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Natalie Portman says playing sexualized characters as a teenage actor made her 'afraid'

"Being sexualized as a child, I think, took away from my own sexuality, because it made me afraid," the actress said in an interview.
92nd Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
Natalie Portman attends the 92nd Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, Calif., on Feb. 9, 2020.Amy Sussman / Getty Images file

Actress Natalie Portman said in an interview on Dax Shepard's "Armchair Expert" podcast that playing sexualized characters as a teenage actor took away her own sexuality.

Portman, who began acting at age 12, discussed her role in the 1996 movie "Beautiful Girls" in which she played a 13-year-old girl who develops a relationship with an older man, played by Timothy Hutton.

The 39-year-old actress said that she became aware she was portrayed as a "Lolita figure," referring to the 12-year-old girl from Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 book who began a sexual relationship with a middle-aged man.

"Being sexualized as a child, I think, took away from my own sexuality, because it made me afraid. And it made me feel like the way that 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,' " she told Shepard on Monday's episode of the podcast.

"But at that age, you do have your own sexuality, and you do have your own desire, and you do want to explore things, and you do want to be open. But you don't feel safe, necessarily, when there's, like, older men that are interested, and you're like, 'No, no, no, no.' "

Portman said in an attempt to "to build these fortresses that kept me safe," she started shying away from certain roles.

"When I was in my teens, I was like, 'I don't want to have any love scenes or make-out scenes,'" she said. "I would start choosing parts that were less sexy because it made me worried about the way I was perceived and how safe I felt."

The actress went on to say that she was able to figure out how to feel "safe," adding "it worked out, luckily."

Her comments come after Netflix faced intense backlash over the French film "Cuties," about an 11-year-old girl in Paris who wants to join a local “free-spirited dance crew."

The video streaming service was indicted by a grand jury in Texas for the promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child.

The indictment, filed on Sept. 23 in Tyler County, states that Netflix promoted, distributed and exhibited material which “depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child who was younger than 18 years of age” for the “prurient interest in sex."

Netflix has said that "Cuties," directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, "is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children" and it stands by the film.

Doucouré said she came up with the idea after she saw a group of young girls dancing "like what we're used to seeing in a video" at a neighborhood gathering in Paris.

"I was surprised because of their age. They were only 11 years old," she said in a video interview. "Our girls see that the more a woman is overly sexualized on social media, the more she's successful. And the children just imitate what they see, trying to achieve the same result without understanding the meaning. And, yeah, it's dangerous."