Interview: Mila Kunis on BLACK SWAN, Kissing Natalie Portman, Her Russian Heritage & More!

On the same day as Obsessed with Film interviewed Vincent Cassel last year, we were also fortunate to have time with his co-star Mila Kunis who, despite a smattering of supporting roles in movies such as The Book of Eli and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, has until now been most famous for her long-running roles on the TV comedy shows Family Guy and That 70s Show. Kunis plays Natalie Portman€™s uninhibited rival Lily in Darren Aronofsky€™s Black Swan. As with the earlier interview, we were present at a round-table with other journalists €“ again simplified below, with minimal omissions, as a Q+A session (for your reading pleasure)! Q: Have you still got your ballet fitness going on?
MK: No, no, no!
Q: How long did it take to lose that then?
The day that we wrapped. It was much easier to stop than start, I tell you. I had no problems not dancing and going back to eating. It was great.
Q: How long did it consume you then?
The ballet? Five or six months.
Q: Have you had much comment from the ballet world about your role?
No I haven€™t really. I haven€™t been in the middle of the ballet world since we wrapped. I€™ve been working. I€™ll be interested to know once they€™ve seen the movie, but I have no idea.
Q: So how much does a role like this consume your time? You have other projects, you€™ve appeared in other things, was this a major focus for you working in preparation?
Yeah, I think any film you do, once you start production, that€™s what you end up doing. We started prepping for this three month before production started. We did seven days a week of training, four hours a day. And then after four hours of training you go home and you soak in the tub for four hours. So there is literally no time for anything else.
Q: Apparently funding almost fell through for this quite a few times. How frustrating would that have been given all the training required?
It would have been very sad if this movie never got made because it€™s actually a really great movie. It wouldn€™t have been sad because I would have been training, it just would have been unfortunate. But doing a movie like this €“ you don€™t expect it €“ but you know there could be a funding issue.
Q: Did you know you could trust Darren as a filmmaker? He pushes his actors to the limits. Is that part of the reason you wanted to do it?
Yeah, absolutely. The first time we chatted €“ before I read the script €“ I told him I€™d do anything because I think he€™s a great director. But having read the script I wanted to do it that much more. I think the only way I could have done this type of movie is if I trusted the director, because the movie is so anywhere in the way it was put together and so well edited €“ another director could have taken it in a very different direction. So you have to trust your director.
Q: When you were researching the role, did you get much insight into the rivalries that exist in ballet?
It didn€™t take much. Let me tell you: the rivalries exist pretty visibly. The second you go into the ballet world you see how competitive it is. They don€™t try to hide it.
Q: Is there a parallel there with Hollywood as well? I imagine that€™s quite a cutthroat world too.
It is and it isn€™t. In my experiences in the film industry it€™s not as competitive, I would say €“ I think that there€™s some aspects of it that are €“ but not nearly as much as in ballet. I can€™t even put into words for you how competitive the ballet world is.
Q: Why do you think that is?
Because it€™s so small. It€™s incredibly small and they work their entire lives to try and achieve perfection that€™s inevitably impossible. And their career ends at 30... 35 at best. Because how many prima ballerinas can you name, but how many movie stars can you name? It€™s very small. Their creatures all of their own kind.
Q: Did you find the ballet world to be quite an insular one?
Yeah, it is. It€™s very incestual almost too. They all know each other somehow. One roomed with another when they worked for this repertoire and one knows that one from another repertoire. They all know each other.
Q: Working with Natalie: when you were off set, did you maintain a distance for the sake of the characters or did you get to know each other quite well?
We€™ve known each other for years so I don€™t think the separation would have helped. We were really good friends when we started it €“ and actually we were still really good friends when we ended it.
Q: Did being friends with Natalie help when you had the more intimate scene to film?
Yeah, I mean it goes for any intimate scene you film €“ female or male €“ if you€™re friendly with the person and know them and are comfortable with them it makes the situation a lot easier to get through.
