Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis are dazzling audiences in the new psychological thriller, "Black Swan," a glamorous yet unflinching look at the world of ballet.
Lithe dancers who flit their arms and pirouette with such dreamy grace promptly go backstage, peel off their toenails and snap their tendons back into place. Such effortless beauty comes with a lot of pain and blood... and maybe a little something else in "Black Swan."
Portman and Kunis did an intense amount of training for the film – and it probably won't surprise you that both had ballet experience. They're so delicate that they seem born to wear tutus and slippers.
But you might be surprised at who else in Hollywood started their dramatic careers in ballet. We've compiled a list of those actors and actresses who have been en pointe, abandoned the barre for time travel, machine guns, martial arts, and Johnny Depp.
Saldana is making a name for herself as the action chick of our decade. She's kicked butt and taken names in "Star Trek," "Avatar," "The Losers," and the upcoming "Colombiana." But she began her theatrical career in ballet and dance (as evidenced by her breakout role in "Center Stage"), and has fond memories of pounding and twirling across the floor. "That was the beginning of a beautiful f**king romance," she has said. "That was my Xanax, let me tell you ... it put all my demons in order." And it gave her a particular grace while shooting machine guns, or springing along Pandora, wouldn't you agree?
Glau is another action heroine who began her career as a delicate ballerina before becoming Joss Whedon's muse. She transitioned to acting after suffering an injury, and though she got her big break playing a ballet dancer on "Angel," she gained geek fame as the vicious dervish named River Tam on "Firefly." Not counting a tiny role in the teen comedy "Sleepover," she made her big-screen debut in Whedon's vastly underrated "Serenity" in 2005. "I grew up being a ballet dancer, so I'm very comfortable doing physical roles," she told The Onion A.V. Club. It shows.
Wasikowska may be best known for traveling down the rabbit hole in "Alice in Wonderland," but she began her career pursuing the fairy tales of "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker." She trained as a ballerina until she was 15, when she became disillusioned with the grueling regimen. "It became so much about physical perfection that it kind of beats you down and grates on your self-esteem," she told The Sunday London Times. "What I liked most about [films] was that, unlike ballet, they were about imperfection and all the things that we, as human beings, do wrong." Considering all the critical acclaim she's been garnering for her roles in HBO's "In Treatment," "Alice," and "The Kids Are All Right," it seems she made the right choice.
Best known for her roles in "Kick-Ass" and "Hot Tub Time Machine," Fonesca started her career as a ballet dancer. She was the IMTA's runner-up for "Young Miss Dancer of the Year" where she was discovered by her agent. We're not entirely sure why she gave up dance – though she reportedly still performs to relax – but it probably has a lot to do with acting being a lot less punishing on your body. Plus you're never a candidate for cool scripts like "The Hunger Games" if you're the Sugar Plum Fairy.
It says something about the rigor of dance that so many actresses transition so casually from leotards to kicking butt onscreen. Ziyi has thrilled us with her elegant martial arts in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Hero," "House of Flying Daggers" and "Rush Hour 2." But she's actually not even trained in martial arts, she's trained in dance thanks to the Beijing Dance Academy. She quit out of disinterest: "I realized I didn't have much of a future in dancing, and I didn't know if I liked it that much. It's really hard, and there's not that much of a market for dancers," she told Interview. Luckily, there's always a market for a girl who can wield a sword.
Before she won male hearts in the '80s as Marty McFly's sexy mom, Thompson was a very accomplished ballerina. She won scholarships to multiple ballet schools, and danced with multiple companies, including The American Ballet Theatre. She danced in 45 ballets with the ABT, and hoped to dance alongside its star, the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov. Her dream was crushed when he told her she was "a beautiful dancer, but too stocky." She left shortly after, and decided to become an actress. Millions of men are thankful, but do you think Baryshnikov ever watched "Red Dawn" and felt a little pang of guilt?
Cruz got a lot of press for her searing and sexy dance in "Nine," a routine that left her battered, bruised, and crying during filming. But Cruz has endured the assault of dance before, as she was originally a ballerina. She studied classical ballet for nine years (coincidence?) at Spain's National Conservatory, but abandoned her arabesques for a talent agency audition. She hasn't looked back. Why would you when you've got an Oscar on your mantelpiece, and a guy like Javier Bardem?
Emilie de Ravin
The lovely de Ravin gained the spotlight as the perpetually terrified teenage mother Claire on "Lost," but she was once consumed with battements and changements as a student in the Australian Ballet School. The ABS is an incredibly selective and difficult school, so it's obvious de Ravin possessed a lot of talent and determination to get in. But after taking a week long acting course, the "Remember Me" star dropped out of dance, and never looked back. She admitted to Collider that she "missed it" but was much happier as an actress. Maybe it all had something to do with those "Lost" numbers, and baby Aaron, and ....
The brooding beauty of the "Scream" saga began as an eager and exhausted student at the National Ballet School of Canada. She quit only because of her accumulating injuries and ruined joints. Though she has enjoyed a lot of onscreen success and become a horror icon, dance seems to be what has always defined her. She put her passion onscreen by working with Robert Altman to develop and star in "The Company."
Unlike the other stars on our list, Campbell seems to have suffered the most from a life spent en pointe. "I have got arthritis in my neck and my hips," she once reported. :I have had surgery on my feet. I have had snapping hip syndrome, tendonitis, shin splints, bursitis. I have had almost every injury imaginable."
Remember, ballet isn't just a female pursuit. Men have been dancing for centuries, though are often derided or mocked for their profession. It's not macho for boys to dream of dancing the lead in "The Nutcracker." But Bell might beg to differ. He was born into a family of ballerinas, and he used to accompany his sister to her lessons. He stood outside practicing until invited to come in and participate.
Yes, it is the plot of "Billy Elliot!" But he lived it before he played it. "The other boys called me 'poof', 'ballerina boy'… It gave me more determination to prove it wasn't just for girls." Perhaps Bell's success might encourage other boys to take up the barre, especially since he's gone on to action roles such as "King Kong," "Flags of Our Fathers," and "Defiance."
Godunov may be last on the list, but he's certainly not the least. The ruggedly handsome Russian rose to fame thanks to his imposing terrorist in "Die Hard," but he turned to acting only after his ballet career came to a tragic end. Godunov danced with the exclusive and legendary Bolshoi Ballet in the Soviet Union before defecting to the U.S. and joining American Ballet Theatre. He'd soon move to Hollywood, where he made memorable appearances in "Witness," "The Money Pit," and, of course, "Die Hard," before tragically passing away in 1995.