Previously, it was embroiled in a minor scandal over costume design. The Mulleavy sisters of the Rodarte fashion house claimed that they were screwed out of a Costume Designer credit because they were responsible for some of the key ballet costumes. The film's actual Costume Designer Amy Westcott was asked to keep quiet because the producers didn't want any friction leading up to the Oscar nominations. But once the nominations came out and Westcott was left off the ballot (likely because people bought into the Mulleavy hype) she finally spoke out and made it clear that she was the department head, the Mulleavy sisters answered to both her and Darren Aronofsky, and that the sisters were properly credited.
Now along comes another claiming she was screwed out of a bigger credit. Soon after Natalie Portman won the Best Actress Academy Award for her bravura performance as Nina, we started to hear some grumbing from her stunt double in the film, Sarah Lane. This was a surprise, since earlier interviews with her made her seem quite gracious.
And how does it feel to be part of a performance that some critics are giving Natalie Portman rave reviews for? I’m not really looking for any sort of recognition. The process was a huge learning experience and I got everything I wanted out of it. But she deserves the recognition. She worked really hard.That tone soon changed. After the Academy Awards, Dance Magazine posted a caustic article by Wendy Perron. She was indignant that a special effects video had edited out a clip showing Lane's face being digitally replaced on a dance sequence, and also that Portman hadn't thanked Lane in her acceptance speech. She followed that up with another article that portrayed Lane as feeling exploited and gradually becoming as indignant as Perron herself.
Sarah says she was more offended by that myth than any slight to her as a dancer who worked “painstaking” hours on the set. She says she's talked to her colleagues about “how unfortunate it is that, as professional dancers, we work so hard, but people can actually believe that it’s easy enough to do it in a year. That’s the thing that bothered me the most.”Soon others picked up on this. So last week when the L.A. Times did a profile Portman's partner and Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied, he addressed the growing controversy.
"There are articles now talking about her dance double [American Ballet Theatre dancer Sarah Lane] 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. Honestly, 85% of that movie is Natalie."
“The shots that are just her face with arms, those shots are definitely Natalie,” she says. “But that doesn’t show the actual dancing.” Lane admits that she was never promised a particular title for her six weeks of work on the film, though she was disappointed to see that she is credited only as as “Hand Model,” “Stunt Double,” and “Lady in the Lane” (a brief walk-on role).
Lane also says that Black Swan producer Ari Handel specifically told her not to talk about her work to the press, even though she claims there was no such stipulation in her contract. “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. “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?”
. . .
According to Lane, Portman’s dramatic transformation into a ballerina — a narrative firmly at the center of her successful Oscar campaign — wasn’t as impressive as the public was led to believe. “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. And she can’t move her body; she’s very stiff,” says Lane. “I do give her a lot of credit because in a year and a half she lost a lot of weight and she really tried to go method and get into a dancers head and really feel like a ballet dancer.”
In interviews, Portman didn’t hide the fact that she had used a body double for key sequences in the film, though Lane’s name, and the extent of her work, were played down. “I do have a double for the complicated turning stuff,” Portman told EW last November. “It was not anything I ever could have done in a year, nothing I could’ve caught up with. But I think it was just better for all of us if I did as much as possible.”
Lane insists she isn’t speaking out of jealousy over Portman’s acclaim. “[Natalie] is an amazing actress, for sure,” she says. “I know that it’s not a personal thing against me. I know that it’s just a political thing. It’s just unfortunate that I kind of lost credit.”Fox Searchlight responded by releasing a statement that said, "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. However, Natalie herself did most of the dancing featured in the final film." Director Darren Aronofsky went further and provided specifics.
Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80% Natalie Portman. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman.If that wasn't clear enough, Portman's co-star Mila Kunis spoke in her defence too, saying "Natalie danced her ass off. I think it’s unfortunate that this is coming out and taking attention away from [the praise] Natalie deserved and got."
And to be clear Natalie did dance on pointe in pointe shoes. If you look at the final shot of the opening prologue, which lasts 85 seconds, and was danced completely by Natalie, she exits the scene on pointe. That is completely her without any digital magic. I am responding to this to put this to rest and to defend my actor. Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance. And I don’t want anyone to think that’s not her they are watching. It is.
She’ll tell you, no, she was not on pointe when she did a fouetté. No one’s going to deny that. But she did do every ounce of every one of her dances. [Lane] wasn’t used for everything. It was more like a safety net. If Nat wasn’t able to do something, you’d have a safety net. The same thing that I had — I had a double as a safety net. We all did. No one ever denied it.
On the face of it, it seems like a he said/she said dispute with both sides contradicting each other but each having credibility. But that's not what's going on at all. What's really happening is the same thing with the earlier costume design controversy. The main difference is that the producer(s) asked Lane to keep a lid on things this time whereas the Mulleavy sisters spoke freely while Westcott was kept quiet earlier. Having seen how that controversy killed Westcott's Oscar hopes, they were right to protect Portman from potentially having this silliness over nothing blow up before Oscar night.
