Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman play friends doing their best to avoid falling in love. Hmmm...do you think they will be successful? We'll find out in their upcoming romantic-comedy, No Strings Attached. In this exclusive interview, the hot stars tell us about working together on the movie, and other insights into their lives and colorful careers.
Izumi Hasegawa: Natalie, you had over a year of intense physical prep for Black Swan. Did that preparation affect you at all on this movie?
Natalie Portman: You're like, "How did you get fat so quickly?" It was pretty great. It was like a palate cleanser after all that discipline and focus--a very serious kind of set to a really playful, fun... Obviously everyone is still very professional on this movie, but there's an improvisational feel all the time, and everyone is there to play. It was a really great atmosphere, and I didn't have to workout because I was like, "She's a doctor. They don't have time."
IH: Ashton, what's the most romantic thing you've ever done for someone?
Ashton Kutcher: Oh, man. Why do I always get these? It's really hard to say. I think romance is sort of coincides with effort. So you can fall flat on your face, but as long as you're making a great effort, I think it comes off as romantic. It can be something as simple as, like, if you're someone who doesn't cook, you can make a meal. It's anything that has a little bit of vulnerability in it and requires great effort. So I think, for me, I'm a little bit of a workaholic, and I was in another country and I had one day off. I flew from that different country just to see someone for an hour, and turned around and went back. So it was probably that.
IH: Natalie, you were also an executive producer on this film. How do you balance that with being in the movie?
NP: It was a really exciting process to get to be involved for the first time so early, working with Liz [Meriwether] and Ivan [Reitman]. I came on a couple of years before the project, I think. So to get to sort of watch their process and to get to talk to them about the script--they were definitely controlling that process, but it was fun to be included in the evolution of the script and seeing how it changed and why it changed, to have Ivan's expertise in pacing and figuring out... Like, "At the end, there needs to be more movement," because in the original script that was written, it was sort of a contained scene at the end. He said, "No. We have to get them moving, on the road." To learn those things through the process was really exciting.
IH: Do you think that friendship can survive sex?
AK: I wouldn't know. I haven't been fortunate enough to try one of those relationships out. I really think that whoever you're with ultimately needs to be your friend. So all the really successful, happy relationships that I know of, the people that are together are friends anyway. And I don't know that sex always has to have feelings, but I think friendship always does. So if you're friends, you're going to have feelings of some sort--some layer, some level of a deeper feeling. I don't know that it's completely possible.
IH: This is Natalie's first rom-com. So Ashton, did you try to make an easier time for her, or did you tease her mercilessly?
AK: I learned more from Natalie in one day of being on set together than I can ever possibly teach her in a billion years. She may not have done a rom-com before, but she's done so much work on so many different levels. I even watch Garden State or something like that is comedic in and of itself, but is also true and specific, organic performances. I don't know that there's anything I can really teach her.
NP: Well, that's very sweet, but...
IH: Did he tease you at all?
NP: He would always tease me, like, "Are you wearing flats again? Really?"
AK: It was mostly height jokes, and then she would get very upset with me. She looks like my child when we stand next to each other. I asked if she could reach the pedals in the car one day. That didn't go over very well.
IH: Natalie, did you create a backstory for this character--something for how she got to this point?
NP: Absolutely, but a lot of it was provided to me in Liz's script, which was really wonderful about having this incredible loss early on and not really wanting to be the pillar for her family and not wanting to get hurt. Also, I think most women know someone like this if they're not like this themselves. They know what happens--that thing that leads you to a point where you're not even looking for intimacy anymore. You're just looking for the physical side of it and not the emotional side of it. Something breaks a little bit before you get to that point. It's not just a way that you're born.
IH: Thanks for having safe sex in the movie. It's really important in a movie about sex. Can you guys comment on the prevalence of sex in your movies, how that affects teens, and how it's being glorified in the media recently? Natalie, as a pregnant person, can you comment on that?
