Natalie Portman: Being a Ballet Dancer Is Like Having a Religious Compulsion

In her new movie 'Black Swan' the Jewish film star says she modeled her character's compulsive nature on religious impulses which promote obsessive behavior.

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In a recent roundtable interview, actress Natalie Portman revealed the method behind the melodramatic madness that subsumes Black Swan. It began with her workout routine. At the height of her training with New York City Ballet dancer Mary Helen Bowers, Portman was in toe-shoes five hours a day plus swimming a mile each morning. She was also on a strict diet; for months, she ate only carrots and almonds.

Such is the life of a dancer, she told journalist Amy Longsdorf: You dont drink. You dont go out with friends. You dont have much food. You are constantly putting your body through extreme pain.

Actress Natalie Portman attends the premiere of 'Black Swan' at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010 in New York.Credit: AP

I came to understand the self-flagellation of a ballet dancer. The rigors of Portmans physical training clearly helped her descend into the abysmal depths of her character. There is a malevolent desperation to Ninas madness, as the deprivations of her body mirror her inner-emptiness. Because she lacks both physical and emotional sustenance, she crumbles under the pressure.

You kind of want to grab Nina by the tutu and drag her to the nearest rabbis office. A little inner-dimension, please. But on the contrary, Portman said she modeled her characters nature on examples of religious compulsion, and argued, perhaps rightly, that some religious impulses promote – or even require – obsessive behavior.

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