25 Little-Known Facts About ‘Black Swan’

Dec. 18, 2012
1003782_10100505675354817_1550901933_nNico Lang is a former producer at Thought Catalog, as well as the former correspondent and blogger for WBEZ ...

1. Giggle alert: the infamous sex scene between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman transpires at the 69-minute mark.

2. Although internet rumors claimed that Kunis and Portman had to get drunk to film that scene, Kunis denied it. She retorted, “I don’t think we could have done that scene if we were intoxicated.”  Although Portman felt uncomfortable shooting such explicit material, she knew its inclusion was imperative to her character’s sexual awakening.

3. This is not the first time that Portman had a difficult time with racy content. During the filming of Closer, Natalie Portman and Julia Roberts struggled with the film’s very graphic language. (It was quite a departure for both of them.) Reports are that at the beginning of the shoot, Portman gave Roberts a necklace that said “cunt” in honor of her character’s “pottymouth.” Roberts then returned the favor with one inscribed “lil’ cunt” after filming wrapped. Friendship!

4. Darren Aronofsky had wanted to work with Natalie Portman since 2001 — after her high-profile performances in The Phantom Menace and Anywhere But Here, for which Portman received her first Golden Globe nom. Aronofsky originally wanted to loosely adapt Dostoyevsky’s “The Double” as a vehicle for Portman. Interestingly, although the film they would collaborate on was not penned by Aronofsky, Black Swan has many of the same themes as Dostoyevsky’s work, such as the use of the doppelganger. To hammer home the idea of doubles, the film places reflective surfaces in almost every shot — except for the climax.

5. Aronofsky also considered folding Black Swan into The Wrestler — by having Nina’s story be a supporting arc in a romance between a wrestler and a ballet dancer. He then realized this was WAY TOO MUCH for one film and made a ballet film as a companion piece to The Wrestler — about people suffering for their art. To give them a sense of continuity, Aronofsky had cinematographer Matthew Libatque shoot them in the same grainy, muted aesthetic.

6. The script for Black Swan was based on an original script from Andres Heinz, which Aronofsky described as Roman Polanski meets All About Eve. The film was originally intended to be about New York theatre and was rewritten as a supernatural ballet thriller. It would be 10 years before the script was finished.

7. Although Portman was always the choice for Nina, Meryl Streep was also in the running for Nina’s mother. Jennifer Connelly and Rachel Weisz were both up for Beth McIntyre (the former company star), and Parker Posey was “this” close to it. However, Aronofsky went with Winona Ryder at the last minute — in an inspired stunt casting choice. Blake Lively and Bond girl Eva Green both read for Lily, until Portman suggested that Kunis play the part, as the two were friends.

8. Mila Kunis never formally auditioned for the part. After Portman’s reference, she Skyped with Darren Aronofsky, who agreed she would be perfect for it. This is likely because of the resemblance between Kunis and Portman, who are more similar than Portman would be to the very blonde Blake Lively.

9. Kunis is also a better aesthetic fit for Aronofsky, who (aside from the gracefully octogenarian Ellen Burstyn) always has pretty dark-haired women in his movies, and the naturally blonde Evan Rachel Wood went brunette for The Wrestler. I think this makes Darren Aronofsky Ron Swanson. They do both have mustaches.

10. Both Kunis and Portman had previous ballet experience, as Natalie Portman practiced ballet for nine years as a child and trained for a year to prepare for the role. She even paid for her own ballet lessons. (Aronofsky credits this drive for getting the film made and investors to believe in the project.) Kunis had to work every day for three months with a trainer to get up to par, and Portman lost 20 pounds to transform her body. Winona Ryder only went to one dance lesson as a child and hated it. Ryder also only spent 10 days filming her role, as she’s only in a handful of scenes. But we still love her anyway.

11. Although Barbara Hershey started out in less disturbing fare, like Hoosiers, The Natural and Hannah and Her Sisters, her late career has been defined by letting her freak flag fly. (See also: her brief cameo in Insidious and her role in Once Upon a Time.) Fans of Beaches might be surprised by Hershey going to the dark side, but her deliciously duplicitous Madame Serena Merle in Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady is a great harbinger of things to come. (And her only Oscar nomination.) Barbara Hershey was born to play crazy.

12. Fun fact: During filming, Hershey was dating Lost’s Naveen Andrews (who played Sayid), but they split before the film was released, after dating for 12 years. The two are separated by a 21-year-age gap, making Hershey a cougar. You can totally tell.

13. In other hot gossip, Natalie Portman met her future husband, Benjamin Millepied, while filming Black Swan, as Millepied was the choregrapher. He has a small part in the film, in which Vincent Cassel asks Millepied if he would “fuck this girl” and he shakes his head no. (Acting!) At the time, Millepied was dating Isabella Boylston, a fellow ballet dancer, who he’d been with for three years. He and Portman spent so much time together during the shoot that the other dancers in the film complained they felt neglected and didn’t know their moves. He and Portman announced their relationship after filming wrapped.

