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Daily Archives: December 2, 2010
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.”