Given what Jennifer Lawrence said last year about filming Mother!—“I had to go to a darker place than I’ve ever been in my life,” she said, talking of hyperventilating so much she dislocated a rib—it’s hard to believe Darren Aronofsky could have presided over a film set that’s anything but intense, and that there could have been any confusion about what, exactly, he was planning to conjure onscreen. Especially when it comes to his previous film, the equally, if not more, harrowing Black Swan.

Yet according to Natalie Portman, as she explained in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, that’s exactly what happened during Black Swan, Aronofsky’s 2010 ballet-world psychological thriller for which Portman earned the Academy Award for Best Actress. “When I saw the final cut of Black Swan, I was completely surprised by what the movie was like,” she said. “I thought we were shooting something almost documentary style,” she added—so, one can imagine, a relatively vérité-style shoot, theatrics kept to a minimum—“and then I watched it and was like, Oh, this is like an over-the-top thriller.”

“It was an amazing kind of wake-up call that film is a director’s medium and you kind of, as an actor, have no idea what is going on and are kind of being led and shaped,” she went on.

Still, she said earlier in the interview that she wasn’t only being led along by her director. “Darren, he was a great collaborator,” Portman said. “I felt like he genuinely was interested in my point of view and my input. It felt like a partnership.”

Of course, since then, Portman has played more than her share of psychologically demanding, utterly transformative roles—as a grieving widow in Jackie, for example, a scientist whose husband dies on a mysterious mission to an ecological disaster site in Annihilation, or, most recently, as a fading pop star in the upcoming Vox Lux. It’s sort of her thing. So maybe, at this point, it just feels normal.

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