(Fox Searchlight Pictures) Television star Mila Kunis (That '70s Show, Robot Chicken, Family Guy) sizzles on the big movie screen as Lily, the ballet dancer who both bedevils and seduces Natalie Portman's innocent young Nina. Buzzine gets the exclusive ups and lowdowns of Darren Aronofsky's contraversial new movie, Black Swan.
Izumi Hasegawa: I know you trained so hard for this and had a lot to learn. Your physicality seemed so natural. How did you make it appear so effortless and sensual for this movie?
Mila Kunis: Thank you. It was far from effortless or sensual. It was three months of training beforehand. I was not a ballet dancer. You can only fake so much--the physicality--so you have to kind of immerse yourself in this world in a way that somebody walks and talks and handles themselves. So it was three months of training seven days a week for four or five hours a day before production started, and then during production it was pretty much exactly the same.
IH: Were there little details that you picked up along the way that made you feel more like a dancer?
MK: A lot of things change--your body changes. Here's the thing about ballet that I never knew: it's one of the most physically excruciating sports that I've ever been a part of, and I say "sports" because they train constantly every single day. So your body changes. Your shoulders drop. Your chest opens up, and there's a certain posture that I naturally don't have because I slouch. So for three months, every time I had to constantly stand up straight with the way they hold their arms...because they always move their fingers when they're dancing--that also changes, and it also changes the way they talk in real life, and amongst the feet being different because of the ballet. So there are a lot of different things.
IH: You're known for roles that are very different from this. The Family Guy, That '70's Show... Can you talk about getting cast in this and how you approached the role once you knew you had it?
MK: '70s ended about five or six years ago, so it's been a while. The Family Guy, yes. This seems like a better question for Darren [Aronofsky]. I don't know how or why I got hired. I never really asked. I didn't want him to second guess himself, so I just went with it and said, "All right, if you trust me, I'm game." That's pretty much all it was. It was an amazing opportunity which I don't regret and never want to question, so I thank him every day for it.
IH: Had you ever seen a full version of Swan Lake on stage before you got involved in this process? And can you talk about working with Darren?
MK: I did not get an opportunity to see a full version of Swan Lake until about a year ago. I think that every time I went to see ballet was always a fragment of it, like a Black Swan, and so I was never able to see it in full length. But working with Darren was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. He's a brilliant director, and it's a rarity when you come across somebody that you trust so much and you can just immerse yourself in a role and feel like there's a safety net underneath you in case you fall. I always looked at Darren as a safety net. He was absolutely great.
IH: How many same-sex scenes have you had in your career? And when you do these things, do you worry about being exploited by the filmmaker?
MK: I did a film called After Sex with Zoe Saldana where she played my girlfriend. We never had a sex scene. We had what occurs after you have sex, so I guess that doesn't count. So this would be my first, and as far as being exploited, I again go back to your question previously about working with Darren. I trusted him. So it's one of those things where, whether you have a same-sex scene or a scene with the opposite sex--a sex scene nonetheless--there's always a fear that you're a little uncomfortable, so doing something like this with Darren is very safe and as comfortable as something like this could be. So, no. I personally never had a fear of being exploited.
IH: Have you spent any time at the Pantages Theater in the past?
MK: I have. I shot a movie here two months ago, right outside the theater. I've seen some shows here. I grew up in L.A. so I've been going to the Pantages since I was nine years old.
IH: What movie were you shooting outside the theater?
MK: Friends with Benefits.
IH: There are many realities in the film for the characters. Did you have different directions for those scenes--a different way that you played them, or was it all the same?
MK: It was the farthest thing from anything continual. I think that whenever Natalie [Portman] and I were in the same scene, I'm pretty sure we did it about every which way possible. So whatever she would do, I would do the opposite because the truth of the matter is that as much as we worked on the script and as much rehearsal you did, you didn't even know what was going to be played. It was all so finicky, and you just tried to give as much as you could in every single take, and every single take was completely different. So there was nothing continuous.
IH: Have you ever done a role where you had to go so far into the character that you had to pull yourself back, and if so, what do you do to maintain a balance?
