No Strings Attached - Kevin Kline, Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher
No Strings Attached - Alvin (Kevin Kline), Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) © 2011 DW Studios
No Strings Attached - Natalie Portman
Emma (Natalie Portman) © 2011 DW Studios

Natalie Portman just won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Drama for Black Swan and is practically guaranteed an Oscar nomination for the same role, as a veteran and unbalanced ballerina who finds herself locked in a competition with a rival dancer.

So as a refreshing change of pace, the actress is now starring in her first romantic comedy, Ivan Reitman’s No Strings Attached, which opens on February 21st. In it she portrays Emma, whose lifelong friendship with Adam (Ashton Kutcher) is almost ruined when they have sex one morning, and they make a pact to keep their relationship strictly ‘no strings attached.’

What was it like doing No Strings Attached, your first romantic comedy?

It’s been great to be surrounded by so many professionals at this kind of thing, because it’s not my comfort zone.

Making a comedy film is a really different experience for me – without an audience, it’s sometimes hard to tell if something is working or not. Even if those around you think something is funny, they can’t exactly laugh during a take.

What was it about this script that attracted you to it?

No Strings Attached - Natalie Portman and Greta Gerwig
Emma (Natalie Portman) and Patrice (Greta Gerwig) © 2011 DW Studios

I feel like romantic comedies are often about the girl who has a job at a magazine or in fashion getting a makeover, but this movie is about people that we all know. Liz (Meriwether, the screenwriter) has a real ear for characters.

Each character truly has its own voice- she allows women to be hilarious, interesting and have full ideas, along with the men.

How did you make such a quick turnaround for this film after Black Swan and the intense training for that?

You mean, how did you get fat so quickly? [she laughs] It was pretty great. It was like a palate cleanser after all of that to go from a really disciplined, focused, very serious kind of set to be really playful, fun but still very professional on this kind of movie.

There’s an improvisational feel all of the time, and everyone is there to play, and it was a really great atmosphere and I didn’t have to work out. She’s a doctor! They don’t have time.

Did you create any back story for your character to establish how she got to this point [of not wanting any emotional ties in a relationship]?

No Strings Attached - Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman
Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) © 2011 DW Studios

Absolutely. A lot of it was provided for me in Liz Meriwether’s script about having this incredible loss early on and not really wanting to be this pillar for her family and not wanting to get hurt. And also I think most women have known someone like this, if they’re not like this themselves.

They know what happens that leads you to a point where you’re not even looking for intimacy anymore, you’re just looking for the physical side, and not the emotional side. Something breaks a little bit before you get to that point. It’s not just the way that you’re born.

You are also an executive producer on this film. How do you balance that with starring in the movie?

It’s a really exciting process to get to be involved for the first time so early. I [signed] on a couple of years I think before the project so it was fun to be included in the evolution of the script and seeing how it changed and why it changed, and to have Ivan’s [the director’s] expertise of pacing and figuring out that at the end there needs to be more movement.

The original script had a contained scene at the end and he’s like ‘No we have to get them moving on the road’ and, to learn those things in the process was really exciting.

With Black Swan, if you throw in your upcoming movies, Your Highness and Thor, this is a pretty eclectic several months for you. Was that by design or by accident?

No Strings Attached - Olivia Thirlby and Natalie Portman
Katie (Olivia Thirlby) and Emma (Natalie Portman) © 2011 DW Studios

Well, you have heard the apocalypse is coming in 2012 on the Mayan calendar. Thought I’d get it all in before. It was a great opportunity to get to do a lot of different things in a year, and I feel like I’ve learned so much from doing all these different types of movies.

You bring the research and the seriousness and the discipline of doing a drama into something like Thor, and you bring the humor and the improvisational attitude for something like Your Highness into Black Swan.

It was really kind of a lucky order to do Your Highness and then Black Swan and then Thor and then No Strings. It was really interesting. I feel bad for boring people with my face for a while, but as an actress it was really an exciting thing to get to work on all these things almost back to back.

How are you handling all the Oscar speculation?

No Strings Attached - Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman
Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) © 2011 DW Studios

It’s a big honor to have people be excited about a movie you make. The one thing you want is for an audience to connect to what you make, so it’s always really exciting to have that feeling.

I think the best experience so far is that we got to do a roundtable with all the actresses. And it’s so rare to get to sit with other actresses of all generations, people who are just starting out, people who have been doing it for thirty years, and to hear everyone’s experience and hear what it’s like for people to be mothers and actresses.

I was like, ‘This is the best prize, to just get to hang out with these other women I admire’.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.