- The Lunch with L.A. Weekly Chief Film Critic Amy Nicholson: Tom Cruise, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘Snowpiercer’
- The Lunch with Director William Eubank of ‘The Signal’
- The Lunch with Gillian Robespierre, director, ‘Obvious Child’
- The Lunch with Alex Pappademas of Grantland.com on ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past …’
- The Lunch with AJ Bowen of ‘The Sacrament’
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Tag Archives: Natalie Portman
In “Your Highness,” James Franco and Danny McBride play rival princes on a quest to save a kingdom — with stops along the way for nudity, weed jokes, foul language and comedy. It’s a parody of ’80s fantasy-action films, but that also means the people in it have to be able to do fantasy-action. When I spoke with Franco and McBride, I asked Franco how specifically he trained for “Your Highness.” He spoke with serious intent: “I read all of Shakespeare every day while riding a horse and practicing (with) my sword while I held the book.” And the horse, I asked — what did it read? Franco broke into a smile: “The horse was a dumb animal, and did not read.”
All kidding aside, I asked Danny McBride if he worked hard to prepare for the action, or if he stayed inept for comedy purposes. “David (Gordon) Green, the director — I went to one or two days with sword training, and he quickly pulled me out of it,” he said. “He was like, ‘I don’t want you to have any training: I want you to look pathetic and terrible.’ He yanked me from the sword training. I was happy about that, because I am very lazy and swords are very heavy. That’s tiring, swinging a sword around. It’s not cool. I feel like I would be more of an archer.” Franco, with his greater action experience, noted, “I warned you that it would not be a lot of fun.” McBride, for his part, merely added, “Crossbows are light.”
But while McBride gets to flail and fail, Franco has to look assured as the film’s “hero,” so I asked him how hard is it to keep a straight face, to be the guy who takes everything seriously no matter what else is happening? “It’s not that hard, actually,” he said. “I like being the straight man every once in a while. I think of it as a Zen comedy, where if you do it, if you really commit to it, you’re helping the overall thing and actually can achieve some subtle comedy.” McBride, nodding as he mocked himself, chimed in: “Zen comedy. I like that, that’s good. That’s intelligent.”
“Your Highness” owes a lot to ’80s fantasy epics, a genre Franco admitted a youthful fondness for: “When I was younger, I loved ‘The Dark Crystal‘ and I loved ‘The NeverEnding Story‘ and the original ‘Clash of the Titans.’ I don’t think I’ll ever get over those. They do look very different to me now, but they still have a lot of their nostalgic charm.” As for McBride, “I was a fan of all those films and things like ‘Beastmaster‘ and ‘Troll‘ and ‘Excalibur.’ Granted, you watch those movies again and they don’t quite capture the imagination the way they did when you were a kid, but they still have a very big place in my heart. I still enjoy going back and visiting them.”
“Your Highness” doesn’t lack for special effects and production values — even if all the high art is in the service of low comedy. I asked Franco and McBride at what point on-set were they looking around at mechanical birds and wizardry and naked minotaurs and saying, “I can’t believe we’re getting away with this?” Franco laughed: “I guess we said that pretty much every day. Whatever popped up, I wasn’t very surprised by, because David Gordon Green was directing. That means that pretty much anything goes. I’m not really supposed to talk about it, but we did have the first minotaur erection ever captured on film.”
McBride, laughing, confirmed that milestone in the art. “It’s a landmark in modern cinema.”
Last week in Las Vegas, the National Association of Theater Owners gathered exhibitors, vendors and studios for CinemaCon the annual convention where theater owners can sample anything from new popcorn toppings and different varieties of frozen beverages to footage from the summer’s upcoming films. On the opening night, Paramount Pictures showed footage from upcoming films that were introduced by their directors and stars. And while the footage was limited to snippets and flashes — there’s a CinemaCon joke that if you drank every time a director said “the footage looks rough,” you’d be in a coma in five minutes — the clips from upcoming films like “Thor,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Super 8” and more still had the crowd oohing and aahing.
