Black Swan: Interview with star Natalie Portman

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Natalie Portman stars as the ballerina Nina in "Black Swan," the latest film from director Darren Aronofsky. The film, which also stars Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel, is being released by Fox Searchlight on December 3.

The character


“Nina is dedicated, hardworking but also obsessive,” the actress explains.  “She doesn’t yet have her own voice as a dancer, as a young woman, but she progressively changes as she searches to find her sensuality and sense of freedom. At the same time, she also starts to come undone, and that was the challenge. “


“What Nina wants is perfection, which is something that can only exist for a moment, a brief, fleeting moment — but like all artists, she may have to destroy herself to find that.  When she tries to become the Black Swan, something dark starts to bubble inside her.  It becomes an identity crisis where she’s not only unsure of who she is but the lines become blurred between her and other people.  She starts literally seeing herself everywhere.”  


“As Nina begins to rebel against all the structures around her,” she notes, “it comes with all this paranoia that takes her to a dark place, where she isn’t sure what other people want from her and whether or not she’s losing her mind.”  


Dreaming of ballet


Amidst the darkness, Portman was thrilled to have a chance to immerse herself in the ballet world she, like Nina, dreamed about as a young girl.  “I loved the authenticity of all these very real dance world details in the screenplay,” she says, “and I especially loved how Nina’s story parallels ‘Swan Lake.’  I saw her as someone really trying to break free of a spell – trying to break free of everyone else defining who she is and trying to see through all of it who she really is as a person and an artist.”   


Portman was intrigued by Nina and Lily’s twisted, envy-driven relationship which operates on several levels.  “I like how when they first meet, they size each other up the way that girls really do,” she says.  “It’s a survival mechanism, to scope out who your biggest competition is and in this case, Nina sees right away that Lily is gorgeous, talented and a total threat to her position.  But she also doesn’t yet know who Lily really is.”    


Intense training


“I did a tremendous amount of dancing, and I also did a lot of swimming and weight training as well as cross training, so I wouldn’t get injured because dance is so hard on the body,” Portman explains.  “It’s incredibly challenging, trying to pick ballet up at 28.  Even if you’ve taken dance lessons before, you just don’t realize how much goes into it at the elite level.  Every small gesture has to be so specific and so full of lightness and grace.  I knew it would be a challenge, but I never expected just how physically tough it turned out to be.”  


In addition to having studied dance in her youth, Portman studied psychology at Harvard, which yielded further insights into Nina’s disintegrating psyche, allowing the actress deeper into Nina’s surreal inner experience.  “I saw Nina as being caught in a cycle of obsession and compulsion,” she assesses.  “The positive side of that for artists and dancers is that by focusing so hard you can become a virtuoso, but then there’s a much darker side, an unhealthy side, in which you can become completely lost.  That’s where I had to take Nina.”