Six months after Ruthless! ended, Portman auditioned for and secured a leading role in Luc Besson's action film Léon: The Professional (1994). To protect privacy, she adopted her paternal grandmother's maiden name, Portman, as her stage name. She played Mathilda, an orphan child who befriends a middle-aged hitman (played by Jean Reno). Her parents were reluctant to let her do the part due to the explicit sexual and violent nature of the script, but agreed after Besson took out the nudity and killings committed by Portman's character. Portman herself opined that after those scenes were removed, she found nothing objectionable about the content. Even so, her mother was displeased with some of the "sexual twists and turns" in the finished film, which were not part of the script. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post commended Portman for bringing a "genuine sense of tragedy" to her part, but Peter Rainer of Los Angeles Times believed that she "isn't enough of an actress to unfold Mathilda's pain" and criticized Besson's sexualization of her character.