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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

For her, it was child’s play

Associated Press Natalie Portman
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Forrest Hartman Reno Gazette-Journal

Natalie Portman‘s starring role in “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” came neatly wrapped on her doorstep.

“I received the script from (writer-director) Zach (Helm) while I was doing ‘V for Vendetta’ in Berlin,” Portman says.

“It arrived in a white box with a big, red ribbon on it, and it had a note from Zach saying, ‘I want to make a movie that’s as dear to kids as apple juice and boxed raisins and roller coasters.’

“He made this great list of all the things that kids love. It was just so magical, such a magical script.”

The film, which opens Friday, tells the story of a magical toy shop run by an eccentric old man (Dustin Hoffman) and his beautiful, young assistant Molly Mahoney (Portman).

Hoffman’s character, Edward Magorium, tells viewers up front that he’s leaving and that he wants Mahoney to take over the store. But she doesn’t think she has what it takes.

Portman says all she had to do to find the character was look within.

“Mainly I just related to so much of the stuff that she’s going through,” she says. “I know what it’s like to feel like you’re scared to do something and be not sure of your talents. I know all that all to well.

“And to be afraid of losing someone and then to lose someone. That’s all stuff that I have experienced and you can really draw on that.”

She did not, however, have all the tools she needed to complete the role. Mahoney is an aspiring composer and talented pianist, but Portman didn’t play prior to landing the part.

“I learned for this movie,” she says. “It was a great sort of perk of the job. I can’t really play, but it was fun to just sort of learn a couple pieces, and I’m taking piano lessons now to try and keep up with it.”

Another perk was working with Hoffman.

“I love him,” Portman says. “He’s just so warm, and he really just sort takes you into his heart in such a sincere way.

“He’s also really sort of wild as an actor. I mean he’s very playful and improvises a lot. It’s pretty amazing to get to be around because it makes everything very spontaneous.”

Portman, 26, made her film debut at age 13, and her credits include starring turns in “Beautiful Girls,” “Anywhere But Here” and “Closer.” She also portrayed Queen Padme Amidala in three of the “Star Wars” films.

But never had she been in a children’s movie, until now.

“It’s so weird to be a kid actor and not make kid movies,” she says. “I sort of relived my opportunities, relived the lost opportunities, I should say.”

Although “Magorium” features countless special effects and deals with things that don’t happen in real-life – like living, breathing toys – Portman thinks the film’s message translates easily into our daily lives.

“I think it’s all really about finding magic in every simple thing,” she says.

“There is so much magic and it only takes you looking for it.”

The birthday bunch

Playwright-actor Wallace Shawn is 64. Organist Booker T. Jones (Booker T. and the MG’s) is 63. Singer Neil Young is 62. Actress Megan Mullally (“Will and Grace”) is 49. Actress Ashley Williams (“Good Morning, Miami”) is 29. Actress Anne Hathaway is 25. Singer Omarion is 23.