NP: I'm not a teen. That's the first thing I'll say. I'm a grownup.
AK: Even though she's small.
NP: It's deceptive.
AK: I questioned it myself.
NP: Obviously, it is really prevalent in our country, and I think that's part of what the movie addresses. We have so much sex in our media that's disassociated from emotions. We have so much separation between feeling--the emotional and the physical side of sex. They really do belong together. Yes, condoms were fake used in the fake sex scenes in this movie.
IH: But people should use real condoms...
AK: I think there's so much that's not said about sex in our country, even from the educational level. I do a lot of work on human trafficking, and I connect a lot with girls that end up in this trade, if you will, and partially about a lack of education about sex in the country. I think sometimes we get to make films that open things up and making things that people can talk about. One of the things that I find really interesting in looking at this--and I don't want to veer off on a weird human trafficking thing--but especially for women in the sex education process in schools, the one thing that they teach about is how to get pregnant and how to not get pregnant. But they don't really talk about sex as a point of pleasure for women. The male orgasm is just right there and readily available to learn about because it's actually a part of the reproductive cycle, but a female orgasm isn't really talked about in the education system. Therefore, part of that, as a spinoff, creates a place where women aren't empowered around their own sexuality and around their own sexual selves. So from a purely entertainment point of view, to create a movie with a female lead that is empowered with her own sexuality, I think, is a really powerful thing. I think if we can give teenage people something to think about from a sex perspective, I would say that it would be to start opening up a conversation where women are empowered with their own sexual experiences from an educational level, as well as an entertainment level.
NP: That was good. All the girls are like, "Yes, Ashton. You're totally right."
IH: There are so many funny moments in this for you, Natalie. How much of what you did was improvised?
NP: I have to say that Liz wrote 99% of what you see onscreen. Everything is really there in the script. It was really a very funny script, always. I think that's what always carried us through, but there were certain times for me. I don't know about other scenes, but for me, I think the most was the pumpkin night, probably, when I was just screaming at the girls. We had a lot of pumpkin-related jokes that were going on for a very long time.
IH: Can you talk about all that you have coming up that you're excited about?
NP: I'm cooking a child.
AK: I'm getting ready to reunite with Gary Marshall on a New Year's Eve project that's not a sequel, but somewhat of a follow-up to the Valentine's Day movie that we did together.
IH: The first sex scene was pretty unflinching in this film. Can you talk about that experience, and can you talk about shooting it?
NP: Being horizontal gave the only opportunity for a tight two-shot because if we're standing up, you can't fit us in.
AK: Unless you're on boxes.
NP: Yeah. But I think the nice thing was that we did the scene pretty deep into the shoot so we already had a comfortable sort of--as comfortable as you can be in that scenario--relationship, and the respect...
AK: I was wearing sweatpants.
NP: I was not.
AK: I think you're always waiting, wondering when the word "cut" is going to be said when you're doing those scenes. You're there and you're doing the scene and you're like, "Okay. Are they going to call cut? How far are we taking this? Are they going to call cut?" It was sort of technical too. Ivan would come back and say, "I think you need to orgasm sooner." So you're male machismo is like, "No, no, no. It would take me much longer than this." I'm sure every actor says it, but it's always very technical because you're trying to show each other's faces and yet stay in the moment. So it's always slightly more complicated than it is in real life.
IH: Natalie, you've been through awards seasons before. What's your method for getting through it, and do you enjoy the process?
NP: It's a big honor to have people be excited about a movie that you make. That's the one thing you want--for an audience to connect to the thing that you make. So it's always really exciting to have that feeling. I think the best experience so far is that we got to do a roundtable with all the actresses, and it's so rare to get to sit with other actresses of all generations--people who are just starting out and people who have been doing it for 30 years and hear everyone's experiences, hear what it's like for people to be mothers and actresses. I wished it wasn't on camera, but it was the coolest thing. I was like, if I could just get this experience, that's the best prize of anything--to get to hang out with these other women that I admire.
