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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.