Mila Kunis: The other Black Swan finds her feet

Ukraine-born Mila Kunis missed out on a Golden Globe for her role as Natalie Portman's rival in their new film but is still on a high.

There may come a time when Mila Kunis looks back on Black Swan as a moment of metamorphosis. Already Darren Aronofsky's sublime psychosexual thriller set in the ballet world has seen the 27-year-old bestowed with the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress at the Venice Film Festival. Now, though she lost out to The Fighter's Melissa Leo, an Oscar nomination seems like a certainty. Of course, she won't allow herself to think about this just yet. "I wouldn't know what to do. I am so not a part of this world," she says. "For me to be nominated in any awards show is such a shock. I come from such a small town in the Ukraine!"

Born Milena Markivna Kunis, she grew up in Chernivtsi, in the southwest of the country. Raised with her older brother, Michael, by her mother, Elvira, a physics teacher, and her father Mark, a mechanical engineer, her family applied to move to the States at the tail end of the communist era. "My parents wanted my brother and I to have a future," she says, her high-speed West Coast chatter devoid of any traces of an East European accent. When they arrived in the US, the seven-year-old Kunis didn't speak any English. "I didn't study it. I didn't have a book. I didn't learn it. I just surrounded myself with it. Right now, if you did that to me, I wouldn't know what to do with myself."

While her father enrolled her in an acting class when she was nine, she started acting professionally three years later. Though playing the young version of Angelina Jolie's drug-addicted model in the Golden Globe-winning Gia early on, her success so far has come largely in television (a regular role in sitcom That '70s Show and voicing Meg in Family Guy). Her films to date – like straight-to-video sequel American Psycho II: All American Girl – are hardly what you might call Academy-friendly. "I stand by every movie that I did," she says, defiantly. "I don't regret any decision I made. Whatever I did, I always grew, whether as an actress or a person. And in my experience, you never know what movie is going to open what door for you. It's always the ones you least expect."

In the case of Black Swan, it was Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the 2008 comedy in which Kunis played the sweet-natured hotel clerk. Compared to her Black Swan character Lily, a sexually confident ballerina, the role couldn't be more different. Nevertheless, it was a performance that convinced Aronofsky. "She just leapt off the screen," he says. "She was just so sexy, beautiful, charming and free." Dressed today in a charcoal skirt, sleeveless white top and a pair of black high heels that elevate her 5ft 3in frame – completing the Lily-like look with black nail polish – it's not hard to see what he means. Long brown hair, olive skin and magnetic oval-shaped hazel eyes lend her a beguiling minx-like quality.

So taken with Kunis was Aronofsky, he gave her the role without an audition. "Black Swan is the first time where a brilliant movie was handed to me," she says. As Kunis puts it, they "chit-chatted" on iChat three times, with the director casually asking her if she was "ready to do this" during their third conversation. Admittedly, it helped that Kunis was good friends with Black Swan's star Natalie Portman, who plays Nina, the virginal New York ballerina at the core of the film. Kunis met Portman seven years ago through mutual friends. But it was on a Sunday morning trip to a flea market in LA, where Kunis lives, that she first heard about Black Swan.

Portman told her she was following their shopping expedition with a ballet lesson. Kunis replied by telling her that she once broke all of her toes dancing. "I have two left feet," laughs Kunis, who – as a video-game devotee – is something of a tomboy. "I have no rhythm. I had never considered myself a dancer, and I probably never will." Yet in spite of this, Portman went straight to Aronofsky to recommend her, only to discover she was already on his radar. If this serendipity is reward for years of little-seen television and film roles, Kunis more than paid for it. "By far" the most physically demanding role of her career, she had to transform herself into a ballerina. Dropping 20lbs from her already slim physique, she went through seven months of "excruciating" training to learn the discipline.

Working four hours a day, seven days a week, she took only one day off – for her birthday. All she had to look forward to every night was a hot bath, filled with Epsom salts, and an accompanying glass of wine. And she didn't escape injury – dislocating her shoulder two weeks before production began and tearing her calf ligament during rehearsals. She also now boasts two scars on her back from where she was lifted for six hours a day. But Kunis says she refused to feel sorry for herself and her war wounds. "An opportunity like this very rarely comes about. So if you complain, you kind of feel like a baby, so you choose not to."

Compared to Portman, who went through a similar transformation, Kunis has far less screen time actually dancing. Yet her presence is vital in a film that deals with Nina's mental disintegration as she takes on the gruelling dual role of the Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake. Unable to find it within herself to dance the part of the Black Swan, Nina becomes increasingly paranoid that Kunis's free-spirited Lily may snatch the part from her. The problem for Kunis is that Lily is viewed through the eyes of Nina, who increasingly sees her as a doppelgänger. "The character was so odd to interpret because you could take her any which way," says Kunis, "and no one way is going to be wrong."

A film about obsession more than madness ("anyone can spiral downwards, if they want to pursue perfection," says Kunis), it's also hooked on Nina's sexual awakening. One particularly crucial scene, as Nina and Lily wind up in bed after a reconciliatory night out, sees Nina experience her first orgasm, meaning Kunis and Portman had to set aside their friendship and share an awkwardly intimate moment. "Anytime you do a scene that you have to have sex on camera is just uncomfortable," shrugs Kunis. "Male, female, makes no difference. But if you're comfortable with your partner in the scene, and you know them, it makes things a lot easier."

Still, it seems entirely apt that a film about transformation is set to change Kunis's career – though she seems strangely cynical on this topic. "Ask me in a year and I'll tell you," she says. Much of her recent film work has been in comedy – Date Night, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Mike Judge's Extract and her forthcoming movie, Friends with Benefits, in which she stars opposite Justin Timberlake in a story about two friends "who like to have sex". There's even talk that she will be joining the cast of Ted, written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, in which she'll play the girlfriend of a guy whose teddy bear has come to life.

Maybe Black Swan will be an anomaly in a comedic career. After all, her more dramatic outings – video-game adaptation Max Payne, the Hughes' Brothers' apocalyptic tale The Book of Eli – have left much to be desired. But Kunis is happy to take it step-by-step. "In this industry, it's not like a game of chess, it's more like a game of checkers, as I like to say. So you can't think four or five steps ahead, because it's impossible. I'm in a position where you don't have to work for the sake of working. I'm very lucky in a sense. So I can sit back and wait for a project that I respond to and that I want to do. So it's pretty much all I do. It's just finding a project that you're drawn to."

It helps that throughout her rise she's had someone on hand to advise her of the pitfalls of a Hollywood career. Since 2002, she's been dating Macaulay Culkin – though recent reports have confirmed that the couple has just split, which may explain why the Home Alone star has not graced one of the red carpet premieres for Black Swan with Kunis. In the past, she's called him "a steady rock", noting they "grew up together". Yet with her career on the rise, and his having largely stalled, perhaps it's no surprise that they've outgrown each other. For the moment, Kunis has more immediate concerns – like riding out the most important awards season of her life.

'Black Swan' opens tomorrow

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
    General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

    On the campaign trail with Ukip

    Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
    Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

    Expect a rush on men's tights

    Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
    Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

    In the driving seat: Peter Kay

    Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road