Congratulations on Black Swan. It’s one of the most visceral and disturbing films we’ve seen all year. Did you set out to make a horror film?
That word comes with a lot of issues these days because of what horror has become. People associate it with gore films and this is not a gory movie, although putting the word psychological in front of the horror probably helps define it. I don’t really make clear genre movies. I don’t know what Pi was. The Fountain? I think people are still trying to figure out what genre it is. I just do what I do, and try to be original and not fall into the traps too much. But we were very interested in scaring the audience, so we’d talk about new ways to go ‘BOO’.
It’s reminiscent of the Ronald Colman film A Double Life and even Fight Club…
Well the doppelganger is an old trick. I mean there’s a million short stories, novels, films, and songs about that. The earliest idea for me on this was reading [Dostoyevky’s] The Double, which is a story about a guy who wakes and finds there’s someone who looks like him who’s trying to replace him. I thought it was a terrifying idea, that you wake up one day, and someone’s taking over your life and taking away everything that belongs to you, and everything you believe in, that loss of identity. That’s what the movie’s about. The original script that came to me 10 years ago when I was cutting Requiem For A Dream, was a script called The Understudy which was the basic engine of the film and was set in the Broadway world.
Is Nina’s [Natalie Portman’s character] deterioration rooted in a clinical psychological trait?
We talked about it, but it was more about building her character out of that kind of split of the black swan and the white swan, and the fact that the white swan was innocent and virginal and sweet, and the black swan was a temptress, passionate, dark and evil. At one point this idea of a werewolf movie went off in my head and I thought this could be a were-swan film. All the body horror stuff that’s in there kind of built out of that transformation.
Considering the two aspects of the white swan and the black swan, there’s quite a narrow range of casting choices. Plenty can play either but not many could do both…
The thing I liked about Natalie was that, because of her beauty and her youthful looks, she’s often cast very young, but getting to know her over the years, I realised she was a woman as well, and there was a lot of complexity there. The film plays off her perception of who she is, and then kind of shows this side of her that few have seen.
When she was cast as a stripper in ‘Closer’, did your heart sink?
A little bit, but it’s a supporting role and you know, I think the fact that she got nominated for that meant to me that was a positive thing.
Black Swan is out now