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Darren Aronofsky & Mila Kunis Defend Natalie Portman In 'Black Swan' Dancing "Controversy"

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist March 29, 2011 at 2:46AM

Well, this is one of the lamer talking points around a movie to come down the line in the past little while. A "controversy" of sorts has popped up around "Black Swan" regarding just how much of the dancing Natalie Portman did in the film. Earlier this month, Portman’s fiancé and "Black Swan" choreographer Benjamin Millepied told the LA Times that the actress did 85% of the dancing witnessed in the film. But that didn't sit right with Sarah Lane, an American Ballet Theatre soloist who doubled for Portman and in some instances, had the actress' face digitally grafted onto hers Armie Hammer style.
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Well, this is one of the lamer talking points around a movie to come down the line in the past little while. A "controversy" of sorts has popped up around "Black Swan" regarding just how much of the dancing Natalie Portman did in the film. Earlier this month, Portman’s fiancé and "Black Swan" choreographer Benjamin Millepied told the LA Times that the actress did 85% of the dancing witnessed in the film. But that didn't sit right with Sarah Lane, an American Ballet Theatre soloist who doubled for Portman and in some instances, had the actress' face digitally grafted onto hers Armie Hammer style.

“Of the full body shots, I would say 5 percent are Natalie,” Lane told EW. “The shots that are just her face with arms, those shots are definitely Natalie. But that doesn’t show the actual dancing,” she said, but that's not all. Lane charged that filmmakers told her to keep quiet about how much she supposedly doubled Portman. “They wanted to create this idea in people’s minds that Natalie was some kind of prodigy or so gifted in dance and really worked so hard to make herself a ballerina in a year and a half for the movie, basically because of the Oscar,” said Lane. “It is demeaning to the profession and not just to me. I’ve been doing this for 22 years…. Can you become a concert pianist in a year and a half, even if you’re a movie star?” Well, it didn't take long for the big guns to come out in Portman's defense.

Director Darren Aronofsky went to the editing bay, did the math and came back with some hard to dispute numbers. We'll let his statement to EW speak for itself:

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. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman.

And to be clear Natalie did dance on pointe in pointe shoes. If you look at the final shot of the opening prologue, which lasts 85 seconds, and was danced completely by Natalie, she exits the scene on pointe. That is completely her without any digital magic. 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 has also risen to the defense of her colleague telling EW, “Natalie danced her ass off,” says Kunis. “I think it’s unfortunate that this is coming out and taking attention away from [the praise] Natalie deserved and got.”

“She’ll tell you [that], no, she was not on pointe when she did a fouetté [turn]. No one’s going to deny that. But she did do every ounce of every one of her dances,” Kunis elaborated. “[Lane] wasn’t used for everything. It was more like a safety net. If Nat 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.”

Hopefully, this should put the whole issue to bed but it was a "controversy" that never should have gotten as far as it did. Simply put, Portman did not win her Oscar for dancing, but for her portrayal of a ballet dancer struggling with the psychological strain of leading a top shelf production. Vacillating between joy, fear, anxiety and paranoia, Portman's performance -- while yes, imbued with several dance numbers -- is more about her crumbling sense of reality and her driven pursuit of perfection. Even if she had done none of her dancing, it would do little to change that performance. So all this to say -- "Black Swan" is out on DVD and BluRay today so if you haven't seen the film, check it out and rest assured that yes, that is Portman doing her thing on screen.

This article is related to: Films, Actresses, Black Swan, Mila Kunis


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