On the press line, I asked Chris Hemsworth, star of the upcoming Marvel Comics adaptation “Thor,” if speaking to the assembled theater executives felt like the equivalent of addressing the troops before the battle of the summer blockbusters. He laughed. “A little bit,” he said. “You’ve now made me a little anxious about my speech, with that introduction. I’m going to have to do some work on it. But absolutely, these are the people that you show the films. You want them to be excited and get behind it.”
Bringing up the rear of the press line was “Super 8″ director J.J. Abrams, there to show a 23-minute clip from his upcoming sci-fi film. I asked him how he, as a director, finds a balance between trying to find a maximum audience for a film with clips and teasers and making sure there’s still a movie left for audiences to be amazed by when they do get to the theater. “Like anything, it’s a gut thing,” he said. “You realize you need to — especially with something that’s not based on some pre-existing material — make sure that people get a sense of what it is, but you don’t want to give them answers to everything. In fact, the opposite: You want to make them ask questions so they’re compelled to figure out the rest of it.”
So, I asked Abrams, in our DVD/VOD/iPad age, does he sit down to write thinking, “OK, this has to be something you can’t watch on a DVD or on your phone. This has to be something you can only see 70 feet wide in the dark in a church full of strangers”? Abrams nodded. “I feel like that’s a great way to put it: a church full of strangers. I think that there’s a magic to being in the theater with an audience that is always going to be there. I think that though there’s, every day, a new mode of distribution and new opportunities to see stuff, I do think that the scale, the picture and sound quality — and, more importantly, the communal experience — is something that makes moviegoing into more than watching a movie. It makes it an experience. I’m a fan of the technology that exists now that allows you to watch things portably, but to me, moviegoing is not movie-watching, it’s moviegoing.”
With Nicole Holofcener‘s ethics-in-the-city comedy “Please Give” winning the Robert Altman Award for Best Ensemble, Holofcener, Amanda Peet and Catherine Keener met the press. I asked Holofcener if making “Please Give” resolved any of the moral questions she explored in the film, or if it just raised new avenues of confusion for her. Holofcener laughed: “Well put. No, it didn’t resolve anything for me. Now everybody knows my problems.”
Best Supporting Actor winner John Hawkes of “Winter’s Bone” explained the preparation that went into his role as the scary, charismatic criminal and meth cooker Teardrop. “Well, I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town where there were a lot of … characters,” he said. “And people who scared me a lot. So I drew from that.” Considering that Hawkes has been scary in films like “Winter’s Bone” and the upcoming “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and likable in projects like “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and “Deadwood,” I asked him which was more artistically satisfying — and, more importantly, which paid better. Hawkes smiled. “Well, I would have to add it up,” he said. “I’m not sure whether playing mean folks or sweet folks pays more money. I’m always looking for the best people — the best character, the best story — I can find.”
In the end, though, it was “Black Swan”‘s afternoon, with Libatique’s award and taking Best Director for Darren Aronofsky, Best Actress for Natalie Portman and Best Picture honors. Wearing the kind of neckwear that gets you “Best Scarf” honors as well, Aronofsky was loose and funny in the press tent. What was it, he was asked, that America and the world seemed to be responding to? “I’ve got no f—ing idea, and it’s really exciting,” he said. “The word that keeps coming back to me is ‘fun.’ People are having fun. I guess that’s the best compliment you could get as a filmmaker.” The director of “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Wrestler” paused: “I never got that one before.”
Aronofsky also got to sum up the afternoon — what, he was asked, does “independent” film mean in this day and age, anyhow? “I think ‘independence’ is when you’re independent of the financial realities,” he said. “It’s a very hard word to describe, and people have been trying to figure it out for years. Basically when the filmmakers are in control of the movie as opposed to the people paying for them, I think that’s independence.”
And warmed — even if only figuratively — by that happy thought, the Independent Spirit Awards came to a close for 2011.
