One of the longest running talent-rep relationships in Hollywood has come to a climax. As Natalie Portman transitions to a move to Paris, she and Brillstein Entertainment partner Aleen Keshishian will be parting ways, sort of. Portman is relocating to be with husband Benjamin Millepied. A dancer she met while making Black Swan, Millepied is taking the job as director of the Paris Opera Ballet.
Portman, who just made her directorial debut on the Hebrew-language adaptation of the Amos Oz novel A Tale Of Love And Darkness, will continue to star in Hollywood movies, and maybe some European films. She will also write and direct while being a wife and mother, all part of the next chapter in a remarkable life. To that end, she has hired French agent Laurent Gregoire, who’ll work with CAA on Portman’s film career. Keshishian will still be involved in the branding aspect of Portman’s career, which includes a lucrative Dior campaign, but she will no longer manage the movie career of her first client.
The change here is more a transition than a break-up, and she and Keshishian are practically family. They’ve had a professional relationship for 21 years. Since Portman is only 33, that is the majority of her life. They first met when Portman was Natalie Hershlag from Syosset, Long Island, a young, bright-eyed 10-year old who auditioned for the role that went to Kirsten Dunst in Interview With The Vampire. Keshishian was an assistant to casting director Juliet Taylor and she became friendly with the young girl who seemed much too smart for her age. A short time later, Keshishian got hired as a New York-based ICM agent by Sam Cohn when she next met the young woman, who needed an agent when it appeared she might get a lead in Luc Besson’s The Professional. She was carrying a copy of The Diary Of Anne Frank and told Keshishian her dream was to play Frank, and also to make a dance movie. She became Keshishian’s first client and one of the first things they did was have her use her mother’s maiden name, Portman. That change was made by the time the credits were locked on The Professional.
Cohn became Keshishian’s mentor at ICM and he taught her the ropes as they guided a Broadway production of The Diary Of Anne Frank that quickly realized one of the bucket list goals Portman had at age 10. The dance movie took longer, realized when Portman won the Oscar for Black Swan, with Keshishian’s Harvard pal Darren Aronofsky. In between was all of the things that the young actress accomplished, from holding serve against vets like Tim Hutton, Matt Dillon and Noah Emmerich in Beautiful Girls, to shaving her head to star in the subversive V For Vendetta, to playing the vulnerable stripper in Mike Nichols’ Closer, to playing the lead in a trio of Star Wars films. More recently, producers Portman and Keshishian weathered the loss of a director on the first day of Jane Got A Gun and kept the project alive until Gavin O’Connor saved the day, and Portman making her filmmaking debut and still finding time to pursue a degree at Harvard and another one in Jerusalem.
Portman’s move across the pond could be likened to the one Johnny Depp made when he headed to France, but it seems closer to the transition that Angelina Jolie has made, writing and directing In The Land Of Blood And Honey — also shot in a foreign language — and following with Unbroken, even as she reminded the town of her starpower in Maleficent. I always thought Portman was the most sophisticated and mature child star I’d ever seen, and that she had made a most graceful transition to adulthood this side of Jodie Foster, itself an achievement considering all the young actors who grew up in front of the camera and then veered off course. Good for Portman for seeking an adventure that will include but not be defined by a movie career. Keshishian has a slew of clients to keep her busy, from Jennifer Aniston to Josh Gad, Mark Ruffalo, Selena Gomez, Paul Rudd, Orlando Bloom and Billy Crudup. In an age where insecure talent changes reps when things go wrong, the 21-year bond between Portman and Keshishian seems worth noting.