Swan Lake is a classic ballet exploring light and dark, good and evil personified in white and black swan characters. In visionary director Darren Aronofsky’s psych thriller Black Swan, young, beautiful actresses Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis play rival ballerinas as different as noon and midnight. Is either talented dancer evil or is one just losing her mind?
There is Oscar buzz around this unusual and visually beautiful film and SheKnows was anxious to sit down with its two leading ladies to dish that and the rigorous dance training that had both young women running for fattening comfort food as soon as shooting ended. Natalie Portman plays Nina, who pays the price for obsession and a struggle for perfection. Has either actress faced those demons? We asked them.
Picture Natalie looking demure and all class in a sleeveless black dress with a ruffled neckline and Mila Kunis in a smart gray tweed jacket and black skinny jeans.
Black Swan beauties speak!
SheKnows: Natalie, why is this a dream role for you in Black Swan?
Natalie Portman: Well, I had danced when I was younger, until I was about 12, and I always idealized it, as most young girls do, as the most beautiful art. It’s an expression without words. And 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, or two characters, really [white and black swan] to go into, it was just an opportunity, especially with Darren, that I would do anything for. It was just something completely exciting.
SheKnows: How did you approach transforming yourself for this role?
Natalie Portman: It was a great challenge, and I had really, really amazing support. All of the teachers and coaches, the choreographer and director, first and foremost, were shaping and pushing along the way. I started with my ballet teacher a year ahead of time. We would do two hours a day for the first six months, and that was really just strengthening and getting me ready to do more so that I wouldn’t get injured. And then, at about six months, we started doing five hours a day. We added in swimming, so I was swimming a mile a day, toning and then doing three hours of ballet class a day. And then, two months before, we added the choreography, so we were doing probably eight hours a day. You don’t drink, you don’t go out with your friends, you don’t have much food and you are constantly putting your body through extreme pain, so you get that understanding of the self-flagellation of a ballet dancer.
SheKnows: Mila, Natalie had a little ballet training as a kid but how did you appear so effortless and sensual when you were not a ballet dancer prior to this?
Mila Kunis: It was far from effortless or sensual. It was three months of training beforehand. I was not a ballet dancer. You can only fake so much physicality, so you have to immerse yourself in this world, in the way that somebody walks, talks and handles themselves. So, it was three months of training, seven days a week, four or five hours a day, before production started, and then during production it was pretty much exactly the same.
Black & ballet
SheKnows: What surprised you most about ballet?
Mila Kunis: The thing about ballet that I never knew about is that it’s one of the most excruciating sports that I’ve ever been a part of. I say sports because they train constantly, every single day — your body changes. Your shoulders drop, your chest opens up and there’s a certain posture that I don’t naturally have because I slouch. So, for three months, I had to constantly stand up straight. And the way that they hold their arms, because they’re always moving their fingers while they’re dancing, also changes the way that they talk in real life. And the feet are different because of the ballet shoes. There are a lot of little things.
SheKnows: Natalie, what was it like to wear the pointe shoes?
Natalie Portman: 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.
SheKnows: Ouch! I can imagine. Did you train separately for the white swan and black swan roles?
Natalie Portman: The choreography was different pieces for black swan and white swan. I had an amazing coach, Georgina Parkinson, who very sadly passed away two weeks before we started shooting, and she was the premiere coach for Swan Lake for Odile-Odette. She worked very specifically with me on everything from fingertips to where you put your eyes on different movements that are ballet acting. There are little gestures you can do that really differentiate between those two characters.
White versus Black Swan
SheKnows: Mila, do you consider yourself more a black swan or a white swan?
Mila Kunis: I think I’m a little bit of both. I think everyone has a little black swan in them; it’s just a matter of when you let it out. But, I would say I have a healthy balance of both, I would hope. I’m not nearly as adventurous as a black swan, but at times I would like to be.
SheKnows: Natalie, what was your first meal after you finished filming this and you could eat again?
Natalie Portman: My first meal was pasta, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I ate it all the time.
Up next…Mila and Natalie dish what they did when the ballet diet was over and the intense psychological aspect of Black Swan.