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Natalie Portman Thinks Her ‘Cringey’ Debut Film Did Not Age Well

Natalie Portman is looking back on her debut film, “Léon: The Professional,” with a raised eyebrow.

The actor admitted to having mixed feelings about the 1994 action-thriller, which features an uncomfortably intimate, almost romantic relationship between an adult man and a preteen girl.

“It’s a movie that’s still beloved, and people come up to me about it more than almost anything I’ve ever made,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in a Q&A published Wednesday, adding, “It gave me my career.”

But Portman said the dynamic between the characters had not aged well.

Natalie Portman at the premiere of "Leon: The Professional" in November 1994.
Natalie Portman at the premiere of “Leon: The Professional” in November 1994.

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“It is definitely, when you watch it now, it definitely has some cringey, to say the least, aspects to it,” she said. “So, yes, it’s complicated for me.”

Luc Besson’s “Leon” tried to push the envelope with the sordid tale of an assassin and a 12-year-old orphan, played by Portman. In between graphic killing sprees, Portman’s preteen character tries to seduce Leon, who is played by French actor Jean Reno. She eventually becomes his protegé.

Even at the time of its release, critics questioned the plot’s rationale, with Roger Ebert accusing “Leon” of “exploit[ing] the youth of the girl without really dealing with it” in a 1994 review.

The film’s legacy has been further tarnished by sexual abuse allegations against Besson from multiple women.

Jean Reno loads a gun in front of Natalie Portman in a scene from the film 'Léon: The Professional', 1994. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)
Jean Reno loads a gun in front of Natalie Portman in a scene from the film ‘Léon: The Professional’, 1994. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)

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Portman told THR the accusations were “devastating” to her, but added that she was completely unaware of any misconduct when she worked with him as a child actor.

“I really didn’t know,” she told the publication. “I was a kid working. I was a kid. But I don’t want to say anything that would invalidate anyone’s experience.”

Portman previously described the harassment she faced after her big break in “Leon: The Professional,” calling the deluge of unwanted attention “sexual terrorism” during a speech at the Los Angeles Women’s March in 2018.