Black Swan: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

Posted on | December 10, 2010 | 18 Comments

03/01/11 UPDATE: If you don’t care about spoilers, please see ‘The Unaccredited, Almost Completely Ignored Inspiration for Black Swan‘ post.

I have been mildly obsessed with Black Swan since I saw its trailer online in August.  I am a huge Darren Aronofsky fan starting with Pi. After watching Requiem For a Dream, I even purchased its soundtrack.* When his latest hit my radar, with all of Natalie Portman’s Oscar buzz, I tracked its press coverage.  Unfortunately, a lot of it was very redundant.  So I’ve weeded through it all to bring you the best trivia without spoilers (ugh – so important!).

For those who don’t know: Black Swan is a psychological thriller revolving around the ballet corps member Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) after she is cast as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. By nature Nina can easily play the innocent, perfectionist White Swan.  But can she learn how to embrace the sensuality and wicked freedom needed to portray the Black Swan in Act 3?  Tensions mount when artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) casts bohemian rival Lily (Mila Kunis), fresh from the San Francisco Ballet, as Nina’s understudy.  Who will be Swan Queen?

I’m passing this onto you because a) I have to have something to show for my extensive googling capabilities and b) I want to encourage everyone who can to see this movie this weekend.

So here we go:


  • Black Swan was originally titled ‘The Understudy,’ written by Andres Heinz, and set in the Broadway theatre.
  • Director Darren Aronofsky and Andres were influenced by Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s The Double.
  • Other film inspirations include The Red Shoes and Polanski’s Repulsion.
  • Despite Aronofsky’s interest, Heinz’ original screenplay was optioned elsewhere and never made.
  • When Aronofsky returned to it, inspired by his sister who took dance, he wanted to re-set it in the ballet world.
  • Then after watching Swan Lake for the first time, he was fascinated by the Swan Queen’s ‘were-swan’ duality and wanted to also include that in the storyline.
  • Years later, Aronofsky returned to this concept during The Wrestler and asked his director of development Mark Heyman to take a stab at revising the screenplay.
  • Darren cast Natalie in the role while she was still at Harvard.  He had picked up in a press interview that she wanted to portray a dancer.
  • He and Natalie Portman first met to discuss the film over coffee at Howard Johnson’s in Times Square (which closed in 2005).
  • Parallel universe alert: as a child, Natalie was the understudy for the role of Tina in a musical called Ruthless! In it, Tina is an understudy that sabotages fellow actress Louise Lerman so that she can play her part.
  • Britney Spears was an earlier understudy.
  • For the role of Lily, Natalie suggested Mila Kunis. Darren offered her the part via Skype without an audition.
  • Natalie trained for a year and Mila trained for 3 months prior to filming, often for 8 – 10 hours a day.
  • In preparation for the role, Natalie also read many ballet dancer auto/biographies.
  • Natalie adopted a higher-pitched ‘little girl’ voice for Nina after listening to so many ballet dancers speak this way during her training process.
  • At first, she was reluctant to make this character choice since she spent many years with a voice coach to stop acting this way (by the recommendation of Mike Nichols who first directed her as another Nina in Chekov’s The Seagull, then as Alice in Closer).
  • Natalie trained in New York while Mila trained in LA. In an effort to foster rivalry between the two leads, Darren would frequently tell one that the other was having better rehearsals and improving more rapidly.
  • Established New York City principal dancer Benjamin Millepied choreographed the dance scenes.
  • He also appears in the film as David / The Prince.
  • He is now Natalie Portman’s boyfriend (sorry Ned).
  • When Darren scouted Benjamin as a choreographer prospect, he watched rehearsals for one of Benjamin’s new ballets, set to the music of the Kronos Quartet.
  • The Kronos Quartet, incidentally, composed the music for Requiem for a Dream.
  • Next, Benjamin said, “they brought me into the office and said, “Read the entire script in a room.” I couldn’t take it with me!”
  • Rodarte designed all the ballet costumes including the knits, etc. for the rehearsal scenes.
  • Both Natalie and Mila lost 20 lbs each to realistically portray ballet dancers.
  • And went on eating binges after filming was completed.
  • “I was like pasta, pasta, pasta! No working out,” Natalie told Access Hollywood about the end of filming. “It was pretty immediate. I was ready to leave the ballet life. I was like, ‘Please don’t let there be reshoots… because I don’t think I could get back into the costumes!’”
  • The film budget was $13 million and shot in 40 days.
  • The movie recently won the Green Seal Award from the Environmental Media Association for cutting back on waste and plastic.
  • Although Darren and Natalie were attached to the film from its on-set, they still had difficulty finding financing. After initial investors fell through, they did not have financing secure until 2-3 weeks before shooting.
  • That’s when Fox Searchlight, who distributed the Wrestler, signed on.
  • Post-Swan, Fox Searchlight now has a 2-year production deal with Darren’s Protozoa Pictures.
  • Darren didn’t join the Director’s Guild of America until after Requiem for a Dream. Consequently, he does not receive residuals on Pi or Requiem for a Dream (!!!). I would totally send him a PayPal donation if I could.
  • Black Swan was so low budget there was no medic when Natalie dislocated a rib during filming. When Natalie said she would sooner lose her trailer than not have a medic on-set, her trailer was gone the next day.
  • She was injured in a scene dancing with Vincent Cassel, who was inexperienced at lifting dancers.
  • In the physical therapist film scene, the therapist is actually a professional working out Portman’s rib.
  • Meanwhile, co-star Mila tore a ligment, hyper-extended a shoulder, and has a permanent set of Benjamin Millepied’s thumbprints in her back from being lifted.
  • Both Natalie and Mila had x-rays and MRIs during shooting.
  • Natalie had several body doubles (feet, hands, whole body, etc.) for the film both for dancing and for special effects.
  • Darren emphasizes that the dancing doubles were rarely used.
  • On each final take, Darren would direct Natalie to “do this one for yourself,” much like Thomas directs Nina in Swan Lake.
  • The infamous Natalie-Mila sex scene was completed on a closed set and allotted three days to shoot.
  • It took half a day.  (Again: sorry Ned).
  • Yes, both actresses were sober.
  • Paris was also briefly considered as the film setting for “like, half a day”.
  • Instead, they based it in New York and shot the rehearsal scenes at SUNY-Purchase doubling for Lincoln Center.
  • Meryl Streep was briefly considered for the role of Natalie / Nina’s mother.
  • After their scenes together, Winona Ryder wrote Natalie a letter of apology for all the mean things her character Beth said.
  • The film made $1.4M opening weekend across 18 theatres, averaging $77,000 per theatre.
  • This is second in per capita only to The King’s Speech, which opened the weekend prior in 6 theatres and grossed $89,000 per theatre.

*In retrospect, that was a very bad idea. Particularly when you are playing it over and over during college finals.





    subscribe via RSS subscribe via bloglovin' follow on tumblr follow on twitter