Is it true that there was tequila involved in shooting the sex scene?
Q: Completely false. We shot that scene in half a day€ it€™s just as nerve-wracking as having any other sex scene in any movie. They€™re always going to be a little uncomfortable. Imagine me saying €œhey, nice to meet you. Now take off your clothes and let€™s have sex.€ With people watching. So no, no tequila was involved.
Q: Vincent Cassel suggested to us that it was maybe a little easier for you and he to slip out of character on set than it was for Natalie. Is that fair?
Yeah, it is fair to say. I think Natalie slipped in and out of character at her discretion €“ whenever she felt she needed it. For a lot of actors sometimes you stay in character and sometimes you don€™t. It all depends on the work day. But I€™ve never been known to be method. Do I take my work just as seriously? Yes. But I also have fun and goof off... and then go back to work.
Q: Did you get any injuries?
Yeah, everyone got injuries. Mine? I damaged my shoulder three weeks before production and in the first months of rehearsal I tore my calf ligament. And I have two scars in my back from Benjamin€™s thumbs from lifting me for six hours. Now, I say I have scars but he still had to lift me for six hours, so his arms might have fallen off at that point.
Q: Was there ever a point where dancing rather than acting appealed to you?
No! I have two left feet. I have no rhythm. No, I do not consider myself a dancer! I have never considered being a dancer and I probably never will. I think I€™m fantastic: in the privacy of my own home with my radio. I think I€™m great. I€™m a great singer too. You might all disagree.
Q: You got into acting at quite a young age, what was the appeal for you when you were a kid?
I didn€™t have an appeal for it. I got into it completely by accident. My whole career was very organic and to this point still is. It€™s one of those things where things happen for a reason, and because of the way my career has gone I€™m a strong believer in that. I was nine years old. My parents wanted me to€ I was new to America so my English wasn€™t so great at that time so they were like €œyou know what? We€™ll send you to a little class where you can make friends and learn English and what not.€ It ended up becoming an acting class for little kids. But really an acting class for little kids just means €œwe€™ll take your money and babysit your kids for a couple of hours€. It€™s not like they€™re gonna teach you method! So I went to this so-called acting class. And this is where luck comes in: my manager €“ who is my manager to this day €“ was there. She showed up that one day and saw me. Long story short my parents were like €œwe don€™t really want you to be an actor. We want you to be a doctor or a lawyer€ and I was like €œthat€™s fine, but this€™ll be an after school activity€ and they were like €œwe work full-time, you go to school full-time: let€™s see how this fits in.€ Then the first thing I went out for €“ like the first Barbie commercial or whatever €“ I ended up getting. I was nine years old. And then from nine to fourteen I worked quite steadily and then I got a TV show, and so forth and so forth. So it was all pretty organic.
Q: What motivated your parents€™ decision to go to America?
Well I was raised in communist Russia. So if you know anything about communism, it€™s pretty self-explanatory. There were a lot of reasons. A lot. My parents are the least selfish people I€™ve ever met in my entire life€ my parents wanted my brother and I to have a future. At that point it was 1988 in Russia: there was really no future, it was all really black and white. It was communist. So they put in paperwork for my family to move to the United States for my brother and I.
Q: Your family is Jewish. Would your options have been less in Russia?
Correct. I wasn€™t gonna go there, but you can go there! There was a bit of anti-Semitism in Russia. You can say that, sure. Not anymore, everything has changed. But at that point, yeah of course.
Q: You're known to many as the voice of Meg from €˜Family Guy€™. Is it good to be known for voice work?
Yeah, it€™s great except it gets me into trouble. I€™m fine if I€™m walking down the street in sweatpants and a sweatshirt. No one looks twice. But if I open my mouth and start talking, that€™s when I get in trouble.
Q: You started that role as a teenager€
At fifteen.
Q: € you€™ve obviously grown up, but the character stays the same age.
I think she may have aged, in the past ten years, one year. It€™s like Bart Simpson€ It€™s a lot of fun. It€™s the greatest job in the world.
