If you’ve yet to check out ”Black Swan”… what are you waiting for!? Undoubtedly one of the best films of the year, it’s a cinematic experience like no other and more so, features one of the bravest and most memorable performances by a contemporary actress, Natalie Portman. Moviehole had the chance to chat to Portman, co-star Barbara Hershey and director Darren Aronofsky recently in Los Angeles.
This project started ten years ago, tell us about that.
DA: I’d been a fan of Natalie’s since I saw her in the professional. It turns out that her manager is an old friend of mine from college, so I had a little inside line to meet. So, we met an old Howard Johnsons and had a really bad cup of coffee. I had early ideas about the film which she says I had the whole film in my head-which is a complete lie.
NP: It was so close to what you described to me.
DA: We talked a bit about it and I started to develop it but it was a really tough film because getting into the ballet world proved to be a bit challenging. Most of the time you say ‘hey, I wanna make a movie about your world’ and the doors open up and you can do anything you want. The ballet world really wasn’t at all interested in us hanging out. So it took a long time to sort of get the information to put it together. Over the years Natalie would say ‘I’m getting too old to play a dancer, you better hurry up.’ And I would just say ‘Natalie you look great, you’ll do fine.’ And then about a year out before the film I finally got a screenplay together.
The casting was great for this film and obviously Barbara Hershey and Natalie Portman have a lot of similarities. How was the working relationship with Natalie?
BH: I came in rather late, I was only in the last two and a half weeks. They had already done all of the ballet and the rest of the film was already behind them. It was exciting to come in and do this insular claustrophobic, intense relationship. And we got a nice kind of history, a feeling of ritual. I tried to copy her eyebrows as much as possible. We were aware of the symbolicness of living together every day for forever.
NP: And Darren did a really beautiful thing where, he had Barbara write letters to me in character for the first portion of the film that he would hand to me on important days of shooting that should feel my mother. And Barbara wrote really gorgeous letters that were really in character, that really gave a sense of-
NP: Yeah, exactly.
BH: And our love and our connection, yeah it was amazing and Darren was an amazing Director and it was a chance to feel each other as characters.
And Natalie this was a dream role for you. Tell us why. And what was your preparation like for this?
NP: Well, I danced when I was younger until I was about twelve and I guess always sort of idealized it, as most young girls do, as this sort of beautiful art, this expression without words. I always wanted to do a film related to dance so when Darren had this incredible idea that was not only that related to the dance world but also had this really complicated character it was just an opportunity, especially with Darren, who is a Director I would do anything for, it was just something completely exciting.
NP: It was a great challenge and I had really, really amazing support. All of the teachers and coaches and the choreographer obviously, and Director first and foremost were shaping and pushing along the way. But I started with my ballet teacher a year ahead of time and she started very basically with me. We would do two hours a day for the first six months and that was really just sort of strengthening and getting me ready to go out and do more, so that I wouldn’t get injured. Then at about six months we started doing five hours a day and we added in swimming. So, I was swimming a mile a day, toning and then doing three hours of ballet class a day. Then two months before we added the choreography so we were doing about eight hours a day. The physical discipline of it really helped the emotional side of the character because you get the sense of this sort of monastic lifestyle of only working out. It 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 sort of understanding of the self flagellation of a ballet dancer.
Your character is really going through a battle and searching for perfection and I know you threw a lot of yourself into the role. So, how do find a balance and pull yourself out of a role as an actress and what kind of motivation do you need to keep going?
NP: Pulling out of it, as soon as I finish a scene, I’m back to being me. As soon as I finish shooting, I want to be myself again, I’m not someone who likes to stay in character. This (role) clearly had a kind of discipline that leant itself to me being more like my character than past experiences, but yeah I just go back to my regular life after. And one of the reasons I think Darren and I had such a sort of telepathy, I feel like he is as disciplined, focused and alert as could possibly be and that’s what I try to be. I’m not a perfectionist but I’m obedient. I think it’s important to work your hardest and be as kind as possible to everyone that you work with and that’s the goal every day and keeping focused on that.
DA: I mean, I’ve dealt with a few method actors and I think it’s a bunch of nonsense. Its film acting, you have to be on when the cameras rolling and then, I mean sure if it’s an intense scene you might want to keep the energy up when the crews re-setting and they would all do that. But when it’s cut, it’s cut. Even when its action there’s still a camera, lights and all these people moving around you, it’s impossible to make believe that doesn’t exist. That’s why they’re so good, is that they’re able to sort of make believe that that’s not there, convincingly. But the second that’s cut, someone’s coming over to touch your mic and someone’s putting powder on your face, so it is make believe. I don’t know but whatever works. Not to scare away method actors but actually I wanna scare away method actors, because, you know, it’s a pain.
Lastly, Natalie, there’s been some Oscar buzz about the film, how do you feel about that?
NP: 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. The fact that audiences have come away moved, excited, entertained and stimulated by this film is extraordinarily flattering. So it’s a great, great honor.
– Katie Crocker