Beautiful movie star Natalie Portman, plays Nina in Darren Aronofsky’s gory ballet tale Black Swan, where she transforms herself from timid ingenue to powerful maenad.The film is set in a ballet company where dancers vie for the attention of a coldly knowing choreographer; when he casts the virginal, anorexic Nina to star as Odette/Odile, the white swan and the black swan in Swan Lake, she must literally break through her body and lose her mind to be reborn as an artist.
Portman’s performance is a tour de force that takes the audience inside Nina, keeps you with her as she transgresses taboos, and makes you participate, for a few thrilling moments when Nina becomes the swan, in the kind of transcendent self-loss that only artists know.
A vegetarian at home and a vegan when out, she orders a thoroughly eccentric meal: field greens followed by a soft pretzel with mustard, and an elderflower spritzer.
“I swear, I eat. I ate a bagel an hour ago. I consume my own weight in hummus every day. I cook a lot, and I even do vegan baking.
“I like pleasure, I like joy. I’d never get to the point where I would starve or injure myself like Nina does. I’m the opposite when I’m hungry, I eat, and I always make sure I’m eating something delicious. I’m tough on myself in terms of the standards I want to live up to, but that’s also part of my pleasure: knowing you are being your fullest self. Being your fullest self is a lot of work.
Portman is given to extremes: It’s almost more important for me to be going at something full force than what the specific thing actually is.
When Darren Aronofsky first met her to discuss Black Swan ”at Howard Johnson’s in Times Square, of all places”it was ten years ago, Portman was a junior in college, and there was no script. He explained it was about an artist who has a double and battles with her own ego, and said, You will have a sex scene with yourself.
She has two: the first when Nina follows her choreographer’s orders to pleasure herself, and the second with a rival dancer, played by Mila Kunis. The scene is jolting. Lesbian scenes, sex scenes, they’re all over the place!says Portman. But because it’s me, people are shocked. I see the value of a good-girl persona, it’s so easy to subvert it!
She’s been subverting it for years. There was the stripper Alice in Mike Nichols’s Closer in 2004; there was her tough, charming Sam in Garden State (Zach Braff whispered, Harold and Maude so I played her as Ruth Gordon).
She did an uproariously badass rap video on Saturday Night Live in 2006, all fists and suck and fuck. I think everyone was relieved I could be uncareful, she says.
Her next film, out this month, is a comedy with Ashton Kutcher about a woman doctor who wants sex but not love. It’s just been titled No Strings Attached, after being known as Fuck Buddies. She’s proud of what she does in Your Highness, a sword-and-sorcery slacker epic due in April.
Its director, David Gordon Green, explains, She’s this warrior princess who’s dirtier and more foulmouthed and more violent than everybody else. People get energized when they see what she’s doing. She’s hilarious.
Portman has started her own production company with a partner, Annette Savitch. Handsomecharlie Films is named after both Chaplin and departed dog of hers. They’ve already produced a comedy called Hesher, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and are developing a girl pot comedy called Best Buds.
We’re very into female comedies; there just aren’t enough. We’re trying to go for that guy-movie tone, like Judd Apatow’s movies, or The Hangover but with women who are generally not allowed to be beautiful and funny, and certainly not vulgar.
Portman is in favor of vulgar. There’s a difference between being in a bra and underpants as an object on a men’s-magazine cover and playing yourself a woman with desires and needs who loves and laughs with her friends in a bra and underpants. You become an object if you simply put it out there.
Most movies are made by men, it’s totally natural that they’re going to present their worldview, so we’re trying to find more women who are writers and directors who are expressing their worldview.
Did you see Tiny Furniture? Lena Dunham wrote, directed, and starred in it; she’s 23, and it is just amazing. She walks around in her underwear for the whole movie; it’s harsh.
She’s the subject, she’s not the object, and it’s beautiful that’s the kind of thing we need more of.
by Joan Juliet Buck | photographed by Peter Lindbergh