Q: Do you prefer being on €˜Family Guy€™ to having been on €˜That 70s Show€™ then?
They are two completely different things. I could do €˜Family Guy€™ for the rest of my life. I couldn€™t have done €˜70s Show€™ for the rest of my life.
Q: Has being the voice of Meg ever won you any roles in movies?
I don€™t know. I don€™t really ask people why they hire me. I don€™t wanna know why. Would you wanna know why? I don€™t wanna know.
Q: But they might say it was because you€™re a fantastic actress€
I would hope that they hired me because I€™m a fantastic actress, or they think that I€™m a fantastic actress, but I don€™t wanna know why. It€™s like me asking Darren €œwhy did you hire me?€ I don€™t want them to second guess themselves. I don€™t want them to think about it because I don€™t want to get fired! You hired me, great. Let€™s just roll with it and move forward. I don€™t think I€™ll ever be hired because they think I suck. €œOh, she€™s a really bad actress, let€™s hire her€, so for whatever reason I get hired I take it. If that be because of a voice then it makes no difference to me.
Q: Did you find coming from TV a stumbling block to getting into movies? Did you find yourself typecast?
Yes. Yeah of course. I think everybody does. I think at one point it was much harder to make the transition from TV to film, but as time goes on it becomes easier and easier. A lot more people are transitioning with no problem. When I tried to transition it was at the finicky point. I had no ego. I didn€™t have a problem going to a room and auditioning for anyone willing€ and I think people were pleasantly surprised. I think what it means is people had low expectations and just went €œthat€™s great!€ That€™s how I€™ve built my career: low expectations!
Q: Do you think being in something as potentially Oscar-worthy as €˜Black Swan€™ will open doors to more acclaimed roles in the future?
The strangest things open doors is what I€™ve learned. The things that you least expect to change your career end up changing your career and the things you almost think will don€™t. So you never know. You never know.
Q: You€™re clearly very smart. Do you think you sometimes intimidate people when you walk into a room?
You€™re very sweet. Thank you. Um€I hope I don€™t intimidate people. I€™m very open. When I go into meetings it€™s not like I put up a wall and pretend to be something I€™m not. I€™m very honest. That€™s what I try to bring to every character I play, it€™s just that: honesty. I don€™t think I€™m intimidating. I don€™t think that I€™m the smartest; I don€™t think that I€™m the prettiest. I€™m nothing to be intimidated by. I€™m pretty chilled, I think.
Q: Have you ever made mistakes with the roles that you€™ve chosen?
I€™ve made a lot of mistakes prior to the age of 22 with the roles that I chose. Absolutely. But I wouldn€™t even say they are mistakes. I stand by everything I did, whether I learned what to do or what not to do. I still feel like I grew as a person and as an actress, there was always a reason for me doing it. Until I made the decision to make acting my career, which wasn€™t until my 20s, I chose parts for different reasons. I never thought about it as a long-lasting career. I honestly thought that €˜70s€™ was going to end, I was going to be done and I was going to go to college and study whatever and live a normal life. And then when I made the conscious effort to make this my career that€™s when everything changed. I started looking at scripts differently, started looking at roles differently and started thinking about trying to make something long-lasting.
Q: Do you have a plan now then?
The thing about this industry is that it€™s not like chess: you can€™t really think five steps ahead because, if you could, you would be the master. It€™s impossible. There is no plan. You take it one day at a time and try to make smart decisions. Personally I just want to stand by everything that I do. I wanna do a film that I€™m proud of. I want to feel that I did it for the right reasons. Whether it ever comes out and whether anyone ever sees it doesn€™t matter.
You can see Mila Kunis alongside Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel and Winona Ryder in €˜Black Swan€™ from Friday. Also check out our interview with Vincent Cassel published earlier this week and check back for our concluding interview with director Darren Aronofsky on Friday.You can find my Black Swan review, HERE.

A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.