The movie's 17 year-old leading lady
Natalie Portman: Queen Amidala
The mother-to-be of Darth Vader's brood
Maybe that should be drag queen Amidala. Did the stunningly attractive 17-year-old star, hired by Lucas at 14 on the strength of her work as a hitman's charge in The Professional, know she'd be hiding her light under a bushel of fabric and white pancake in so many scenes?
"Oh, sure," says Portman. "George [Lucas] showed me drawings of the entire movie with all the hair and makeup ideas. They researched a lot about ancient cultures and civilizations and all their designs and decorations and things. Most of the costumes were real uncomfortable but they were all really beautiful."
Lucas was so keen to hire Portman as the teen-queen ruler of the paradisal art-nouveau-style planet Naboo and, in subsequent episodes, as Darth Vader's bride that he made sure she'd be done with principal shooting on Menace in time to rehearse for her Broadway debut in The Diary of Anne Frank in the fall of 1997. "He was really into the stage thing because he thought it would prepare me well for the next two films," she says.
Though Portman can't reveal other plot details, Lucas has said episode II will be mainly a love story the courtship of a teenage Anakin and a twentysomething Amidala. (Fans speculate episode II will end with the birth of twins Luke and Leia.) In Menace, however, Amidala's relationship to Anakin is strictly maternal, and Portman's relationship to Jake Lloyd, her pint-size costar, was sisterly on the set. "Jake is pure kid," she says. "He'd tell us stories about shooting his younger sister with a plunger, things that were just crazy and boy-like." In other words, at least until episode II, Amidala remains a virgin queen despite what you may have heard. "One of my favorite Internet rumors totally false was that George had written a nude scene for Natalie," says producer Rick McCallum. Nude? Getting her into the costumes was difficult enough.
A Swedish star in her American movie debut
Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker
Darth Vader's mother; Luke and Leia's granny
It sounded like the creepiest maternal casting call since Mia Farrow received her orders from Satan in Rosemary's Baby. Wanted: one highly dignified actress to play mater to young Darth Vader. Except that in George Lucas' mythic scheme, this was to be no horror-filled scenario. Shmi Skywalker grandma to Luke and Leia in the gnarled Star Wars family tree is a slave and modest single mom in Phantom Menace, blissfully unaware that the sweet child she's raising, little Anakin, will turn out to become the future kingpin of evil. Doesn't the fact that he's apparently been immaculately conceived tell her that something is up? And how did Lucas light on August, a 41-year-old Swedish film star who'd never before shot a feature film in English and was best known among cineasts for working with her ex-husband, Bille August (The Best Intentions), and with Ingmar Bergman? Mainly because her auditions with Liam Neeson had exactly the melancholy gravitas Lucas wanted. "I was so, so nervous about my accent when I met him," says August. "George said, 'Just relax. She can be coming from a Swedish galaxy.'"