IH: So much about this movie is about sex. Do the two of you have perimeters about that? Do you have to look at the rushes afterwards or the dailies, and how you do approach those scenes and get through them? Is it still embarrassing?
NP: I'm pretty immature, so I think I get pretty embarrassed easily. Once in a while, I would check out certain shots to make sure that I felt okay, because sometimes, once you see it...like, there was one of the panties coming off that we did, and after I watched, I was like, "Oh, that's not bad," because it was really quick and it wasn't lingering on anything that I felt modest about. So I checked a little. You do sort of go the opposite direction between takes, like, "So, what are you doing this weekend?" Like totally benign conversation between to make it a little normal.
AK: I just start by apologizing. You sort of try to set some ground rules and apologize for them. Someone told me, and I'm not sure who the actor was–I think it was Sir Lawrence Olivier that said... I always use Sir Lawrence Olivier. When in doubt, use Sir Lawrence Olivier. I think he said something to the affect of, like, "I apologize if I get aroused, and I apologize if I do not get aroused," and you have to say it with the accent. But there's always that kind of awkward state of, like, "Is this okay. Is that okay?" Then, in between it's like, "Let's act like nothing happened," and then you see how good of an actor you are.
IH: Natalie, you've done this for so long and have done such great work. Can you talk about what a Best Actress Award would mean to you? Also, can you comment on your impending mommy-hood?
NP: I think it's obviously a big honor. The company in which it puts you even to be mentioned among these other women is a huge honor and a huge compliment, so it's just an extremely flattering and meaningful thing just to be among these other people that I respect and admire.
IH: Emma (Natalie's character) rocks mini-golf. How is your own game, and how many takes did it take to get those shots right?
NP: I'm really good at mini-golf. Maybe not big-person golf, but little-person golf I rock. No, that was very fun, to get to have that evening.
IH: You've got some pretty eclectic stuff that you're doing lately. Is this by accident or design, and how do you feel about all of this?
NP: You've heard that the apocalypse is coming, right? 2012. The Mayan calendar. I thought I would get it all in right before. It was a great opportunity to get to do a lot of different things in a year. I feel like I learned so much from doing all these different types of movies and back-to-back, because you bring the research and the seriousness and the discipline of doing a drama into something like Thor, and you bring the humor and the improvisational attitude from something like Your Highness into Black Swan. It was really kind of a lucky order because I did Your Highness and then Black Swan and then Thor and then No Strings, so it was really interesting. I feel bad for boring people with my face for a while, but in terms of as an actress, it was really an exciting thing to get to work on all of these things almost back-to-back.
IH: This film is rated R. Teen girls will have to sneak in if they're going to see it...
IH: Ashton, your nude scene is the most extended in the film. If you got the R rating, why not go for more of that in the film?
AK: We made an honest movie and, unfortunately, if you make an honest movie today, it's rated R. It is. It really is.
IH: How are you both similar and different from your characters in your beliefs on romance and intimacy?
NP: I always find it a little scary to say that I'm like a character. I was excited because the character, I thought, was written really specifically, and I knew who she was as soon as I read her. I think you always need to be able to relate to your character. You have to understand why they do what they do, but you don't actually have to be like that yourself. I don't think you identify your own personality with it. That's hard for me to answer.
AK: I agree.
NP: But we're both in committed relationships, so we're not... If that helps.
AK: I think my character, in some ways, comes from privilege, and then he's trying to validate his own self and his career, and I think all the elements--the relationship with the father...I think you always find personal threads that you can relate to, like coming off of a really bad breakup and where that leads you from a relationship position. Like, "I don't want to be involved. I don't want to have a relationship. I'm done with relationships..." So I think there are things that you find you can relate to, that you plug into, that you can connect to as a person. I think my character is really lucky to find someone in the other character that connects them, so I think I have that in common with my character.
Paramount Pictures' 'No Strings Attached' is released on January 21, 2011.