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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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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.

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It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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