14. You know how Taylor Swift has dated everyone? She once went steady with Tom, the random dude Portman hooks up with in a club, played by Toby Hemingway. I really want to joke that Swift broke up Darren Aronofsky’s engagement to Rachel Weisz, but they split well after Black Swan wrapped. Weisz met Daniel Craig while they were filming Dream House and both dating other people. It’s James Bond. She’s only human. I mean, LOOK AT HIM.

15. While landing her man, Portman completed one of the biggest awards sweeps in Best Actress history (along with Dame Helen Mirren for The Queen). Portman was honored by at least 28 groups, including the Austin Film Critics, Black Film Critics, British Academy, BFCA, Chicago Film Critics, Golden Globes, Las Vegas Film Critics, New York Film Critics Online, Online Film Critics, SAG and even the Teen Choice Award. Mirren, considered one of the biggest Oscar landslides ever, won 29. Not bad, Portman.

16. Although Kunis didn’t get the Oscar nod (#sadface), she did end up winning Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Alive, which is also a thing. Clearly her performance left an impression on some voters. Kunis’ first award win ever was for That 70’s Show, a role she got when she was 14. The principals on the show all had to be 18 to be cast, and Kunis lied about her age to get the part — saying she would be turning 18. She didn’t mention that was four years away.

17. Black Swan’s score was composed by Clint Mansell and conducted as a play on Tchiakovsky’s original theme. To come up with his eerie take on it, Mansell played it backwards. (This is also how John Lennon came up with “Because,” by having Yoko play the chords of “Moonlight Sonata” in reverse.) If the musical vibe of Black Swan is familiar to you, it’s because Mansell also did the memorably haunting score for Requiem for a Dream, as well as all of Aronofsky’s films. Mansell’s music has also been used in So You Think You Can Dance, a show made much scarier now.

18. The ballet company director, played by the creepy-sexy Vincent Cassel, carries the last name of “Leroy.” This is an anglicizing of “le roi,” which in French means “The King,” making him perfect to direct a Swan Queen. This also indicates his sexual dominance in the company, and Cassel reportedly based his character of George Balachine, the lothario and “control freak” who co-founded the New York City ballet.

19. A physically demanding shoot, Natalie Portman was injured numerous times during filming, including a getting hefty concussion. Portman also spent six weeks in recovery after twisting a rib. Because the budget for Black Swan was very modest and they only raised half of what they needed for the film, the film couldn’t afford both a trailer and a medic for Portman. She was told she would have to choose between them. She picked the medic and the trailer was cut. (Also, the scene of Portman receiving physical therapy in the film is real.)

20. In addition to the physical concerns, Portman was also worried about her voice, which Aronofsky wanted to be more girlish. While filming Closer, Mike Nichols constantly criticized her for the natural childishness of her voice, which he forced her to work with vocal coaches on to improve. With the progress she had made, Portman felt that Nina’s vocal tics were a step backwards for her as an actress.

21. While filming, Darren Aronofsky reportedly screwed with Natalie Portman, because he was worried that she and Mila Kunis had become overly close as friends, and he wanted to add to the tension between the two. To pit them against each other, Aronofsky didn’t allow them contact during filming and repeatedly praised Kunis’ performance to Portman. He even went so far as to text each actress about the other at the end of each day to instill jealousy. This was so effective that Aronofsky was concerned about Portman’s weight loss and had food sent to her trailer (before it was taken away). #wayharsh

22. During the scene where Nina informs her mother that she landed the part of the Swan Queen, Aronofsky was on the line with Portman instead of Barbara Hershey — who was unavailable that day. Also, the message written in lipstick on the mirror? Portman’s handwriting.

23. Dancer Sarah Lane (who was one of Portman’s two stunt doubles) claims that of the film’s body shots, only 5% are Natalie Portman — despite the studio’s claims that Portman did “90% of her own dancing.” Lane alleges that the studio asked her to keep quiet during the film’s press tour, as not to make Portman look bad. However, those claims were refuted by Millepied, Aronofsky and Kunis, who stated that “Natalie danced her ass off.” In an interview with 20/20, Black Swan editor Andrew Weisblum estimated that 23 of the film’s 35 body shots are Portman — or about 2/3rds. Weisblum also mentioned that he had a difficult time knowing which shots were Lane and which were Portman during editing.

24. Two of the film’s unpaid interns went further than Lane: they sued the film for being unpaid for their unpaid internships. According to the plaintiffs, their work on the film violated the legal guidelines for work that’s permissible from free labor, and according to the Huffington Post, the judge on the case “allowed them to file a motion to amend their suit to expand the plaintiff class to include everyone who has worked as an unpaid intern at Fox Entertainment Group for the past several years.” As of October, the case was still pending.

25. But don’t worry: lots of other people liked Black Swan. In addition to being the second most profitable indie of 2010 (after The King’s Speech), Portman said she would jump at the chance to work with Aronofsky again. And in the future, scientists will conclusively prove that there’s no such thing as watching Black Swan too many times. It’s not just addictive; it’s science. TC mark

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