Natalie Portman is earning early raves - and Oscar buzz - for her role as an unhinged ballerina in the upcoming psycho-drama "Black Swan". The 29-year-old actor fully immersed herself in the part, which required hours upon hours of extreme training.
Portman, who studied dance until she 13 years old, got a jump on her preparation for the film.
"Physically, I trained starting a year ahead of time, and then the six months prior to [shooting] the film, went into a sort of hypertraining, where I was doing five hours a day of both ballet and crosstraining with swimming," she told reporters at a press conference at the Venice Film Festival, where "Black Swan" debuted to glowing reviews Wednesday night.
The much-talked-about film, directed by Darren Aronofsky, opens in theaters December 1, just in time for Oscar consideration. Portman portrays Nina, a repressed star ballerina whose devotion to her art takes a wild turn when a talented rival (Mila Kunis) enters her life and throws her life off balance.
Portman began learning the choreography several months before filming began last December. "It was very extreme, and the mindset during the film was just sort of extreme discipline and focus and obsession ... which was fantastic," she said.
The grueling sessions paid off in other ways: The dance lessons sparked a romance between Portman and Benjamin Millipied, a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, who helped choreograph scenes for "Black Swan." According to an interview with Details magazine, he can't resist texting his "girlfriend" and "Swan" co-star (he also has a small part in the movie).
But back to the movie itself: The images in the promotional material and trailer are dark, haunting, and terrifying. Portman, who has already been praised by various critics for leaving her comfort zone and taking risks in an edgier role, is shown in several scenes with bloodshot red eyes and stark white makeup.
It's not the first time she's undergone a radical makeover for a role. The pixie-ish actor - renowned for her beauty - shaved her head near-bald for the politically charged movie "V for Vendetta."
But with "Black Swan," Portman's acting immersion might pay off with something that has eluded her slender grasp: an Oscar. She was previously nominated for a supporting role in 2004's "Closer," in which she portrayed a gentleman's club dancer (who wore a really cool pink wig).
After a mini career slump ("New York, I Love You," anyone?), she seems to have lined up a series of parts in buzzier projects. She landed the "Black Swan" gig and other high-profile roles, spanning from blockbuster ("Thor") to highbrow ("Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"). With "Black Swan," she has doubtlessly bridged the gap between both.
Watch Natalie Portman in the trailer for "Black Swan" (Viewer discretion advised - Intense scenes):