MK: I feel like every role you take you feel, or there's a part of you that obviously feels like you can do it. I don't know if "perfect" is the right word because I don't believe in perfection and I don't think it exists, but I think striving to do something well is in every single part. So you go through that. To me, the physicality of this one was probably the hardest of anything I've ever done, I think, when it comes to characters. When it's a comedy or drama or horror or romance, it's all the same. You want to be honest with the character. You want to play truthfully and you want to be genuine with your character. The physicality aspect of it was the closest I ever came to just complete mental breakdown.
IH: Everybody is talking about how Natalie's performance is amazing, physically and emotionally--a lot of Oscar talk, but people are saying that about your performance too--that it's Oscar-worthy...
MK: It makes me very uncomfortable. As long as people respond to the film, I'm not even going to touch on awards because I can't. I have no idea what to say to these types of questions. I think it's an honor and I think it's great, and if people like it, I couldn't be any happier. Everything else is just all very new to me.
IH: When you saw the film for the first time, what was your feeling? How did you respond to it?
MK: I saw it a couple of times. The first time I saw it, it was very, very, very rough and I was like, "Oh, that's the movie we made?" Then the final cut that I saw, I was blown away by it. I was there and I remembered most of it, I would say, but I had no idea how Darren was shooting it because the way he shoots, the camera is really a part of the movie. So you truly forget that there's a camera there because it's a whole other character. So I was blown away by it and I was there, and so I was like, "This is pretty amazing."
IH: Did you cry when you saw it?
MK: No, I'm sorry. I could say yes and lie, but no, I'm not going to cry. I knew how it was going to end. I'm pretty sure I was there for that scene for 12 hours. It's embedded in my head. Did you cry?
IH: A little bit.
MK: Good. You weren't there. I'm happy.
IH: Can you talk about how you and Natalie prepared beforehand and got comfortable with doing the intimate scenes that you do in this movie?
MK: Anytime you do any intimate scene on film, it's going to be a little uncomfortable, whether it's the same sex or opposite sex. I think the great thing about this was that Natalie and I were actually lucky enough to be friends prior to production, which made it all a lot easier. We didn't really discuss it very much. We just kind of did it. It made sense for the character. It wasn't put in for shock value. It wasn't something that we needed to justify in our heads as to why we were doing it and that was it, but the truth of the matter is that we were friends before we started it, so that it made it a lot easier.
IH: You had all this training--a strict workout regimen and diet. How relieved were you when it was all over so you could go get a pizza?
MK: Oh, my God, you have no idea. It took me five months to lose 20 pounds and it took me hours to gain it back. It was magical how quickly it all happened. I think before production ended the last time I had to do any sort of dancing, that night I literally had a massive bowl of mac and cheese. I was so excited. I will tell you that going back to my poor eating habits after having really good eating habits, my stomach was a little unsettled, but after production ended, the first thing I did was go and get Panda Express at the airport terminal at Virgin America at JFK, and I was so excited. Then I landed in L.A. and I got in my car and I drove to In and Out and I had a Double Double Animal Style with a root-beer float and it was fantastic. That is what I did. It was good.
IH: We see these characters struggle with eating disorders due to the pressure of their art. Have you seen that in Hollywood--people striving to achieve a certain look and fall prey to those pressures?
MK: Sadly, in any industry and in any work-related environment, females always strive to achieve a certain amount of perfection, whether being skinny or pretty. It's constant in our society, so I think it's probably elevated a little bit in the industry that I'm in because everything is a matter of opinion. I can think someone is pretty, but the person next to me can think they're unattractive. So people strive to achieve a certain form of perfection constantly, and it's impossible because it's a form of opinion. I've had a lot of friends that, unfortunately, get that.
IH: Do you consider yourself a Black Swan or a White Swan, and why?
MK: I think a little bit of both. I think everyone has a little Black Swan in them. It's just a matter of when you let it out, but I would say a healthy balance of both--I would hope. I'm not nearly as adventurous as a Black Swan, but at times I would like to be.
'Black Swan' is in theaters now.