When Black Swan star Natalie Portman won her Best Actress Oscar in February, she made a point of thanking the ”people on films that no one ever talks about,” from her dance teachers right down to her hair-and-makeup team. But the actress left out at least one name: Sarah Lane, the professional ballerina whose body was digitally attached to Portman’s face for the movie’s most intense dance maneuvers.
Did Lane simply slip her mind? Possibly. But the American Ballet Theatre soloist — who is credited on the film only as a stuntwoman and for a walk-on role — says the speech was part of an ongoing ”cover-up” to convince Academy voters that Portman had become a pro-level dancer for the film. ”They wanted to create this idea in people’s minds that Natalie was some kind of prodigy…basically [to win] the Oscar,” Lane told EW on March 24, claiming that she actually did 95 percent of the full-body dance shots in the film. (Portman declined to comment for this story.)
Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky jetéd to his star’s defense. ”Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance,” he said in a March 28 statement, crediting Portman with 80 percent of the film’s dance shots. (And when the controversy first broke thanks to a Dance Magazine blog post, Swan’s choreographer, Benjamin Millepied — who also happens to be Portman’s fiancé — told the Los Angeles Times that Lane ”just did the footwork, and the fouettés, and one [scene] in the studio.”) But no one has addressed two potentially damning pieces of this puzzle: Lane’s claim that producer Ari Handel ordered her to keep quiet during Oscar season (Handel declined to respond), and the fact that an F/X reel circulated by Fox Searchlight — which had no comment for this story — seems to have intentionally edited out references to digital face replacement. (A longer, unverified version of the reel that showed Portman’s visage being grafted onto Lane’s body had been circulating on YouTube, until Fox requested that it be pulled.)
Would knowing the precise extent of Portman’s dancing have made a difference to Oscar voters? ”It would have mattered a lot,” says one Academy member, who feels misled by the campaign. But the actress still has plenty of defenders. ”Natalie worked her a — off,” costar Mila Kunis, who also had a double, tells EW. ”I saw her dance. You can’t take that away from the girl. You can’t.”