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Portman learns the dancer's life of self-flagellation for Black Swan

Sometimes playing a ballet dancer on screen canrequire just as much practice, dedication and pain as actually being aballet dancer, something Natalie Portman found out when she took on thelead role in Darren Aronofsky’s darkly beautiful <em>Black Swan</em>.

LOS ANGELES — Sometimes playing a ballet dancer on screen can
require just as much practice, dedication and pain as actually being a
ballet dancer, something Natalie Portman found out when she took on the
lead role in Darren Aronofsky’s darkly beautiful Black Swan.


To
play a perfectionist New York dancer running herself ragged for the
lead role in Swan Lake, Portman began training a full year before
filming began, with five hours of work a day — including three hours of
ballet class.


“It was a great challenge and I had amazing
support,” Portman says of the preparation. “All the teachers and
coaches and choreographer and director, first and foremost, shaping
everything.

“The physical discipline really helped the emotional
side of the character, because you get the sense of this monastic
lifestyle of only working out, which is a dancer’s life,” she says.
“You don’t drink, you don’t go out with your friends, you don’t have
much food, you are constantly putting your body through extreme pain.
You get the understanding of the self-flagellation of a ballet dancer.”

While
she by no means considers herself a method actress, Portman
acknowledges that the intense training was a massive help in getting
into the mindset of her character, Nina, who has trained since
childhood — and suffered mentally and emotionally for it — to be the
perfect dancer.


“This was a case where something I learned in
school did translate into something practical, which is very, very
rare,” Portman says. “[Ballet] is a devotional, ritualistic art, which
you can relate to as an actor. When you do a film, you submit to your
director in the same way. Your director is everything and you devote
yourself to create their vision.”

But Black Swan wasn’t
Portman’s first foray into ballet. “I danced when I was younger, until
I was about 12,” she says. “I guess I always idealized it, as most
young girls do, as this beautiful art, this expression without words. I
always wanted to do a film about dance.”

Despite the rigours of
playing a character — or two — with such heavy emotional baggage,
Portman had no trouble leaving the work in front of the camera. “As
soon as I finish a scene, I’m back to being me. As soon as I finish a
movie, I want to be myself again,” she says of her working style. “I’m
not someone who likes to stay in character. This clearly had a
discipline that lent itself to me being more like my character when we
were shooting than past experiences, but I go back to my regular life
after.”

 
 
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