After the heady brain-bending theatrics of the acclaimed “Black Swan,” Natalie Portman could probably use a break — which is, perhaps, why she chose to follow its high-style high tension with the lighter, sweet-and-smutty romantic comedy “No Strings Attached.” Portman plays an L.A. medical resident who, in the name of expediency, begins a strictly physical relationship with show business wage slave Ashton Kutcher. Portman may be slightly less challenged on-screen in “No Strings Attached” than she was by the mix of ballet and bloodletting in “Black Swan,” but she’s hardly slacking. Portman also served as a producer on the film, inspired by her confidence in Elizabeth Meriweather’s script.
Talking with Portman in L.A., I asked her if the roles she had as star and producer were fuzzy — or, alternately, clearly delineated. “Once we started shooting, which was when I started working as an actress on the film, there wasn’t that many producing demands,” she said. “A lot of my involvement as a producer came before the movie happened, when we were trying to get it put together and trying to get the actors in and making it all happen.”
And for all of the dour, heavy dramas Portman’s performed in the past, she hasn’t amputated her funny bone just yet. “I think it was really a funny script,” she said. “We really were excited. The first time I read it, I just started saying the lines out loud because it was so, so funny. That’s always a good sign that that’s a movie you need to make.”
While Portman’s professional pedigree may be distant and different than that of her co-star Ashton Kutcher, to Portman, that simply made for a better film: “Ashton is so fun and easygoing and playful, and obviously very professional, too. It’s really fun to get to work with him because he is receptive in that way, that you change something and he changes it back and you have a good sort of ping-pong game going.”
Also helping make matters funny was the presence of comedy titan Ivan Reitman as director. I asked Portman if working with Reitman was like taking a master class in film comedy. “Absolutely,” she said. “Ivan has made so many classic comedies, from ‘Ghostbusters‘ to ‘Dave‘ to ‘Twins‘ and ‘Kindergarten Cop.’ He’s really made so many great films, so I felt that I was in good hands.”
Of course, Portman brought the lighter side of her talent to work for “No Strings Attached,” including a scene where her character drives through the night, heartbroken, while singing along with Leona Lewis’ “Keep Bleeding” and shoving doughnut holes into her mouth in a fit of depression-induced gluttony. A slightly lighter turn of performance, say, than in “Black Swan”?
“Yeah, it was really fun to do,” she said. “I was really looking forward to that day just because I love those doughnut holes so much. I was so excited to get to eat them take after take.”
Wondering if star power has its privileges, I asked Portman if she got to audition different kind of doughnut holes, and the actress laughed: “Yes, because I was vegan at the time. Babycakes is a vegan bakery here in L.A., and they made special doughnut holes for me.” Which, of course, has to beat hours of ballet training and time in a dance studio. Closing up our time, I asked Portman if she felt like being in something as light and bright and charming as “No Strings Attached” makes a nice change from people having “Black Swan” on their mind so much and thinking of her in that darker film? “I feel like both movies are really entertaining, which is what I hoped to make,” she said. “I want to make movies that are the kind of movie that I want to go see, and this is the kind of movie that I’d want to go see and just laugh for two hours.”
Relaxed and lanky, Ashton Kutcher was able to explain exactly why “No Strings Attached” had such appeal for him: “I think a lot of romantic comedy scripts that you read have a very simple plot device — and a very predictable mechanical plot device — that usually some way involves one of the characters having a white lie or an omission that suddenly gets revealed at the end of the second act. Those two people split apart, and somehow they’ve got to figure out how to come back together through this misunderstanding, and they end up in an airport running towards each other, and they kiss and everybody claps.”
It was a piece of analysis as cruel as it was accurate — which is why, as Kutcher explained it, “No Strings Attached” stood out. “When I read this, it had none of that,” he said. “There was no plot device that this movie hinged on. The predictability was only related to your own preconceived notions of ‘Well, it’s a romantic comedy; two people are going to end up together.’ I think this movie took an honest approach at what modern relationship and modern courting is, and how text messaging and e-mail and all of those things accelerate relationships in some ways, because there are some things you can send in a text or an e-mail that you’d never say to somebody in person. Suddenly relationships become very interpersonal very early. I felt the movie was a really strong representation of a modern relationship.”
