25th April 2011

There was a recent controversy surrounding Natalie Portman’s use of a body double in the  film Black Swan.  According to the producers and the choreographer, Natalie performed 80% of the choreography.  According to the body double,  she performed much less.  So, what is the truth here and does it matter?  First of all, remember that Ms Portman received awards for her acting (not her dancing), and if she managed to convince the audience that she was a professional ballet dancer (regardless of how much of the material she actually performed), that’s mighty impressive and in my view deserving of all the accolades.  However, if people actually believe that it is possible to become a professional-level ballet dancer in a year, well, that IS a problem.  I like to think that most people are smarter than that.  I know from my own experience that body doubles are used a lot in films, and somewhere deep inside, audiences are fully aware of this.  Actors aren’t superhuman, they can’t learn violin, ballet, piano, fight skills or anything else to a professional level of mastery in a few months or a year, but it’s a better sell and a far better story if the audience believes that the actor DID achieve this.  The salient point is that the persona created by film stars is just that, a CREATED persona, and ultimately a fiction.

As for Black Swan, regardless of what you might think of the film, the director did a fine job in concealing the use of a body double, and there is no doubt that Natalie performed the majority of the upper body  work herself.  Did she do the pointe sequences, or the fouettes?  I doubt it.  As for her disgruntled body double, my hope is that she was paid handsomely for her work, and entered into the project fully aware that her job was to be invisible. Remember folks, Hollywood is all about smoke and mirrors.  And like magicians, actor’s and film-makers are great illusionists, and that is ultimately what we pay to see.