Natalie Portman Explains What She Learned Going Through ‘Dark Moments’ At Harvard

Natalie Portman Explains What She Learned Going Through 'Dark Moments' At Harvard

Attending Harvard University, said actress Natalie Portman, “changed the very questions I was asking.”

Portman, a 2003 graduate of Harvard, was the keynote speaker at Harvard College’s Class Day on Wednesday. Portman joked up front that she had wanted some comedy writers for her speech because at her Class Day, Will Ferrell was their hilarious speaker. She didn’t get anyone to help her craft jokes, she said, and so Portman’s speech largely focused on her explaining how she confronted her own doubts when she went to Harvard.

In high school, she was voted most likely to be a contestant on “Jeopardy,” which Portman said was “code for nerdy.” But when Portman came to Harvard, after the 1999 release of “Star Wars: Episode I” that she starred in, she was worried she’d be viewed as unworthy and only gotten in because of her fame.

“I got in only because I was famous — this is how others viewed me and how I viewed myself,” Portman admitted. Portman said she would have some “pretty dark moments” as a Harvard student.

“There were several occasions I started crying in meetings with professors, overwhelmed with what I was supposed to pull off when I could barely get out of bed in the morning,” she recounted.

Bouncing between researching about underground groups for her role in “V for Vendetta” and making the stoner comedy “Your Highness,” among other films, Portman said she learned to find her own meaning and not have her success determined by box office receipts.

Portman learned as she studied for her role in “Black Swan” that “the only thing that separates you from others is your quirks, or even flaws.”

“There was a reason I was an actor,” Portman said, “because I love what I do and I saw from my peers and my mentors that was not only an acceptable reason, that was the best reason.”

Natalie Portman Explains What She Learned Going Through 'Dark Moments' At Harvard.

PEOPLE Goes Behind the Scenes in Cannes with Natalie Portman!

Stunning new pic from People

It was a scorching-hot day in Cannes, and Natalie Portman had been sitting outside for hours doing video interviews, so when PEOPLE photographer Chris Floyd asked her if she would take her shoes off and wade in the cool waters of the Mediterranean for a shot, she agreed. For 15 minutes she happily splashed along the beach for PEOPLE’s exclusive look behind the scenes of the Cannes Film Festival in the magazine’s new issue.

Portman’s directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness, premiered at the film festival in France, the 33-year-old star’s home country for the past few years.

“You certainly feel more American when you’re not living in America, you know?” Portman says. “It’s all new and exciting and foreign, and you also realize the things about yourself now that are very American.”

The most intimidating part of becoming a Frenchwoman? “Any time you go to someone’s house for dinner in Paris, they have this, like, incredible gourmet feast that they’ve prepared themselves, and they look impeccable, and they’re like not sweating, and they’re joking and drinking a glass of wine, and it’s kind of one of those ‘How do you do this?’ ” Portman adds, laughing. “I tend toward takeout.”

Still learning the language, “I’m trying to get better,” the star says. The French language hasn’t infiltrated her subconscious yet. “I dream in English, always.”