Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise; Inset: Rosalie O'Connor
To prepare for her Oscar-winning role in Black Swan, amateur dancer Natalie Portman trained rigorously to pass as a professional ballerina. It was no secret that, for some of the most difficult moves and positions, the filmmakers substituted a "dance double." But now Portman's double, Sarah Lane, has come forward with a shocking allegation: She claims that she did most of the actress's dancing for her. Furthermore, she claims that the studio covered it up to make Portman's performance seem more impressive.
Lane, a soloist from the American Ballet Theatre, tells Entertainment Weekly that she performed nearly every full-body dance shot in Black Swan. "Of the full body shots, I would say 5 percent are Natalie. All the other shots are me," says Lane, 27. "The shots that are just her face with arms, those shots are definitely Natalie. But that doesn't show the actual dancing."
To pull off the switch, the filmmakers used digital effects to put Portman's face on Lane's body, Benjamin Button-style. In the promo video below, you can watch samples of digital effects done to Portman. Until a few days ago, there was a longer version of this video on YouTube showing Lane's face replaced by Portman's -- which has now, interestingly, been pulled from the Internet.
Lane decided to speak out after reading a recent Los Angeles Times story in which Portman's dance coach and fiancé, Benjamin Millepied, defends Portman's work and says she did most of her own Black Swan moves.
"There are articles now talking about her dance double that are making it sound like [Lane] did a lot of the work, but really, she just did the footwork, and the fouettés, and one diagonal [phrase] in the studio," Millepied tells the L.A. Times. "Honestly, 85 percent of that movie is Natalie."
Fox Searchlight and the filmmakers concur with Millepied. In a joint statement released on Sunday, they responded to Lane's claims. "We were fortunate to have Sarah there to cover the more complicated dance sequences and we have nothing but praise for the hard work she did," the statement reads. "However, Natalie herself did most of the dancing featured in the final film."
Lane is not convinced. "They wanted to create this idea in people’s minds that Natalie was some kind of prodigy or so gifted in dance and really worked so hard to make herself a ballerina in a year and a half for the movie, basically because of the Oscar," says Lane, who claims she was forbidden to speak to the press about her role in the film. "It is demeaning to the profession and not just to me. I’ve been doing this for 22 years... Can you become a concert pianist in a year and a half, even if you’re a movie star?"
She's got a point. On the other hand, nobody -- least of all Portman herself -- claimed that the star had become a prima ballerina overnight. Portman looked enough like a ballet dancer to fool the cameras, and became about as good as a dancer as an amateur could possibly become in one year. There was never any debate that she had a stand-in for some of the dancing, like those fouettés -- which are quick, complicated turns done on one foot.
Sarah Lane acknowledges that Portman's acting and dedication were impressive, but says it insults the profession to have people think that Portman did her own dancing.
"I mean, from a professional dancer’s standpoint, she doesn’t look like a professional ballet dancer at all, and she can’t dance in pointe shoes," says Lane. "And she can’t move her body; she’s very stiff."
We may never know who really did most of the dancing that ended up in the film's final cut, but either way it doesn't really take away from Portman's performance if she relied heavily on a dance double. After all, Natalie won the Academy Award for best actress -- not best dancer.