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Black Swan - Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis interview

Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel

Interview by Rob Carnevale

VINCENT Cassel and Mila Kunis talk about some of their preparation for psychological thriller Black Swan, set in the world of professional ballet, and working with Natalie Portman. They were speaking during the press conference held during last year’s London Film Festival.

Q. Mila, how did the dancing and rehearsal period inform your performance in Black Swan?
Mila Kunis: I think it was important for everyone to do a little bit of dancing. The way a ballerina holds herself is very specific and you can only fake that so much. I personally needed to have my collar bones show, and have certain bones protrude, and Darren made me lose weight, so it was great. It made sense. The way that they hold their arms and the shoulders are always tucked back and their ribcage is tucked in and a little bit out, I think that really helped the character.

Q. And Vincent?
Vincent Cassel: I don’t dance that much in the movie, but I could have actually. There’s one scene where I direct Natalie [Portman]’s character and I don’t know why, but I thought reading the script that would be some kind of a dancing scene. But I’ve seen Mikhail Baryshnikov directing a young dancer and he wasn’t moving at all. There was only a slight movement. So, when we got on the set, we got into that vibe where the dancing wasn’t really required. It was more about helping her, following her. It looked more like an ex-dancer than if I could prove I could spin around and stuff. But I did train, 17 years ago, as you can see… [laughs]

Q. Can you talk about working with Natalie Portman? She seems as if she was very consumed by this role? What was she like?
Vincent Cassel: Easy. It was easy to work with her because obviously she really worked a lot on that. She was very focussed on the dancing. In a way, I have to say, I’ve been impressed with the amount of work that she put into the physical transformation to become a dancer. I have to say that I was so impressed by the way she got involved that I didn’t want to interfere, so I would let her do what she was going to do because she was going back to warm up between more or less every take.

She was always training. And her body was hurting. When we were doing our scenes together she was really going for it. She’s not like your typical actress who doesn’t want to kiss, or whatever. She really goes for it. I’m fine with it. She’s doing it really well. So it was easy. [Laughs]

Mila Kunis: She was absolutely fantastic to work with. I would say I was lucky that I got to work with a friend of mine. She’s a brilliant actress and is amazing to watch. There’s nothing bad I can say. She’s absolutely everything I could want her to be. She’s beautiful to watch while she’s working and she’s great off screen. She’s perfect.

Q. Mila, you apparently had torn ligaments, muscles and all the rest of it. What was the hardest thing about getting into the character?
Mila Kunis: The physicality really was the hardest. Everything else came alongside with that. But I think just transforming your body at the age of 26. I wouldn’t say I was alone in this. I think everybody across the board if they played a dancer got hurt. I would say that was the most challenging for myself.

Q. Vincent, your character talks the director talk. Was there anyone you based it upon when creating this unstoppable creative force?
Vincent Cassel: Yes, but it’s not Darren [Aronofsky]… well, maybe on some levels. But when I was much younger I had the opportunity to be really close to a man called Michael Bennett, who was the director of Chorus Line, Dream Girls and Ballroom. He was one of the biggest Broadway directors ever. He was a good friend of my family when I was younger and my father actually starred in Chorus Line in London.

So, I’d seen him work with the dancers and he was really close to what I’m doing in the movie. Meaning that he was a real jerk with dancers, but only to get them where he wanted them to go. And he was gay, which is a pretty big difference, because my character is not gay at all, as you’ve seen. He’s actually using his sexuality to direct the dancers. It’s a different take. So yeah, it’s very much about this guy. But, as I was saying earlier, I also had the opportunity to see Baryshnikov work. So, it was a mixture of all those guys and also, of course, all the documentaries I’ve seen and all those people. They have something in common. They move like they own the world, really… or at least in the ballet industry.

Q. So, did you find that dancers and actors are different breeds?
Mila Kunis: Yes and no. Both are incredibly competitive in a certain way. Dancers have this perception of perfection that I don’t think actors do. Actors constantly think that for every part there’s something different they can do. There’s no such thing as perfect. A dancer, I think, truly ends their career trying to achieve something that’s possible. I think they’re both incredibly disciplined, but I’ve never met anyone as disciplined as a dancer, ever. Nobody inside this industry, nobody outside this industry, I’ve never seen anyone as dedicated as a ballerina. I’ve seen actors call in sick. I’ve never seen a ballerina call in sick. I think that’s a testament to their work ethic and their discipline. I would say there’s a similarity, but also a big difference. And it’s incredibly competitive, much more so than any other world I’ve ever experienced.

Read our review of Black Swan