Actress Natalie Portman has opened up about her most difficult filming experience, which could have cost her her life.
If Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan remains one of the director’s most celebrated films, this is undoubtedly due to Natalie Portman’s total performance. But at what cost did the actress get so involved?
At the famous New York City Ballet, competition is fierce within the troupe, especially because Nina (Natalie Portman) is willing to make any sacrifice and stab in the back to win the lead role in Swan Lake, which choreographer Thomas (Vincent Cassel) is preparing. When a new recruit arrives, Lily (Mila Kunis), the competition is taken to a whole new level…
To prepare for the role, the actress invested both physically (taking a year of dance classes and losing weight) and financially (paying for those classes while waiting for the film to be greenlit by the studio). She suggested that Mila Kunis play her rival and, according to the director, she did “90%” of the dance scenes. The foot close-ups and fouettés, in particular, were taken by an understudy, Sarah Lane, who claimed she did not receive the recognition she deserved.
But filming was so intense and the scenes were so mentally and physically difficult for Portman — she was frequently injured, particularly her toe — that she thought she would lose her life on set, as she told Entertainment Weekly (via HuffPost):
There were nights when I literally thought I was going to die. It was the first time I realized that you can get so involved in a role that it can break you.
Portman also says in this interview that the studio didn’t know how to sell the film to the public. And here is your answer to that question:
“Everyone was worried about who would want to see a movie like this. I remember them saying, ‘How do you get men to watch a ballet movie? How do you get women to watch a thriller movie? Let’s put a lesbian scene, everyone wants to see that'”.
Ultimately, Black Swan is a dive into the heart of the rivalries and ambitions that drive some of the world’s best dancers. The film explores the physical and mental consequences of taking competition to such an extreme level. Although it is far from perfect – notably falling into psychophobia – Black Swan is an intense psychological thriller nominated for 5 Oscars and which earned Natalie Portman the Best Actress statuette.
Black Swan is available in the Star+ catalogue.
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