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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
January 7, 2011

In the wake of the success of Darren Aronofsky's thriller Black Swan, Natalie Portman has seen a meteoric surge in popularity, with critics lining up to hand out praise and awards for her striking performance as obsessive ballet dancer Nina Sayers. And for fans, this is just the beginning of an upcoming Portman-fest that will rock the first half of 2011. Natalie will be seen in the medieval bromance comedy Your Highness, followed by the Marvel Comics summer blockbuster Thor. Her long-shelved independent drama The Other Woman is also getting a theatrical release thanks to her sudden pop in star power. But before that trio of thematically diverse films hits the big screen, moviegoers will see her tackle her first traditional romantic comedy with No Strings Attached.

In No Strings Attached, Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) attempt to maintain a strictly physical relationship without any semblance of emotional connection. Of course, it's not long before they realize the pitfalls of such an arrangement, with matters careening into an expected laundry list of complications when real feelings surface. Notables in the supporting ensemble include Greta Gerwig, Kevin Kline, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, and Lake Bell, who occasionally steals the show as Adam's hot-but-possibly-crazy co-worker.

In the following interview excerpts from a press conference attended by Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, director Ivan Reitman, and screenwriter Liz Meriwether, Natalie talks about her awards season tour for Black Swan, her sudden slate of theatrical releases, and her experience of working on No Strings Attached.

MEDIA: You've been getting a lot of exposure recently with Black Swan, No Strings Attached, Your Highness, and Thor all coming out in a six-month window. How do you feel about having this eclectic mix of films being released in such rapid succession?

NATALIE: Well, you have heard the apocalypse is coming, right? 2012. The Mayan calendar. I thought I'd get it all in right before. [laughs] 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, 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. I mean, 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 mean, 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.

You've also been getting a lot of accolades for your performance in Black Swan. What's been the best part of this awards season for you so far?

It's a big honor to have people be excited about a movie you make. It's the one thing that you want--for an audience to connect to what you make. So it's always really exciting to have that feeling. And I think the best experience so far was 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--you know, people who are just starting out, people who have been doing it for thirty years--and hear everyone's experiences and hear what it's like for people to be mothers and actresses. I wished it wasn't on camera, because it was for a website, but it was the coolest thing. I was like, "If I could just get this experience, that's the best prize of anything." Just to get to hang out with these other women I admire.

How was your experience of going from the intense physical preparation of Black Swan into No Strings Attached?

[jokes] You're like, "How did you get fat so quickly?" [laughs] It was pretty great. It was like a palate cleanser after all of that really disciplined, focused, very serious kind of set to a really playful, fun--I mean, obviously everyone's still very professional on this kind of movie, but there's an improvisational feel all the time and everyone's there to, like, play. And it was a really great atmosphere. And I didn't have to work out, because I was like, "She's a doctor, they don't have time!" [laughs]

What did your role as an executive producer on this film entail?

Well, it was a really exciting process to get to be involved for the first time so early, working with Liz and Ivan. I came on a couple years, I think, before the project, so to get to watch their process and get to talk to them about the script...I mean, 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, and to have Ivan's expertise of pacing and figuring out, "Oh, at the end, there needs to be more movement..." Because in the original script, it was sort of a contained scene. And he's like, "No, we have to get them moving, on the road." And to learn those things through the process was really exciting.

And what was the process for coming up with the backstory for your character Emma?

A lot of it was provided to me in Liz's script, which was really wonderful, about [Emma] having this incredible loss early on and not really wanting to be the pillar for her family and not wanting to get hurt. And also, I think most women know someone like this, if they're not like this themselves. [laughs] They know what leads you to a point where you're not even looking for intimacy anymore--you're just looking for the physical side and not the emotional side. Something breaks a little bit before you get to that point. It's not just a way that you're born.

Emma clearly rocks at minigolf. How's your own game?

[jokes, after asking Ivan Reitman if she is allowed to take credit for Emma's minigolf skills] I'm really good at minigolf--you know, maybe not big person golf, but little person golf, I rock. [laughs] No...That was very fun, to get to have that evening [of playing]. [laughs]

Did you get to improvise any of the comedy in the film?

Well, I have to say that Liz wrote 99% of what you see onscreen. Like everything is really there in the script. It was really a very, very funny script, always. I think that's what always carried us through. But there were certain times...I mean, 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. [laughs] We had a lot of pumpkin-related jokes that were going on for a very long time.

How did you and Ashton feel about shooting the movie's first sex scene?

The nice thing was that I think we did the scene pretty deep into the shoot, so we had already had like a "as comfortable as you can be in that scenario" relationship...

Is it still kind of embarrassing, even though it's a fairly technical process?

I'm pretty immature, so I think I get pretty embarrassed easily. [laughs] But, you know, I would check out, once in a while, certain shots to make sure that I felt okay...Like there was one of the panties coming off that we did, and after I watched it, I was like, "Oh, that's not bad." Because it was really quick. It wasn't, like, lingering on anything that I felt modest about or anything. And you do sort of go the opposite direction between takes. We'd be like, [casually] "So, what are you doing this weekend?" [laughs] Like just totally benign conversation in between to make it a little normal.

How are you similar or different from Emma in your beliefs on romance and intimacy?

I don't know. 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, necessarily. So that's kind of (sorry) hard for me to answer...But [I'm in a] committed relationship, if that helps. [laughs]

Thanks for your time.


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