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Vincent Cassel plays Director in Black Swan

A talented dancer who studied ballet for 6 years, Vincent Cassel is a perfect fit in “Black Swan’s” pool of actors along with Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder helmed by director Darren Aronofsky to create this century’s most unforgettable screen masterpiece.

Black Swan follows the story of Nina (Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), who zealously supports her daughter's professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly, but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan.

Cassel is married to actress Monica Belluci with whom he has two daughters. He further shares in the following conversation the rigorous preparation he underwent for his role in “Black Swan.”

Cassel sports a very believable commanding aura, perfect for his role as Director Leroy.

Q: What made you say ‘yes’ to the movie?

A: I only say ‘yes’ when I can’t say ‘no’, and that was exactly the case right here, because I’ve been following Darren’s work since the beginning. I always thought he was one of the most interesting filmmakers of his generation so for me, the minute he called me, I was already flattered, and all actors need to be flattered once in a while, so we just had a little talk. He told me about the character and I had a background experience with ballet and so it’s something I could easily relate to.

Q: Did you base your performance on a particular choreographer?

A: It’s actually a mix of a bunch of people and, of course, it’s about the way Darren had written the character in the script. But definitely (George) Balanchine, even though I never met him but I did read a lot about him. And in the 80s I was close to a guy called Michael Bennett, a choreographer who directed A Chorus Line, Dream Girls and many other shows. So I drew a little bit from Michael, who sadly, died in the late 80s. I even had the good fortune of working with him when I was 17, 18. But actually, Benjamin Millepied, who choreographed Black Swan, is actually the closest person to who I’m playing. Not in terms of the story, of course, and he’s not a control freak (laughs) but he’s a modern dancer and a very good one and a great choreographer. And then I was lucky enough to work, just for half an hour but that was a lot, with Mikhail Baryshnikov, at the Opera Garnier (in Paris). And Peter Martins, of course. I went to see him work during rehearsals at the New York City Ballet and that was great.

Q: Black Swan is about Nina’s disintegrating reality. Are you playing your character as seen through her eyes?

A: Well, I think the only moment where I really played Thomas the way she sees it, is when I’m fucking the girl on the table, because it’s obviously not reality. But for the rest, no, it’s not through her eyes, it’s just him.

Q: What age were you when you first started dancing?

A: My father danced and as long as I can remember, I always tap danced. And then I got involved with ballet when I was sixteen.

Q: Did you take some dancing classes for the movie?

A: I went back to taking classes and it was very painful. But it was already painful when I was younger - dancing is painful, by definition. Just see any professional dancer naked and you’ll see. A dancer’s body is beautiful when it’s in movement but when they stand still you see the injuries that their bodies have picked up over the years. It’s a very hard discipline.

Leroy (Cassel) teaches Nina (Portman) how to be in touch of her inner sensuality.

Q: Did the finished movie live up to your expectations?

A: Visually, it’s more than I thought it would be. It’s darker than I thought it would be. I was waiting for something closer to let’s say, The Tenant, by Polanski, and visually, it’s richer than that, it’s between The Tenant and Star Wars (laughs). It’s full of effects, really.

Q: You were working very close with Natalie and she had a very challenging role, to say the least. How hard a role was this for her?

A: Well, it was physically very demanding for her. First of all, I was impressed and very respectful because when you really go that far in terms of training and everything, you have to be careful. She was there every day and I didn’t want to interfere so I was very respectful and I would be like ‘hi’ and just let her do her thing and then (claps hands) when we were doing the scenes it was time to get busy. And plus, with the kind of things we had to do – all the kissing and touching, these physical things – I thought it wasn’t that bad that we had a little distance. And plus her boyfriend was on set (laughs).

Black Swan” opens February 23 in theaters from 20th Century Fox distributed by Warner Bros.

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