For Natalie Portman, Hard Work Is Only the First Step

By Beth Stebner
|  Sunday, Dec 19, 2010  |  Updated 8:42 AM PDT
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Natalie Portman portrays Nina in Black Swan, the new Darren Aronofsky film.

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In the January issue of Vogue, Natalie Portman discusses her role as Nina in Darren Aronofsky’s cerebral Black Swan. She plays a naïve and quiet ballet dancer cast as the Swan Queen, obsessed with perfection.

Nina has an overbearing mother, an eating disorder, and several compulsions, like picking at her nails and scratching herself. Preparing for the role was no easy task.

“I’m tough on myself in terms of the standards I want to live up to,” Portman said in Vogue, “but that’s also part of my pleasure: knowing you are being your fullest self. Being your fullest self is a lot of work.”

A lot of work is an understatement. Portman trained up to eight hours a day at the barre to prepare for this role, looking back to her childhood skills of pirouetting and grand jetés to help her out.  But this is hardly the first of physically demanding roles.  In the 2006 film V for Vendetta, Portman portrayed Evey, a strong-willed girl who was captured by the government and made a political prisoner. In a particularly poignant scene, Portman’s head is shaved; she is subjected to painful showers, and lack of food.

All of this is underscored by Portman's drive to excel.  “It’s almost more important for me to be going at something full force than what the specific thing actually is,” Portman said.

She’s not the only star this year to go to extremes to prepare for a role. Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times notes that James Franco, Mark Wahlberg, and Colin Firth, among others, have all committed beyond what has been the norm in movies. There is less and less illusion, Sharkey says, and more actuality.

Portman’s attitude and work ethic certainly seem to be yielding rewards. Portman has been nominated for Best Actress at the SAG Awards, as well as the Golden Globes. There is already buzz for her Oscar nomination for Black Swan.

The Harvard-educated actress is humble about her success, and modest about the work put in for these roles. “Just getting to do the work is the privilege. I always feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. The one thing you have control over is having a great experience by doing your work fully.”

That’s not to say Portman is all work and no play. Enter the 2006 rap song she performed in on “Saturday Night Live” with Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell. Now that’s dedication.

Selected Reading: Vogue, LA Times, YouTube

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