I recently had the opportunity to talk to Natalie Portman about her unforgettable performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Much like Nina – the character she portrays – you can really tell she threw everything into this role. If I was a betting man (I’m usually a terrible betting man) I’d put my money on her taking home that faceless gold man come Oscar night. Black Swan is out in cinemas NOW. Check out what Portman had to say about the film below.
Can you talk a little about how Darren Aronofsky approached the film and how far he pushed you as a director?
Natalie Portman: Darren is a really, really exacting director. It was really wonderful to get to watch him work. He’s phenomenal, we were really the only ones who were there every day. I got to see him work with the different actors who came in and out and see how he tailored his approach with every actor, which was really incredible to see. I think we had an early recognition that we were equally military about our approach to work, that we’d be really focused and disciplined. It was a really quick, almost telepathic, reaction between us.
He also gave me one of the greatest gifts that any director has ever given me, which is after we’d try everything that we wanted to do he’d give me ten different ways to attack a scene, he would then say “OK, now do this one for yourself”. A lot of director’s say “this one’s a freebie” or “this is a free take”, but to just put it in those words gave me such a different understanding, for myself and also for the character. I learned that artistry has to do with pleasing yourself, not with pleasing someone else. Nina’s key to becoming an artist is finding pleasure herself, not trying to just please her mother or Thomas Leroy. So, I was sort of stepping out of that whole world of being a child and becoming a woman.
With the film nearly being 10 years in the making and given its themes of coming of age and the passage of time, are you now grateful it did take so long to come together? Do you think you would have approached it differently back then?
Natalie Portman: That’s exactly right. I think having the experience of my twenties when I did this film was an absolute asset. Because going from this child-like state of sort of wanting to please people. I started as a child actress and where you just sort of want to make everyone happy, you’re always looking for approval. It’s almost like that pageant thing, where you see the little kids do their dance and then look right at their mom to ask “How did I do? How did I do?” (laughs). That’s sort of what you feel like as a child actor, you’re always looking for that approval. So to get to a point where you’re really trying to make yourself happy, and trying to fulfil yourself through your performance is a whole new experience. I really think that being in my late twenties gave me a perspective that really helped with the film. But it also means that the earlier parts of the film, where she’s young, insecure, naive, childlike and trying to please everyone, are all the more difficult because it felt like a regression of sorts.
I think it was an absolute asset. I started as a child actress, wanting to please and make everyone happy. It’s like that pageant thing, where you’re always looking for approval. You have to get to a state where you’re doing things for yourself and that’s something I gained in my twenties, it gave me a perspective that really helped. But it also made the earlier parts of the film, where she’s childlike and naïve, harder because it felt like a regression of sorts.
Does the acting world have any parallels with the ballet world in terms of competition for roles and the need to look good?
Natalie Portman: I think there are similar pressures, particularly with that sort of replacement, that there is an age limit. I think in film and theatre it’s a little bit more flexible for actresses because you can change the kind of roles you might go for, from a leading lady to a character actress. Whereas for dancers your career is sort of over at a certain point. There’s also more material reward for what we do than there is for dancers. There’s is truly an art of passion. No one is becoming rich and famous off of being a ballet dancer anymore. But there’s also something incredibly beautiful about that as well.