And, with an R-rating, certainly a less constrained or fake one than most modern romantic comedies. I asked Kutcher if knowing the film would have an R rating was part of the pleasure of the project. “I think as an actor it’s freeing,” he said. “Now you don’t have to live under the constraints of, ‘No, the guy would say this if you were in that situation.’ So there’s a freedom that comes with that, but I think more so, we’ve seen hard, raunchy ‘R’ movies that are really male-driven. Judd Apatow has made a string of these male character-led, male-driven stories. This movie’s really balanced, and it recognized the fact that women are just as raunchy as men. So the movie really takes those two perspectives — the guy’s perspective and the girl’s perspective — and tells the honest tale. She doesn’t have to be the perfect princess that never says the F-word.”
Another welcome change in “No Strings Attached” comes in how Kutcher’s character is the one who wants more emotional sustenance out of the relationship, at first, as opposed to Portman’s “wham-bam-get-the-pressure-off-my-glands” approach. “Yeah, I think there’s been that slightly contrived male character that doesn’t want to be in a relationship, doesn’t want to be involved,” he said. “I think in some ways that’s true, but I also think there is a point for guys where if she’s saying no, you want to know why, you want to advance the ball. I think that’s the big innovation — that she’s saying no, she’s the one drawing the line, which makes you want to go, ‘Wait a second.’ It’s like the girl’s playing hard-to-get.”
Talking to Ivan Reitman is like talking to the history of comedy in the late 20th century. “Meatballs,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters,” “Dave” — all of them guided by the sensibility and skill of the director, who’s now turned his attention to modern love with “No Strings Attached.” I asked Reitman about the risky decision to make the film R: Was that a tough decision to make, considering what it might mean to the film’s box office? “It was actually very liberating,” he said. “I think that’s a perceptive question, because we knew there was just no way that between the language and the subject matter that we’d decided that we’d make an R-rated film, but not so that we could necessarily show a lot of skin or make a sex movie. It was more the language and the honesty of it was going to be in a certain way. There was never an issue: There was never an issue with the studio or with the cast that we were going to try to make a film that was anything but an R.”
I asked Reitman if, presumably, the studio looked at stars Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher and simply figured they’d make money even with the R rating? “I guess,” he said. “Who knows the workings of that situation? The film was not expensive, so that probably helps in terms of all of that. But I didn’t think there’d be a movie there if we didn’t have the freedom to do what we do.”
I also asked Reitman if he still feels he’s learning about making comedy, even with his track record of classics. “Absolutely,” he said. “Every time I make a film, every time I watch a film. I produced five movies last year, including a number of comedies. I’m looking, I’m observing, I’m trying to learn. I’m just trying to stay involved and energized. I actually feel better now than I have ever. (‘No Strings Attached’) was one of my favorite movies in terms of making it. I love the smallness of it, actually, and I loved how clever Liz Meriwether’s screenplay is, and I thought I had this extraordinary cast that was very fun to work with and play with.”
Reitman also got a charge out of the sexual frankness — and the tweaked gender roles — of “No Strings Attached.” “The gender roles were somewhat reversed, although just to say they’re reversed is almost a bit simplistic about it, but there is that aspect to it. The logical extension of feminism in a comedy today? That turns out to be as raunchy as it is …” So, I asked Reitman, the idea that women can have meaningless sex — is that a leap forward? Are we supposed to see it as a leap forward? Reitman laughed: “I think the movie really does ask that question.”
HOLLYWOOD—At the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, a deco temple to the arts first opened in 1930, the cast and crew of the new drama Black Swan — opening Friday — somehow seem at ease among the trappings of the stage. After working with some of the most talented ballet dancers in North America, it’s hardly a coincidence.
For star Natalie Portman, playing Nina — a New York dancer whose dream falls apart as playing the lead role in Swan Lake begins to take its toll on her body and psyche — director Darren Aronofsky’s idea for a psychological thriller mixed with a backstage melodrama let her get back in touch with childhood aspirations.
“I danced when I was younger, until I was about 12,” she said. “I guess I always sort of idealized it, as most young girls do, as the most beautiful art, this expression without words. I always wanted to do a film relating to dance, so when Darren had this incredible idea that was not just relating to the dance world but also had this really complicated character to go into, it was just an opportunity, and especially with Darren, who is a director who I would do anything for.”
