Overview

Black Swan is a 2010 American psychological thriller and horror film directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, and Mila Kunis.

Storyline

Nina (Portman) is a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her obsessive former ballerina mother Erica (Hershey) who exerts a suffocating control over her. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side – a recklessness that threatens to destroy her. Written by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Interesting facts

  • Vincent Cassel has compared his character to George Balanchine, who co-founded New York City Ballet. The actor said Balanchine was “a control freak, a true artist using sexuality to direct his dancers”.
  • Meryl Streep was considered to play Erica, Nina’s mother.
  • Blake Lively and Eva Green auditioned for the role of Lily.
  • Both Rachel Weisz and Jennifer Connelly were rumored to star as Beth MacIntyre.
  • Nina’s name in the original screenplay was Alexandria.
  • The production considered setting the film in France and filming in Budapest but the idea was dropped for creative and budgetary reasons.
  • The film began as a screenplay by Andres Heinz called “The Understudy” and took place in the world of New York theater. Darren Aronofsky liked the script, but suggested it be changed to ballet. John J. McLaughlin wrote the new script, which was subsequently rewritten by Mark Heyman.
  • The script took around ten years to make it to the screen.
  • Mila Kunis was brought into the project after co-star Natalie Portman suggested her to director Darren Aronofsky. Kunis had a video chat with Aronofsky via Skype and got the role without officially auditioning.
  • Natalie Portman lost 20 pounds to look more like a ballerina.
  • The budget on this film was so tight that when star Natalie Portman had a rib dislocated during a lift and she called the producer for help. She was told that the budget was so low they had no medic. She stated that if they needed to cut items from the budget they could take away her trailer, instead of the medic. The next day her trailer was gone.
  • Winona Ryder spent 10 days filming her role.
  • After practicing with a ballet instructor for three months, five hours a day, seven days a week, Mila Kunis learned how to dance en pointe. She had casually practiced ballet as a child.
  • Winona Ryder who plays the former leading ballerina, only went to one ballet lesson as a kid. She never returned as she thought her teacher was really mean.
  • The soundtrack, composed by Clint Mansell is a variation on Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” ballet, but played backwards and in a distorted manner.
  • According to a radio interview on “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” Natalie Portman recommended her friend Mila Kunis for the role of Lily after learning that Kunis had previously had some experience as a dancer.
  • Natalie Portman revealed that director Darren Aronofsky would subtly try to pit her and Mila Kunis against each other during filming in an attempt to increase the on-screen tension between their characters. This included keeping the two actresses separated during filming and sending each of them intimidating text messages about each others performance that day.
  • Natalie Portman sustained a twisted rib during the filming of a dance sequence, and a full recovery took six weeks. During the filming of subsequent dance sequences, she was lifted from her arm pits rather than her sides to avoid repeating the injury.
  • Natalie Portman drew on her ballet training from ages 4-13 for the role. She resumed ballet training a year before principal filming began. She trained with Mary Helen Bowers (formerly of the New York City Ballet) and the regimen included fifteen minutes of toe exercises (for her to be en pointe for dance scenes), substantial muscle toning, and swimming a mile a day. However, Portman has acknowledged having dance doubles (unnamed) in some interviews. Professional ballerinas Sarah Lane and Kimberly Prosa were the dance doubles for Natalie Portman. The special effects team also digitally placed Natalie Portman’s head on Sarah Lane’s body in several dance scenes. Lane did most of the heavy tricks, while Kimberly Prosa did the rest of the dance shots that were needed. According to both Prosa and Lane in separate interviews, Portman’s dance scenes in full body shots were actually the dance doubles. Prosa and Lane also said Portman was filmed dancing from the waist up, showing only face and arms, while the rest of her body dancing were that of the dance doubles.
  • Natalie Portman hit her head during the filming of one scene, sustaining a bad concussion that required an MRI.
  • Due to a dislocated rib injury, Natalie Portman had to receive physical therapy during filming. Portman is undergoing a real therapy session in one scene with Michelle Rodriguez, an actual physical therapist brought in by choreographer Benjamin Millepied. Director Darren Aronofsky told Portman to stay in character during the appointment so he could film and include the scene into the final cut.
  • Mark Margolis appeared in an ‘under-five’ role as a favor to Darren Aronofsky. His dialogue was cut from the film.
  • Though Natalie Portman does mostly all of her own dancing, ABT professional ballerina Sarah Lane acted as her body and dance double. These doubles shots involve complex en pointe work (fouettes, pique turns) and virtually all camera shots that focus below the waist on Nina’s legs and feet.
  • The method which Nina uses to “break in” her toe-shoes are all common – ripping the sole apart, re-stitching the ribbons, lighting the end ribbons to prevent fraying, spraying the toe-box, and using glass and rosin to grate the bottom to gain traction.
  • The ballet director’s last name, “Leroy,” is similar to the French “le roi” for “the king” – significant in light of Nina’s identification with her role as an enchanted princess in love with a prince.
  • ABT ballerina Maria Riccetto doubles for Mila Kunis in the dance sequences.
  • Other dancers seen in the film are members of the Pennsylvania Ballet Company. The movie was shot in Purchase, NY, during January 2010, when the company was not performing elsewhere.
  • Nina’s cell-phone ring-tone is the “Theme of the Black Swan”.
  • Director Darren Aronofsky originally envisioned telling this story as part of the plot of The Wrestler and was actually developing a project that was about a love affair between a ballet dancer and a wrestler, but he realized pretty quickly that taking two worlds like wrestling and ballet was much too much for one movie.
