Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman on being child actors: 'It's a hard childhood to have'

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Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman, at 36 and 35 years old, respectively, may have decades of experience as professional actors, but they don't necessarily wish that was the case.

The two recently sat down with each other for Variety's"Actors on Actors" series, where they discussed how they got their start in the industry as child actors, agreeing that it wasn't the easiest path to success.

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"It turned out all right. But it isn't a life that I would want necessarily," explained Williams, who was around the same age as Portman -- 11 years old -- when she started acting. "It was really hard when I started out, and the bottom of absolutely every barrel."

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Natalie Portman through the years
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Natalie Portman through the years
BEIJING, CHINA - APRIL 17: (CHINA OUT) American actress Natalie Portman attends Sino-Foreign Film Co-ptoduction Forum during the 6th Beijing International Film Festival on April 17, 2016 in Beijing, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - APRIL 16: (CHINA OUT) American actress Natalie Portman arrives at the red carpet of the 6th Beijing International Film Festival on April 16, 2016 in Beijing, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
SILVER SPRING, MD- MARCH 06: Actress Natalie Portman attends a screening of 'A Tale of Love and Darkness' at AFI Silver Theater on March 6, 2016 in Silver Spring, Md. (Kris Connor/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 27: Natalie Portman arrives at the the New York premiere of 'Jane Got a Gun' at The Museum of Modern Art on January 27, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0409 -- Pictured: Actress Natalie Portman on January 27, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 27: Actress Natalie Portman is seen on 'Good Morning America' on January 27, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26: Actress Natalie Portman attends the 2016 New York Jewish Film Festival closing night screening of 'A Tale Of Love And Darkness' at Walter Reade Theater on January 26, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 24: Actress Natalie Portman attends the 'Jane Got A gun' Premiere at Cinema UGC Normandie on January 24, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/WireImage)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 10: Actress Natalie Portman attends the 'A Tale Of Love And Darkness' premiere during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 10, 2015 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 24: Actress Natalie Portman attends the Ballet National de Paris Opening Season Gala at Opera Garnier on September 24, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 09: Actress Natalie Portman attends TIFF Soiree Charity Event during the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cultural Center on September 09, 2015 in Toronto, Canada. PHOTOGRAPH BY EXImages / Barcroft Media UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com (Photo credit should read EXImages / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
CAP D'ANTIBES, FRANCE - MAY 19: Natalie Portman attends the De Grisogono Party at the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May May 19, 2015 in Cap d'Antibes, France. (Photo Luca Teuchmann/WireImage)
US actress Natalie Portman attends the LVMH Young Fashion Designer awards ceremony in Paris, on May 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 17: Natalie Portman attends the Photocall for 'A Tale of Love and Darkness' at 2015 Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2015 in Cannes, France. PHOTOGRAPH BY Peter / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Peter / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
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"It's a really long way, and not necessarily a very nice one. It's a hard childhood to have -- or lack of a childhood to have," she continued. "I do love doing it, and I can't really imagine doing anything else. I want to keep doing it, but when I see kids on the set, or when I work with kids in movies, I feel really torn about their role there."

"Yes, and we end up doing that a lot, too -- more than men -- because so many female parts are moms," Portman agreed. "I feel like I always work with a kid."

"I feel an extra protectiveness and also a desire to be like, 'So, do you have any other interests?'" Williams added.

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Though they wish they had more of a normal childhood, neither Williams nor Portman regrets their choice to become actors at such a young age.

"I feel that there is something around that time where you do have an instinct about what you really love. I don't know where it came from, because there's no one in my family who was ever a performer," Portman offered, explaining that her parents encouraged her to be a doctor or a lawyer. "My dad pulled me aside when I was 25 and was like, 'I think it's time for you to go to law school or grad school.' Not that he was saying that acting was bad, but more that he was like, 'I think you'll be more fulfilled if you have something more -- like a life of the mind.'"

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Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Matilda
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Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Matilda
Australian actor Heath Ledger, nominated for best actor in a drama for his work in "Brokeback Mountain," left, arrives with actress Michelle Williams for the 63rd Annual Golden Globe Awards on Monday, Jan. 16, 2006, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams at the "Vanity Fair" OscarS Party. (West Hollywood, CA)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 23: Names and foot imprints of Heath Ledgers and Michelle WIlliams's baby Matilda, and of family dog Hugo are seen in front of the house where Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams lived together on January 23, 2008 in the Brooklyn borough, New York City. Ledger, died January 22, 2008 at the age of 28. (Photoby Brad Barket/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 27: (L-R) Matilda Ledger and Michelle Williams are seen on October 27, 2009 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Christopher Peterson/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)
BROOKLYN - MAY 23: (L-R) Michelle Williams and Matilda Ledger sighting on May 23, 2009 in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Christopher Peterson/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 27: (L-R) Matilda Ledger and Michelle Williams are seen on October 27, 2009 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Christopher Peterson/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)
Heath Ledger, nominated for best actor for his work in "Brokeback Mountain," left, arrives with his fiance Michelle Williams, nominated for best supporting actress for her work in the film, at the 25th annual nominees luncheon hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif., Monday, Feb. 13, 2006. Oscar nominees attended the function in anticipation of the Academy Awards scheduled for March 5. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
"Brokeback Mountain" cast members Heath Ledger, nominated for outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role and girlfriend, Michelle Williams, nominated for a female actor in a supporting role arrive for the 12th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday, Jan. 29, 2006, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22: Actor Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams attend the Australian Premier of Brokeback mountain at the Cinema Paris on the 13 January 2006 in Sydney, Australia. The Australian actor was found dead on his hotel floor in New York on January 22, 2008. (Photo by Mike Flokis/Getty Images)
Michelle Williams, nominee Best Female Lead for Land of Plenty, and Heath Ledger (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
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"So it took me a while, coming from that background, to be like, 'This is what I want, and this is what I love. I enjoy this,'" she continued, adding that while she loves acting, she feels "more fulfilled" when directing.

"I think it's definitely motivated me to try other things, because I do find myself more fulfilled when I feel like I'm learning something from what I'm doing and pushing myself to new places," she said.

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Interestingly enough, Williams' daughter, Matilda, is now 11 years old, the same age her mother was when she started in the industry. Williams has been raising Matilda alone since her father, Heath Ledger, died in 2008.

"In all honesty, for pretty much everything else, I feel like I'm a believer in not fighting circumstances, accepting where you are and where you've been. In pretty much all senses but one," Williams told Porter magazine. "I would be able to go totally down that line of thinking were it not for Matilda not having her dad. You know, that's just something that doesn't... I mean, it just won't ever be right."

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