Mila Kunis — who plays Lily, a new dancer who may be a friend to Portman, or rival, or both — said the rigorous training required to bring dreams of dance to life, “was far from effortless.”
“It was three months of training beforehand,” she said. “I was not a ballet dancer. I think most of the training, you can only fake so much of the physicality. You have to immerse yourself in this world, the way somebody walks and talks and handle themselves. It was three months of training, seven days a week, four to five hours a day before production started, and then during production it was pretty much exactly the same.”
Portman, however, bore the brunt of the dance training — and of the effort required to get in shape.
“It was a great challenge.” She admitted. “We were (training) probably eight hours a day and the physical discipline of it really helped for the emotional side of the character because you get the sense of the monastic lifestyle of only working out that is a ballet dancer’s life. You don’t drink. You don’t go out with your friends. You don’t have much food. You are constantly putting your body through extreme pain, and you get that understanding of the self-flagellation of a ballet dancer.”
French actor Vincent Cassell, playing Thomas, the head of the dance company, was ready to lace up his dancing shoes — until he realized it wasn’t really required.
“They don’t need to dance anymore,” he said of Thomas. “They just show it by the energy. They’ve been there; they don’t train anymore. That scene we have together, with Natalie, where I move around her, that was supposed to be a little more dance-y, and then finally when we realized it’s about seduction more than anything else, the dance was just a secondhand thing, really.”
Much as Swan Lake depicts a woman torn between the pristine purity of the White Swan and the romantic desires of the Black Swan, Portman’s Nina gets caught between art and desire — a clash that comes to a head when Kunis’ Lily seduces her (Or is it the other way around?)
For Kunis, it was always a natural part of a brilliant script.
“Working with Darren, I trusted him,” Kunis said. “It’s one of those things where, whether you have the same-sex scene or a scene with the opposite sex, it’s a sex scene nonetheless. So it’s always the fear that you’re a little uncomfortable. Doing something like this with Darren was very safe and as comfortable as something like this could be.”
And while some are already suggesting Portman’s work has put her in the running for a Best Actress Oscar, Portman herself dances around the question of possible acting honours with grace and tact.
“The best thing you can hope for when you make a movie — and you put your soul into it like all of us did — is that people respond to it well, and the fact that audiences have come away moved and excited and entertained and stimulated by this film is extraordinarily flattering.”
More immediate than the lure of Oscar gold in March, though, was the simple fact that the end of filming on Black Swan meant that both Kunis and Portman could give up their training regimen’s restrictive eating and the tortuous footwear of professional ballet.
Kunis explained, laughing: “It took me five months to lose 20 pounds, and it took me hours to gain it back. It was magical how quickly it all happened. I think before production ended, the last time that I had to do any sort of dancing, I literally that night went home and had a massive bowl of mac and cheese. I was so excited.”
For Portman, though, it was giving up the pointe shoes — constructed to make it possible to stand in the ballet position on her toes — that told her filming was over:
“I like wearing flat shoes. The thing I was happy to stop wearing was pointe shoes. Pointe shoes are torture devices. Ballerinas get used to it, so it was definitely a case of it being a new experience for me, but they feel very … medieval.”
Playing Lily, the new friend and rival dancer to Natalie Portman’s prima ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” Mila Kunis is far removed from the light-comedy territory that started her career with TV’s “That ’70s Show.” That’s a good thing. “Black Swan” is undeniably one of the year’s best films: beautiful, bizarre, strange and sensuous, and as strikingly wonderful as it is darkly unique. Speaking with Kunis at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, she explains that entering the world of ballet was a sudden shock for her: “It was quite like swimming around in a new, exciting world. It was like diving in headfirst without having a life vest. I knew nothing about it — not one single thing — but I learned very quickly.”