  • The overhead shot of Nina in the bathtub is an exact replica of a shot in the Japanese anime thriller Perfect Blue. Prior to Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky bought the remake rights to the film just to use that one sequence.
  • Darren Aronofsky told journalist Kim Masters in a radio interview (KCRW’s “The Business” broadcast February 14, 2011) that Natalie Portman not only trained for a year as a dancer to prepare for the role, but that she paid for the training out of her own pocket for about seven months until the film found investors. Aronofsky attributed the fact the film’s ever actually getting made to Portman’s dedication and enthusiasm.
  • Darren Aronofsky had originally hoped for a budget of about $28-30 million. The budget eventually raised for the film was about $13 million.
  • The role of the “Jaded Piano Player,” the ballet rehearsal pianist who, most memorably, tells Nina that she has been working too hard and she should take a break, is played by John Epperson, a performer who is perhaps better known for his drag persona, Lypsinka. Epperson really did work as a rehearsal pianist for the American Ballet Theatre during the late 1970s and early 1980s, accompanying the rehearsals of such ballet luminaries as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova, Rudolph Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, and Gelsey Kirkland.
  • Natalie Portman stated after the experience she had working with director Darren Aronofsky that she would work with him again at any point in the future.
  • Out of all the award nominations the film received the only category sweep was Natalie Portman winning every Best Actress category, including Golden Globe and Academy Award, in which she was nominated.
  • Both Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman have praised choreographer Benjamin Millepied for altering the choreography enough to allow them to do most of their own dancing and to help them appear like professionals.
  • Natalie Portman said in an interview with Charlie Rose that one of the most difficult challenges, aside from training and dancing, was her voice in the film. She stated director Mike Nichols has given her consistent criticism on how childish her voice sounds and encouraged her to work with vocal coaches to make it sound deeper and more adult. The role of Nina required Portman to regress backwards to make her voice more child-like. She felt it was taking her back to a point she worked hard to leave behind.
  • Darren Aronofsky first approached Natalie Portman about making a film set in the dance world in 2001 when Portman was 20 years old. Aronofsky envisioned it as a film loosely based on “The Double: A Petersburg Poem” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
  • Natalie Portman began ballet training before receiving an official script on pure faith that the film would be made.
  • The scenes between Nina and Erica were the last scenes filmed.
  • Parker Posey was strongly considered to play Beth Macintyre, but Darren Aronofsky eventually decided to cast Winona Ryder for the role.
  • Portman’s body and dance double, Sarah Lane, came public shortly before the DVD/Blu-Ray release in March 2011 claiming that the film’s producers asked her not to conduct interviews until after the awards season so Natalie Portman would receive most of the dancing credibility. A promotional video released about the special effects used in the film was also altered so it didn’t include aspects of how Lane’s face was digitally replaced with Portman’s during complicated dance moves Lane was brought in to perform. Choreographer (and Portman’s fiancé) Benjamin Millepied counteracted Lane’s comments by stating, “It was so believable, it was fantastic, that beautiful movement quality. There are articles now talking about her dance double [Sarah Lane] that are making it sound like she did a lot of the work, but really she just did the footwork, the fouettés, and one diagonal phrase in the studio. Honestly, 85% of that movie is Natalie”. Director Darren Aronofsky also debunked Lane’s claims saying, “Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80% Natalie Portman.”
  • There are 139 dance shots in the film. Out of the 139, 111 are untouched shots of Natalie Portman and the remaining 28 are her dance double, Sarah Lane. Of the shots in which Lane is featured, 26 of the 28 are wide shots and rarely appear on screen longer than one second. The two remaining shots required digital face replacement so the audience sees Portman’s face instead of Lane’s.
  • Days before the DVD/Blu-Ray release, director Darren Aronofsky counteracted accusations made by dancer Sarah Lane, in which she claimed Natalie Portman got credit for her dancing in the film, stating “I am responding to this to put this to rest and to defend my actor. Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance. And I don’t want anyone to think that’s not her they are watching. It is.” Co-star Mila Kunis also counteracted Lane’s comments, “Lane wasn’t used for everything. It was more like a safety net. If Natalie wasn’t able to do something, you’d have a safety net. The same thing that I had – I had a double as a safety net. We all did. No one ever denied it.”
  • Sarah Lane, Natalie Portman’s dance double, appears in 23 seconds of the opening dance scene. The final 85 seconds of the sequence is unaltered performance by Portman. The 23 seconds in which Lane appears is all en pointe footwork. The dance with Rothbart and the en pointe exit was done by Portman.
  • In the practice scene near the beginning of the film (the scene where Thomas taps some of the girls on the shoulder), all of the characters except Nina are wearing either all black, or some combination of black, gray, and/or white. Nina is the only character wearing all white.
  • The film’s editor, Andrew Weisblum, has said that while editing the film he had a difficult time telling Natalie Portman and Sarah Lane apart.
  • The letters that were written on the mirror, in the scene where Nina calls her mother to tell her that she has been accepted for the role, were written by Natalie Portman herself.
  • Nina’s (Natalie Portman) harmful, compulsive skin picking is an actual impulse control disorder known to the medical profession as Dermatillomania, and may also be referred to as DMT or derm, Neurotic Excoriation, or CSP (Compulsive Skin Picking or Chronic Skin Picking).
  • Opening film at the 2010 Venice Film Festival.
  • During the scene where Nina is in the bathtub, there is a mosaic of a swan in the background.

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