DID YOU READ

A Spirited Q & A with “Black Swan” Actress Natalie Portman

A Spirited Q & A with “Black Swan” Actress Natalie Portman (photo)

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As a way of celebrating this year’s nominees for the Spirit Awards in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we reached out to as many as we could in an effort to better understand what went into their films, what they’ve gotten out of the experience, and where they’ve found their inspiration, both in regards to their work and other works of art that might’ve inspired them from the past year. Their answers will be published on a daily basis throughout February.

At a recent event in Los Angeles, Darren Aronofsky explained that his lead actress’ biggest accomplishment in “Black Swan” was acting and dancing at the same time, physically making the pirouettes seem effortless as she expressed emotions that would go against what she was doing with her body. Certainly, it was a tall order, but given everything else that Natalie Portman has done in the past few years, the idea of doing only two things at once seems almost quaint.

In the decade since Aronofsky first met with the actress over coffee in Times Square to discuss what would become “Black Swan,” Portman has become a writer/director (her short “Eve”), a producer (the upcoming “Hesher”) and even the co-creator of a Web site detailing the creative process (MakingOf.com), all the while expending her considerable empathy and nuance as a performer on films by the likes of Wes Anderson, Wong Kar-wai, and Jim Sheridan. It’s worth mentioning these things because contrary to the anxiety-ridden ballerina she plays in “Black Swan,” Portman’s understanding of every aspect of production is part of what makes her performance in the film so magnificent.

To quote Sayers’ demanding ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), “Perfection is not just about control…it’s about letting go too” and for Portman, it’s a role that required both a full command of her body and her mind as she often had to parallel the timid Nina with her darker, poised alter ego, and a fearlessness to match her Spirit Award-nominated partners-in-crime Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique as they seem to share a single vision for Nina’s descent into madness. Add in 16-hour days, hundreds of takes for the film’s climactic “Swan Lake” scene, a dislocated rib that the actress “integrate[d the pain of] into the performance,” and you have something that the word “perfect” almost doesn’t do justice to since it’s inappropriate to define the ineffable magic and mystery that makes Portman so graceful even as her character psychologically falls apart. It took a rare actress to hold it all together and in reworking Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, Portman found hers.

Why did you want to make this film?

I wanted to work with Darren Aronofsky and I had been dying to do a dance-related film. It has always been the most moving medium for me.

What was the best piece of advice you received that applied to the making of this film?

Include the camera.

What was the toughest thing to overcome, whether it applies to a particular scene or the film as a whole?

Shooting late at night. Our days were so long that we often found ourselves at 4:00AM shooting crucial scenes or on Pointe. That was tough.

What’s been the most memorable moment while you’ve traveled with the film, either at a festival or otherwise?

Watching it with my parents for the first time at Venice was very intense. Thankfully, they loved it.

What’s your favorite thing about your film that’s been largely uncommented upon?

The music by Clint Mansell is masterful and totally sets the tone and pace for the film.

What’s been the most gratifying thing to come out of this film for you personally?

I had the incredible opportunity to work with the giants of the ballet world. I also loved our crew and had a beautiful time working with them.

What’s been your favorite film, book or album from the past year?

My favorite films have been “Tiny Furniture,” “The Kids are Alright” and “Please Give.” My favorite books have been [Nicole Krauss’] “Great House,” [Jonathan Franzen’s] “Freedom” and [Patti Smith’s] “Just Kids.”

“Black Swan” is open in theaters across the country. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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