About once a week, Natalie S. Lui opens an e-mail that begins something like, "This is going to sound kinda weird but....hm....Are you Natalie Portman? If so I just wanna say I'm not some stalker or anything, but I was curious." Lui's inbox had never been so crowded before the case of mistaken identity. And she is not alone.
As a result of their common first name, the popularity meter has risen to unprecedented heights for Lui and the seven other undergraduate "Natalies." Compliments have become commonplace; phone calls from mysterious strangers are routine. But these Natalies soon realized that the messages weren't meant for any of them.
The intended recipient: Natalie Portman '03, movie star and reported "Harvard student." Her idolatrous fans, skilled in the art of celebrity stalking, surmise she must use another name at college. And so begins the search.
Ph "Natalie" on telnet and 20 responses appear on the screen. Subtract grad students and faculty and just nine remain. But none is Natalie Portman--for security reasons, she "doesn't go to Harvard." That simple obstacle doesn't stop relentless fans from trying to hunt down Queen Amidala.
The communiqués range from the polite to the weird, the innocent to the disturbed. And, almost always the writer is male. Most of the letters seem harmless enough, but the personal descriptions do nothing to mask the perverted professions of love. "I'd like to correspond and find out what interesting stories you have to tell about your adventures," wrote Brian, a 22 year-old UMass-Amherst student and a self-described fan.
Some are short and to the point: "Hey Natalie! How are things? Do you remember me? S." Other love-struck men ramble on for pages detailing personal information from pets' names to favorite ice cream. Desperately desiring devotion, passionate "Wes" from yahoo.com gushed, "I just wanted to let you know that you inspired me to create a poem about what true beauty is."
The Natalies are most bothered by sneaky devotees desperately hoping to glean information through questions such as, "Which high school did you go to?" or "What is your concentration?"--simply hoping to discern Portman's address without directly saying the P-word. Others pretend to be prefrosh with eager questions about attending Harvard or some clever lovers "mistakenly" chose Portman as a random e-mail confidante.
"It's definitely fun looking at the different ways people try to approach her," Natalie Linos '03 explains. "Some are really blunt about it, and others try to be extremely discrete, asking about chemistry and so forth." Portman, the "Harvard student," has expressed an academic interest in the sciences.
Mathieu, from the French Ecole Nationale Superieure de l'Aeronautique et de l'Espace, wrote that he wanted an English pen pal. Like many writers, Mathieu never actually stated that he was trying to track down the actress. "I usually respond to those and tell them that I figured out their motive and that I am not [Portman]," Natalie A. Lester '01 says.
Over winter break, after one overzealous fan sent an e-mail message to all of the Natalies at Harvard--a common occurrence for the girls, Natalie M. Carnes '02 replied, but only to the other Natalies. Since then, the Natalie gang has passed around the most absurd e-mails and commiserated about the trials of sharing a name with a superstar.
They describe their various techniques for handling inquiries. From rude to downright wrathful, Harvard Natalies want revenge. "I write obnoxious replies to all the e-mails, which will probably get me killed one of these days," Natalie V. MacLean '03 penned to the group. "In a few of them I failed to mention I wasn't Natalie Portman, probably crushing their little hearts even more."
The all-encompassing topic of Star Wars sometimes overshadows the beauty of the braided Queen. Natalie A. Lester '01 contacted one stalker's Internet service provider when he wouldn't stop writing her. "One time there was this little boy really obsessed with Star Wars, not [with] her, and he added me to his 'Star Wars fan club' e-mail list," Lester remembers. "[He] kept sending me all his info on the movies until I begged him to take me off his list."
The situation is not always humorous. Natalie A. Schwehr '02 once contacted her House tutor after someone posted her personal information on an Internet newsgroup saying she was Portman. Deluged with harassing phone calls and e-mails in the following days, Schwehr worried about her own privacy. But fortunately for Schwehr, the fans figured out their mistake and have stopped hassling her. The Natalies' roommates have received similar torment from people who call up the suite and ask what it's like to live with the famous movie star. Their reply is simple: "I wouldn't know."
The Natalies, for their part, haven't had any contact with Portman. After all, they don't have much to say to the star. "Tell your stupid fans to stop writing me?! Somehow I doubt that would do much good," MacLean writes. Their minor claim to the name of fame isn't enough to change their lives in any way, especially after seeing the results of celebrity. "I don't feel like a star, although I'm kind of glad that I'm not famous now," says Natalie Guerrier '01.
As for the rest of the Natalies, they hold no grudge toward their more famous compatriot. The price of fame appears too high. As one particular e-mail to the Natalie support group ended, "Have any of you ever pretended to be Natalie Portman? That would be kinda funny. Well, maybe for like two seconds, anyway."
From: Wes Davidson
Sent: Sunday, January 16, 2000 4:07 AM
Subject: Hello....Just thought that you should know....
Hey, I'm sorry to bother you....I just wanted to let you know that you inspired me to create a poem about what true beauty is. I entered it into a national poetry contest to share it with others to see what they thought. I received a phone call from the gentleman who ran the contest, and he was very moved by the poem. He said that the words came very close to revealing what God has created the emotion of love for. I hope that this letter doesn't bother you, I'm not going to show up on your doorstep or anything. I just wanted to let you know that you have inspired me to write my favorite poem that I have ever finished. So many great poets have attempted to capture what true love is, inside empty words spread out on a piece of paper. Shakespeare.... and so many others.... This is my small piece of how love can exist.... Again I thank you for your inspiration....