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Natalie Portman finds The Professional a bit "cringey" these days

Portman joins millions of others who find the quasi-sexual romance between an adult hitman and a 12-year-old “cringey”

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Natalie Portman and Jean Reno
Natalie Portman and Jean Reno
Screenshot: Sony

Like many people over the last 30 years, Natalie Portman doesn’t think Léon: The Professional holds up. In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Portman says that Luc Besson’s violent, amoral, and quasi-romantic relationship between an adult hitman played by Jean Reno and a 12-year-old Natalie Portman was “cringey, to say the least.”

Portman, of course, has a more complicated relationship with the movie. While the movie’s poster has become a staple of dorm room walls, next to Reservoir Dogs and Boondock Saints, Portman was just “a kid working” when the movie was made. So when The Hollywood Reporter asked her about the sexual abuse allegations made toward Besson, she admitted the accusations were “devastating” but seemed a bit taken aback. She was only 13 when the film was released.


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

When the topic turned to The Professional, the movie Portman worked with Besson on, Portman admits that the film’s legacy is “complicated” mainly because people either love it or think it’s gross. “It’s a movie that’s still beloved, and people come up to me about it more than almost anything I’ve ever made, and it gave me my career,” she said, “but it is definitely, when you watch it now, it definitely has some cringey, to say the least, aspects to it. So, yes, it’s complicated for me.”


The discussion is less nuanced than the comments she gave Empire in 2019. “I appreciate it when something connects with an audience,“ she said. ”It also gave me my career on a platter and was a 100% a positive experience. I loved doing it. But you watch and it’s largely inappropriate.”

“There’s a lot of stuff in there that’s not amazing through today’s eyes. I think because people are still connected to it and care about it, and I personally did not have anything but positive feelings, I still feel more on the proud side. Even though I totally understand, I don’t know how I’d show that to my kids.”

The origins of The Professional’s romance make the subject thornier. As Marlow Stern wrote for The Daily Beast in 2018, the movie “was a creepy example of art imitating life.” Besson’s movie was based on the director’s relationship with child actor Maïwenn, whom he met when she was 12 and he was 29. The pair began dating “romantically” when she turned 15, and Maïwenn had his child at 16. “When Luc Besson did Léon, the story of a 13-year-old girl in love with an older man, it was very inspired by us since it was written while our story started,” said Maïwenn. “No media made the link.”