Classic Rewatch

Leon: The Professional

Natalie Portman and Jean Reno team up in Besson’s intriguing tale of violence and vengeance. 

If you’re currently stuck at home with a temperamental and stubborn pre-teen, maybe today’s Lockdown Rewatch might hit a bit too close to home. Luc Besson’s 1994 action thriller Leon: The Professional dips into the dynamic between a cold-blooded hitman (Jean Reno) for the mob and a young girl (Natalie Portman) out for revenge. Besson’s first American movie, which launched the career of Portman, is a dark, blood-soaked, ultra-stylish, action thriller that has divided critics for the past 20 years (due to some of its creepy Lolita-esque scenarios). 

But did you know…

1) Natalie Portman was only eleven when she was cast as Mathilda, and her parents initially fought her on accepting the role. They considered the material of the film, including sexuality, violence and abuse, inappropriate. Portman said: “My parents were like, ‘There is no way you’re doing this movie. This is absolutely inappropriate for a child your age … and I was like, ‘This is the greatest thing I’ve ever read! You’re gonna ruin my life!’ I was basically just fighting with them so much.”

2) Besson got the inspiration for Leon from his previous film La Femme Nikita (1990), in which Reno plays Victor, the Cleaner, a government operative coming to Nikita’s aid when a mission goes South. Besson wanted to explore this character further, and joked that, “maybe Jean is playing the American cousin of Victor. This time he’s more human.” 

3) Gary Oldman’s intense yelling of the line “Bring me everyone!” was intended as an inside joke between the actor and Besson. “I just did it one take to make the director  laugh”, he recalled. ”The previous takes, I’d just gone, ‘Bring me everyone,’ in a regular voice. I cued the sound guy to slip off his headphones, and I shouted as loud as I could.” Besson decided to use that particular shot, which would ultimately become one of the most iconic ones of the film. “When people approach me on the street, that’s the line they most often say,” said Oldman. 

This clip shows parts of Natalie Portman’s audition tape for the role.