Doina Giurgiu: Do you like photography, Miss Portman?
I think that photography is a frozen movie. I always imagine how the action would unfold after I'd shout to the picture: Action!
I always feel like extracting the stillness out of there and inspiriting it, like a kind of dismissal of cryogenics.
D.G.: It's a way of sectioning time.
It's never a full story. It's just a closed feeling. A look that can't expand its epic beyond the frame. It's suspended there and you have to take it further, you have to blow a little of your own inspiration on it and see where you can take it. It's like a part you got today and you looked at it as you would look at a canary locked in a cage. You see it struggling and you have no choice: if you want to be sure you can pull it through you have to unlock the character in loud noise, you have to throw away the cage door.
D.G.: Movies have no limits?
The tones are very fluid in movies. They don't stop unless the director retains them.
D.G.: Is Black Swan more the story of a human being paralyzed by fear, stuck in time, or is it the story of its escape from quiescence?
N.P.: Black Swan
is like a contre-jour forced to get the spotlight right in the face, to suddenly emerge from the shadows. Nina Sayers is a rigid shape till this dual role comes up for her: the white and the black swan in Swan Lake
. That's the point when the conflict between the two sources of passion breaks out. One is cold and metallic and the morbid possessiveness of the failed ballerina in her mother confines her in it. The other one is alive, violent, free and comes from within, and the desired role breaks it out gradually to a total invasion of reality, which is forced to transform itself upon the image of her acute experience. It's not a common escape; it's a release of a seemingly delicate and fragile animal, but whose inner scream comes to transfigure it into a ruthless beast. The black swan must be a descent into hell. All fierce desires are like that. Like a path with one foot in the inferno.
D.G.: But it's an assisted desire. Vincent Cassel in the role of Thomas Leroy is a slightly mephistophelian director.
To shoot a bullet, you must pull the trigger. Thomas knows that something's buried deep inside of Nina and he needs that thing at any cost. Even if his gestures are unfinished. But he disturbs her. Her imagination fills the rest, as this out-in-the-light movement requires.
D.G.: Did you find the role of the ballerina more difficult than, say, the role of the stripper in Closer?
Well, I won't begin telling platitudes like: "all parts have their difficulties". I never thought of the roles I played in terms of "easy" or "difficult". If you talk about the physical part, yes, I had to prepare a whole lot more than I did for Closer
. I think Nina's line "I just want to be perfect" fits well here. I started training more than a year before filming. Basic movements, swimming, workout. Every day. I thought it would quickly get me in shape. I forgot that ballet is like a kind of breathing: you can't stop without pulling out the life in it and disjointing it.
D.G.: Didn't you shoot anything during this year?
I did. Mary Helen Bowers, my choreographer, accompanied me everywhere. I started exercising even at five in the morning. When all details are in place, I think a level of credibility is reached, one that lets you lose yourself in the story. It's a game of extremes. What you see there should look easy, painless, carefree, imponderable, delicate and charming. But what's behind this image gives the film resonance, because it freezes your blood.
D.G.: Darren Aronofsky said he didn't know if any actor would be able to pull off this role. I don't think he has any doubts now.
I think he's pleased. He wanted to reveal the inner struggle and the work. How any artist looks on the inside. The confront with yourself, the search. You hurt yourself in this confront because you need to find answers and sometimes you cling on the sharp corners and pull them with your nails.
D.G.: The scene in which the mother cuts Nina's nails is so terrifying that you almost come to laugh to better hide your fear. In fact, all you want is to look away, lest you enter the depth of Nina's prison, one from which she doesn't seem able to escape.
Nina doesn't look at her mother either in that moment, and Barbara Hershey pushes the edge of that obsession so wonderfully close to the heart of madness. Her character, Erica, is truly in hell and has no power to leave. The primary hell belongs to the mind, right? Darren asked Barbara to write me a few letters from Erica's perspective. I thought that really helped us build the mental connection between the characters. It helped us to sense the mirrors and the ritual of that dark and sinister apartment in a different way. Barbara said it reminded her of Das Boot
. Space madness which closes in on you slowly, but increasingly nearer. Like a trap you see shutting, but in slow motion. So slowly, you come to believe that if you stop breathing the frames will stop flowing.
D.G.: And madness is hereditary...
It's a psychological thriller! The idea is to float between two feelings: the reality of alienation, which begins with the arrival of Mila Kunis, the alternative for the role of the black swan, and the imaginary of the mad search for the source of energy. Which must be extracted from Nina. The black swan is a child drawn out with the forceps from the almost dead imagination of a ballerina with nothing left alive but the body. The resuscitation of her soul is utterly necessary and seems an act of aggression committed by Lily, Mila's colorful swan.
D.G.: Have you two discussed the relationship between the two ballerinas?
With Mila? Not very much. Darren insisted we don't meet outside shooting, to amplify the contrast and distrust between the characters. It was a bit strange because we are friends. He set different schedules for the ballet rehearsals and he told each of us the other was better. But we quickly got the idea of him trying to trick us and lead us into a state of rivalry for the benefit of the characters.
D.G.: The story of the ballerinas overlaps that of
Swan Lake. But isn't it the same with ballet? Isn't its passion like Odile, spellbound and subdued by love, and isn't the huge and almost inhuman effort of the body as excruciating as the pain caused by Odette?
Nina lives in ballet and she's her own Odette-Odile duality. Lily loves life too much to confine herself to an extreme. The ballet is a combination of visible sublime and hidden cruelty. What people see on stage is so close to perfection it doesn't leave room for any other image. Much less for one of terrible contrast, one of taming by blood of a body which can't fly otherwise. It's a unique world and I think this is well shown in the film.
D.G.: It's an answer I can reflect in a mirror. What you see in the film is so close to perfection it doesn't leave room for any other image. The attainment of completing this role is already in the sealed envelope at the Academy Awards. What would Natalie Portman's Romanian grandmother say at its opening night?
She would be very proud!