Pushed to the limits as a performer — physically, emotionally, artistically — Natalie Portman has the role of her career in “Black Swan.” As Nina, Portman goes to the edge of sanity — dancing each step of the way — in an unforgettable, frenzied yet restrained performance. And Portman was hardly unprepared: She first met with Darren Aronofsky almost a decade ago to talk about his ideas for “Black Swan,” as she explained to me. “Well, there was no script when he’d first talked to me about the film nine years ago. He had a super-specific idea in his mind, but it wasn’t on paper in any way. So it’s remarkably close to what actually exists now, which just shows how amazing he is at being able to visualize and actually create what he visualizes. But there was no specific script, so you didn’t really see how it unfolded, but the outline of the film was fully there.”
So, I asked, did the passage of time give both you and him a chance to learn things you could apply to the film when the right time came to make “Black Swan?” “Absolutely,” she said. “I was really stressing about how long it was taking, because I was getting older and it’s harder to do. This ballet stuff is meant for young kids to be learning and honing their skills. To start learning it when you’re 27 is kind of crazy, which is what I did for the film, but I think emotionally, it was really helpful to go through my 20s before doing this, because I got such a better sense of who I was, how I like to prepare for roles, understanding of artistry. Obviously I’ll never completely understand it — I’ll always have more to learn — but I think that decade really, really helped it marinate in a way that made work better for the film.”
And the atmosphere of the film — its go-for-broke intensity, its delirious air of tension — helped in the shooting, according to Portman. “There was no scene that wasn’t an important scene,” she said. “Every scene was so crucial to the film and so dramatic. There’s something crazy going on all the time, so you never let your focus down; you’re always like, ‘OK, what’s next, what’s next?’”
Of course, there’s one final question everyone wants to know the answer to: How much of the dancing in the film did Portman actually do? According to her — as she explained with a clear note of pride in her voice — nearly all of it. “I did everything, and the dance double — Sarah Lane, who’s a really wonderful dancer — they shot us both doing everything, but because most of the film is in close-up, they’re able to use me. The parts I couldn’t do were because it’s doing very complicated turns on pointe. They would shoot me doing it in flat shoes and Sarah doing it in pointe shoes and find a way to make that work.” “Black Swan” opens in limited release this week.