It’s All Greek To Me

Following on from the French translation, Ramona sent in an English translation of Natalie’s other striking euro appearance, that of Vogue Deutsch.

Without further…what’s adieu in German?

In Black Swan, Natalie Portman delivers a tour de force performance as a psychologically unstable ballerina and dances with frightening intensity on the fine line between delusion and reality.

How difficult was the preparation for this role?
Nina was definitely by far the most physically challenging role I’ve ever played. I actually started my ballet training one year before production, and all throughout shooting I had to keep on training to maintain that professional level. Exercising on the barre after a 16-hour workday, that was really extreme.

Even though you did ballet as a child?
I danced until I was 13, that was certainly the groundwork for this role. But then I started to really get into acting and stopped dancing. I used to train two to three hours a day. There just wasn’t any time for that anymore. Not being one of the best in class would’ve been unbearable for me. So I stopped.

And only started again for Black Swan?
By that time I was already 28. Inbetween were 15 years of doing nothing… and aging. At 28 you’re almost at the end of your career as a ballerina. I didn’t keep up the dancing after shooting – after wrapping I immediately stopped. I’m more or less still recovering from the physical exertions. We regularly shot until the middle of the night. Dancing en pointe for a close-up at 4 in the morning, I couldn’t help but think: please don’t break a leg now! There wasn’t much room for other thoughts – except on some days, when I was sure I would die of exhaustion.

Are there any parallels between ballet and acting?
Probably as many as differences. But I think an actress never needs to approach that level of dedication and technique that is routinely expected of ballerinas. Dance is an art form where virtuosity is almost exclusively defined by hard work and perfect technique. Obviously there’s an artistic component to it as well, but body control is the decisive factor, since even the acting is purely physical. Details like the angle of your legs, the quality of en pointe pirouettes, the arm movements, that’s what’s important.

The movie focuses a lot on your arms.
“Swan arms” are incredibly difficult to learn. To prepare myself I read the biography of Natalia Makarova and watched videos of her performances. Her swan arms are considered the benchmark in ballet circles. Practicing these movements gives you extremely sore muscles.

That sounds rather brutal.
At some point the body reaches a point where it breaks down under all that stress and becomes incapable of doing those movements. That’s one of the reasons ballerinas have such a short career span. Fortunately actresses aren’t quite in the same situation.

Beginning this March you’ll be the new face of the ad campaign for the perfume “Miss Cherie Dior”. Which directors did you work with?
Sofia Coppola for the video, Tim Walker for the photo shoot. Both were lots of fun, I felt like I was on a holiday. It’s so much easier when you don’t have to get into the mindframe of a complicated character. Plus we shot it in my favorite city, Paris.

Is perfume a part of your daily beauty routine?
I like putting it aside for special occasions. Obviously men play a role in that.

Which parts of your body do you like to put it on?
I follow the advice of my mother: spray it in the air and walk through it.

Which question would you ask Mr. Dior if he were still alive?
Would you please design the wardrobe for my next film?

In Black Swan the last thing your character says is “It was perfect”. What role does perfection play in your own life?
Every form of art is looking for moments of perfection, for that beauty that only lingers only for a few instances. Once you notice it, it vanishes. Of course I’m ambitious and want to make the most of my roles. But the perfection I strive for in my acting performances is completely different from the one in ballet. As an actress I’m looking for flaws in my characters. After all, I’m playing a human being, and we all have our imperfections.

Does your psychology degree help you as an actress?
Definitely. Before I went to college I didn’t think it’s possible to read a thousand pages of scholarly literature in four days. But it is possible if that’s what your professor demands of you. For roles like Nina it’s certainly an advantage. I was very interested in this almost religious psychology of the ballet scene, for example. Choregraphers and successful dancers are revered almost as though they were gods. And there’s strict rituals before every performance. A new pair of pointe shoes needs to prepared and laced exactly the same way before every performance. This ritual process takes more than an hour. Also the relationship to pain and suffering in ballet is very interesting in that religous-psychological perspective too.

Which diagnosis would you give Nina?
She’s certainly suffering from OCD, anorexia, bulimia, and she has a narcissistic personality disorder. Perhaps a manic-depressive disorder as well.

Could she recover?
Only through many years of psychotherapy.

Would you, as a mother, allow your child to pursue a ballet career?
Probably not, although you should of course support your child in trying to live out their dreams. But the world of dance can be very cruel.