The gorgeous 29-year-old mom-to-be Natalie Portman is favored to win the Oscar tonight for Best Actress, over Annette Bening, for The Kids Are All Right; Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole; Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone; and Michelle Williams, for Blue Valentine.
By nature I root for the underdog, but this year I’m in Portman’s corner.
It’s not because of her acting (which was solid). It’s not because Black Swan was enough to keep me awake at night and slightly off kilter for two days after watching.
Actresses have impersonated dancers before, but Jessica Alba and Neve Campbell have never pulled off anything close to this. As a ballet dancer myself, here’s why I think Portman dominates:
There are a lot of skills an actor can pick up with months of intense training, but ballet isn’t one of them. It’s a language your body learns at a young age — and most people, especially dancers themselves, can spot the slightest awkward movement (right down to hands and fingers) as a telltale sign that an actor isn’t the real thing.
Portman studied ballet until she was 13 and then focused on acting — it had been over a decade when her black swan regime began. In preparation for the movie, she spent one year re-activating her childhood dancer with hours of daily classes and rehearsals. She could never have achieved the movement she did in the movie without those years of childhood training: they were coded somewhere in her brain and her muscles. But the technique that she perfected with her strenuous, committed work (most impressively her undulating swan arms — Portman danced many full pieces of choreography without a body double) made for by far the best representation of a professional dancer ever seen in a movie.
That’s what we tell our kids — pick what you love, work hard, commit, and focus on the process. I shy away from calling actors role models because I think people in our real lives make for the best examples (a role model you have an actual relationship with is worth so much more).
But Portman’s work on this film is truly outstanding — not just in the finished product but the years she spent getting there. I hope I get to see her accept a well-deserved Oscar tonight.