EW Cover Story

On Wednesday, Rachel posted the Natalie cover of the latest Entertainment Weekly, along with a preview of the article. I’ve managed to get a bit more of the article (Maybe the whole article? I’m not too sure.), which should erase any doubts about Natalie’s suggestion that lesbian sex was their plan to get people to see the film. Yet another example of people jumping to conclusions and failing to even consider the fact that the comment might not be in context or might even just be a joke.

Also of interest is Natalie explaining how she had to be talked into campaigning for the Oscar by Darren Aronofsky and some of her celebrity friends.

Her riveting performance as an obsessed ballerina in Black Swan has turned the art-house thriller into a surprise hit. Could Natalie Portman pirouette to the podium as Best Actress?

“Everyone was so worried about who was going to want to see this movie,” says Natalie Portman with a sigh of relief in her voice. It’s been a few weeks since her new drama, Black Swan, became an art-house hit, grossing more than $28 million to date, and the actress freely admits box office success was never a sure “I remember them being like, ‘How do you get guys to a ballet movie? How do you get girls to a thriller?’ And the answer is a lesbian scene.” Portman holds a straight face for a beat before she cracks up. “Everyone wants to see that.”

True, Black Swan’s well-publicized love scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis undoubtedly filled some seats. But the R-rated thriller’s star attraction is Portman’s electrifying performance as Nina Sayers, a dancer who wins the lead role in Swan Lake at a New York City ballet company and is pushed to the brink of madness by her own perfectionism. The demands of the role—Portman trained for a year, whittling her body down to muscle and bone—brought the 29-year old actress to a similar threshold. “There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die. It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down,” she recalls. “I have a Jewish mother and every time she saw me, it was ‘What are they doing to you? You need to eat! Are you sure this is worth it?’ ”

With all due respect to Natalie’s mom, the answer is a resounding yes. Black Swan has garnered Portman more acclaim than she’s ever had in her 18-year film career, thanks largely to her utter commitment to the role. “She’s passionate in regards to anything she does,” says Kunis, who was a friend long before their onscreen lip-lock. “Anything in her life, she’ll go full throttle, 100 percent.” So far that drive has earned Portman a Golden Globe nomination and a Critics’ Choice nod for Black Swan—and buzz that she may be the one to beat for the Best Actress trophy at the Academy Awards on Feb. 27.

The movie has also led to other great things: Portman recently announced that she’s engaged to choreographer Benjamin Millepied—the two met while shooting Black Swan—and is pregnant with the couple’s first child. “I have always kept my private life private but I will say that I am indescribably happy and feel very grateful to have this experience,” says Portman in an exclusive statement to EW.

These days Portman is securely in Oscar’s orbit for Black Swan, participating in buzz-building Q&A’s, doing the press rounds, and keeping a calendar of potential awards dates. But she’s still openly ambivalent about the process surrounding acting prizes. “It’s made into this artificial race, which is impossible with art,” she explains. In fact, she says she was so unenthusiastic about the idea of entering the Oscar fray this season that Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky took it upon himself to give her a pep talk. “He was like, ‘It’s really good for your career,’ ” she recalls. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know about that. I’ve been working for 20 years, and I haven’t had this kind of attention before.’ And he was like, ‘It’s good for your charity work.’ I was like, ‘You’re just trying to appeal to me now!’ ” Portman says she’s come around to thinking of awards as signs of support and camaraderie from her showbiz peers—plenty of whom have already reached out with praise for Black Swan. “[Pineapple Express director] David Gordon Green wrote me, and Danny McBride, [James] Franco, and Tobey Maguire, Julia [Roberts],” she says, unrolling the A-list roster in a casual breath. “When it comes from those people, that’s the most meaningful.”

When you ask Portman’s peers to describe her, the word driven comes up a lot. So do passionate and intense. It’s tempting to think that her performance in Black Swan had as much to do with revealing something about herself as it did with acting. It allowed her inner perfectionist to run—or, in this case, dance—free on screen. “It was perfect casting,” says Mike Nichols, a longtime friend who saw in the role a reflection of Portman’s own unrelenting determination. “She expects a great deal of herself. When she saw Closer—in which I thought she was totally astonishing— she said, ‘Eh, I’m still not awesome.’ ” Asked if the public’s deadly serious image of Portman is wrong, Ashton Kutcher (her costar in the upcoming rom-com No Strings Attached) gives a quick response: “Uh, no, that’s her.”