In “Black Swan” — director Darren Aronofsky’s portrait of a New York City ballerina, played by Natalie Portman, unraveling on the eve of her greatest triumph — Mila Kunis co-stars as the understudy who seems bent on undermining her at every pirouette.
Whether Lilly, a devil-may-care San Franciscan as extroverted as Portman’s Nina is tense and neurotic, poses a real threat to her tightly wound rival is anyone’s guess.
Paranoid and delusional, Nina’s perceptions are suspect. And Kunis never tips her hand, playing patient friend one minute and seductress and back-stabber the next.
Kunis, a 27-year-old from Ukraine, anticipates the rumors she will face about her intense sex scene with Portman. She has already had to deny an erroneous report that she and her 29-year-old co-star prepared for it by downing shots of tequila. But, she admits, the onscreen intimacy is not easy.
“Whether you have a same-sex scene or one with a man, it’s never comfortable,” Kunis says. “You worry about being exploited, but I trust Darren, and it helped that Natalie and I were friends before we made the movie.
“That said, what’s the big deal? It’s unfortunate that people see a brilliant film, and the one thing they’ll take away from it is a sex scene. The movie isn’t about that. You go to Europe and the commercials have nudity. It doesn’t make kids have sex at an earlier age. I think America is sexually repressed.”
Best known as Ashton Kutcher’s on-again, off-again flame on “That ’70s Show,” Kunis takes the same approach to her job whether she is going for laughs or — in Aronofsky’s surreal, psychosexual melodrama — playing a free spirit whose motivations remain murky throughout. To her, it is all just acting.
Still, Kunis acknowledges her frustration with the movie’s physical demands. She spent months training with choreographers four hours a day, seven days a week, slimming down to 95 pounds and finding her waifish physique “disgusting.”
“I looked like Gollum,” she says, referring to the bony Hobbit from “Lord of the Rings.” “It was the closest I ever came to a mental breakdown. Dancers are amazing athletes. You can’t eat normal meals, you can’t go out drinking at night. It took me five months to lose 20 pounds and just days to gain it all back.
“After production, the first thing I did was eat a big bowl of mac and cheese. Then I got Chinese takeout at the airport in New York. And when I landed in California, I drove straight to In-N-Out Burger to have a double-double with a root beer float.
“I loved making the movie, but I was really excited when it was over.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Running time 1 hour 47 minutes