But dancing duties aside, the film also involved other challenges for Kunis, including a hallucinatory, steamy scene of passion between her and Portman. Kunis had no qualms whatsoever about going into territories of sensuality another filmmaker would have made merely scandalous. “Oh, the whole thing was based on trust,” she says. “Not to speak for Natalie, but I don’t know if either one of us would have done a movie like this if Darren wasn’t directing. There are very few directors who you can completely relinquish everything to and trust them with crazy, bizarre concepts and ideas. There’s not very many directors who can pull it off. It’s a psychological thriller set in the ballet world. It’s crazy, and Darren made it absolutely brilliant.”
Trust is one thing; Kunis didn’t merely look without leaping, but instead trained for months. “I think the biggest challenge I found was way before I put the shoes on and filming every day,” she says. “It was when I started doing all the rehearsal for it, the training. I knew ballet was going to be hard. I didn’t realize how impossible it would be. I got the movie the next day, went into the ballet studio, then seven days a week, five hours a day worth of training. I couldn’t put the pointe shoe on until three months into it. Mind you, I probably should have waited a couple years before putting the pointe shoes on, let alone at the age of 26, but it was excruciatingly hard and incredibly gratifying at the end — at the time, I thought nearly impossible.”
Kunis’ training was exhausting, but the end of filming didn’t just mean going off an incredibly sparse diet. “It was less about eating the carbohydrates and more about actually being able to walk again,” she says. “I was happy to just be in one piece. I was so excited when I never had to do ballet ever again. I was so excited. That’s the truth. I wish I was bitten by the ballet bug, but I wasn’t. I was happy in my little world of ’20 pounds heavier and barely going to the gym.’ It was great.”
If one man is responsible for Black Swan’s wild, wicked fever dream of pure cinematic passion and beautiful madness, it’s director Darren Aronofsky. Following up the acclaimed “The Wrestler,” “Black Swan” fits in with the director’s other portraits of passion, desire and madness, like “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream,” but also has the visual flair of the stunning, expressive “The Fountain” while also having the grit and race of “The Wrestler.” And yet, “Black Swan” posed a challenge to the director unlike any he’d had before.
“We had so little money to make the film, so every day was really, really a big challenge,” Aronofsky said. “Normally you get the call sheet in the morning, you go, ‘Oh, yeah, I can get that done.’ Some days you go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a lot to do.’ But every single day was like, ‘Uh-oh. We got to do all of this today?’ So there was not that much time, and we were really hustling through the film, which was hard because I was asking the actors to not only emote in a tremendous way, but to perform athletically, which was very difficult because they have to warm up and put on pointe shoes, they have to costume up, and then there’s all this fake sweat and all different types of details that are hopefully invisible to the audience but technically really, really challenging to maintain.
“It’s always unfortunate when you don’t have enough time and resources to get everything right, but you make do with the best. Having limitations and boundaries has always helped me. All my films have always been forced into a very tight financial box. This one was way beyond it. It was a constant battle to get the film done. I think I had very professional actors. They were extremely responsible and extremely responsive to the needs we had. There was one point when the producer, without telling me and Natalie, had got rid of the nurse, which on a set like Black Swan — where we were losing toenails every day — was extremely bad judgment, unfortunately. But we were out of money, and Natalie was like, ‘OK, how can you get rid of the nurse? Just get rid of my trailer.’ Then, sure enough, the trailer was gone the next day, but we got the nurse back.”
With its loopy, fervid atmosphere of sex and madness, festival audiences have been talking about “Black Swan” as a buzzed-about film. I asked Aronofsky if a nickel’s worth of notoriety is worth a million dollars of publicity. He waved the suggestion off with a smile. “I’m just happy people are having a good time watching it. That’s been the most interesting thing. We always knew we were doing something different, putting a piece of entertainment out there that would be unique. Like ‘The Wrestler,’ no one expected anything about it. They were like, ‘Wrestling?’ But then they realized when you pull the curtain aside, ‘Wow, there’s a whole world there.’ So that’s exciting, but the really cool thing for me in these early screenings is people are actually having fun. As a filmmaker and entertainer, you want to entertain people, you want people to have a great time. The fact that people are having a good time and then leaving the theater and then talking about it, it’s staying with people overnight, and they’re talking about it over breakfast — that’s really rewarding.”
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.