'I'm smart,' and 'don't look at me that way.'"

But back to the birthday clock.

Appearing in "The Professional" made her a star, but it also opened her up to the sexual fantasies of adult men, who were not shy about reaching out to the young teen to share their sexual fantasies with her.

She recounted the experience while speaking at the 2018 Women's March.

"I was so excited at 13 when the film was released, and my work and my art would have a human response. I excitedly opened my first fan mail to read a rape fantasy that a man had written me. A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday, euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with. Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews."

Sadly, Portman was far from the only celebrity who endured over-sexualization at a young age — and not even the only one to have a dedicated "18th birthday countdown clock" (the Olsen twins countdown clock web page still lives). More recently, Reddit users created a subreddit "dedicated to sexual pictures" of Millie Bobbie Brown that would open once the "Stranger Things" actress turned 18.

Navigating that early sexualization amounted to what Portman called "sexual terrorism" in her Women's March speech.

"At 13 years old, the message from our culture was clear to me. I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world: That I'm someone worthy of safety and respect."

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