What's similar with these two cases, however, is that the aggrieved parties were outsiders to the film world. Nonetheless, they were happy to have done the work and to have been paid handsomely (Lane was paid $4000/week for six weeks and two days and certainly wasn't used every day). When the film started making a ton of money and the press started giving them some attention too, it was only then that they bought into the notion that somehow they got screwed out of more money and credit.
But the credits they got were absolutely correct. Just as the Mulleavy sisters were part of a department and not the department heads, Lane was a stunt double, not a real actor. With three credits, Lane was actually acknowledged quite generously, since she was likely hired just as a double for the dancing and they offered her the hand model and walk-on roles as a courtesy. I highly doubt that she had to audition for the “Lady in the Lane” part.
To ask for anything more than that is just wrong. She was not the actor. Period. Stunt doubles know to lay low if they want to keep working. Lane hadn't worked before in film, however, so all she knew was that she worked hard for those few weeks. But then, so did everyone else.
As for who really did the dancing, they're actually all telling the truth more or less. Lane says, "of the full body shots, I would say 5 percent are Natalie" but most of the movie is done in medium shots and closeups. She wouldn't have been needed on set for those and so might not realize how much else Portman did. The 85% that Millepied cites is essentially the same as the 80% to 90% that Aronofsky gives. They are both clearly referring to all of the dancing, not just the full body shots.
But ultimately, who cares? Stunts and special skills are not the same thing as acting. People don't go to see an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jackie Chan action film and expect to see their stunt doubles receive equal billing. Nor is any actor ever considered a failure just because they use a stunt double. Even if Lane had done 100% of the dancing, it still wouldn't have made a difference because the greatness in Portman's acting was in her emotional range. The dancing was just this film's equivalent of "action sequences."
Nevermind the fact that many dancers complained about the dance in the film and so perhaps Lane shouldn't be so quick to take all the credit for it anyhow. She should just accept that she agreed to and properly received her due. All this grousing now just looks bad on her -- like she's the type of jealous psycho that dancers criticized as so completely unrealistic.
It's as if Sarah Lane is transforming into a ... Black Swan.
[UPDATE: March 31] Sarah Lane continues to do herself no favours by writing a very self-serving essay for the Wall Street Journal.
I know that some people are getting very defensive about “Black Swan” and my role in it, but back-stabbing is not my purpose when people ask me about the legitimacy of the dance shots in the movie. I only care to speak the truth. The truth is that no one, not Natalie Portman, or even myself can come anywhere close to the level of a professional ballerina in a year and a half. Period.Her "truth" is disingenuous and false because no one ever said Portman was a professional ballerina.
In a November interview with Portman herself, she spoke about her rigourous training under Mary Helen Bowers, her weight loss, injuries and so forth. She also acknowledged Lane and that there were things she could not learn in the time she had.
I mean, there's no way, obviously, I could have learned, you know, fouette turns en pointe for the film. That's something that takes a lifetime to perfect. So there's a wonderful dancer, Sarah Lane, who did the more complicated pointe work. But I did the stuff that was possible to learn in a year.It's interesting to read the comments on these various articles. Some are funny ("You'll be telling us she's not a real lesbian next.") The ones that support Lane, however, are generally the most misinformed, believing that Lane was not properly credited (she was) or that Portman claimed that she was a professional ballerina (she didn't). At least one post on the Wall Street Journal article above claims to be from someone who knows Lane.
Get Real wrote:If this is true, she may come to regret desiring and now receiving so much more of the spotlight.
Anyone who knows Sarah Lane is NOT surprised by this entire scandal she has created. I can attest to the fact that Sarah has always been a very talented and very hardworking dancer with intense determination to achieve success; however, she has also worked just as hard at being very sly, very calculating and very manipulative. She has perfected her ability to use her diminutive stature and shy, meek manner to appear so sweet, kind, and Christian, but underneath that finely tuned façade, well, let’s just say that she was perfectly cast as the “Black Swan” body double.
[UPDATE, April 15]
Natalie Portman was asked about the controversy last week and wisely downplayed it, saying she wanted to avoid any "nastiness or gossip."
On the other hand, Sarah Lane continues to milk this controversy by claiming on 20/20 that she isn't trying to be "heralded" for her work, but that the filmmakers are "completely lying."
One thing that this interview shows, though, is that Natalie Portman completely nailed the little-girl squeakiness that adult ballerinas can have. Otherwise, I don't think this interview serves any purpose. She may think she's defending ballet, but by tearing away at another art form she's merely turning people off ballet altogether and making herself seem petty.