USA TODAY US Edition
Portman, Kutcher in a romp
They’re pals off-screen and more on-screen in sexy No Strings Attached,
LOS ANGELES — It’s a very good week to be Natalie Portman.
With a Golden Globe in hand for her performance in Black Swan, the petite star is about to do something more surprising than scoop up a major prize on the road to the Oscars. She’s going to tackle big-studio, R-rated comedy. And hearing the raucous laugh that rips from Portman’s mouth as she tries to fit in a photographer’s frame with co-star Ashton Kutcher, it starts to make sense.
“ You really chose to wear flats?” Kutcher teases, towering 10 inches over his 5-foot-3, pregnant costar at the Four Seasons Hotel. “ I know!” Portman says, gingerly stepping onto a wooden box and folding her hands over her growing belly.
A few minutes later, the two plop down on a nearby couch, and Portman, 29, shows off her shiny
black ballet flats. “ Comfor t counts, for so much more than anything,” she says.
Together, she and Kutcher, 32, banter easily — the joint interview just over a week ago is a chance to see the two private stars share big laughs while revealing a new side of themselves.
And for Portman, that may be the point.
In No Strings Attached ( in theaters Friday), she plays Emma, a workaholic doctor eschewing relationships and pulling 80-hour workweeks. The kink in her plan: She challenges Kutcher’s character, Adam, to the male dream — a round-the-clock, sex-only, nostrings-attached relationship.
“ This is the kind of movie I like to go see more than anything,” says Portman, who calls the romantic comedy a “ palate cleanser” after her dark turn as a mentally unstable ballerina in Black Swan. ( Sunday at the Globes, Portman called it a “ great honor” to receive the award for best actress in a drama and thanked director Darren Aronofsky for the “ beautiful gift” of the role.)
But choosing something different was key for Portman, known for heavier roles in V for Vendetta, Brothers, Closer and The Other Boleyn Girl. In fact, her schedule after Swan is all over the map: She shot a turn in Thor ( out May 6) and fantastical comedy Your Highness ( out April 8) back-toback last year with Strings.
“ I’m not interested in repeated experiences,” she says. “ This is the first time I read a script where the female character was as funny as the male character and as specific, and as much of a real person.”
And she leaned on Kutcher, a comedy vet who has wooed the likes of Katherine Heigl, Cameron Diaz and Jessica Alba on the big screen in Killers, What Happens in Vegas and Valentine’s Day. Kutcher, Portman says, and the brash script, sold him immediately.
“ I see a lot of the Judd Apatow movies that I really like and they’re like this honest, male perspective on relationships, rated R, funny,” Kutcher says. “ And I hadn’t really seen a movie that approached it equally honest from the female side.”
No Strings Attached delights in
“ This is the first time I read a script where the female character was as funny as the male character and as specific, and as much of a real person.”
its R-rating. Dirty jokes fly from Portman’s mouth at pirouette speed. Kutcher, playing the son of an aging TV star ( Kevin Kline) trying to make his mark as a writer on a Glee-like television show, sends texts instead of flowers, booty calls instead of love letters. The two strip off their clothes more than 13 times, with Portman’s Emma calling the shots.
“ It’s naughty in a kind of original way,” says director Ivan Reitman, who describes Portman’s guffaw as “ the bawdiest laugh I’ve ever heard.”
No Strings Attached, he says, is a fresh look at the new rules of dating, the kind of romantic comedy where a sparkly ring really isn’t the point. And gone is the harpy woman of comedy. Emma’s not bitter, “ just busy,” says Portman, who signed on three years ago to executive-produce and star in the film.
Portman hopped into “ funny, awkward” s ex s cenes wit h Kutcher dressed in modesty bras, body makeup and strategically placed sheets.
And Reitman says her strict Swan diet melted away. “ One of the things I love about her is she likes her food,” says the director, who joined in on cast dinners at Portman’s Los Angeles home. “ Her boyfriend — soon-to-be husband — is just a great cook. She was proud of that fact.”
In kind with the role reversal, it’s Kutcher’s bare backside you see more than Portman’s. A body double, surely?
“No, that’s his fine butt,” Portman says with a giggle.
“I probably should have ( used one) but I didn’t,” Kutcher says. “ You’re wearing a towel ( in those scenes). Also, I didn’t get in shape for this movie so I was really paranoid. I didn’t work out at all.”
This, from the guy who is on the February cover of Men’s Fitness? Portman raises an eyebrow. “ Like your ‘ not in shape’ is every other guy’s dream.”
“ Photoshop,” he says bashfully. “ So I was just a little, like, not feeling good about myself on those days ( on set).”
“Aww,” Portman spouts girlishly, mock-concerned about his body image. “ Ashton, we should talk about this more.” He grins, covering his face with his hands.
Reitman says their on-and off-screen chemistry was instantaneous. “ We would spend half our time just spit-balling ideas for the film,” which once bore an unprintable title, Kutcher says as Portman chortles on the couch next to him.
“ We were just throwing out stupid titles,” he says. “ We just had a blast.”
Baby on board
Bed-hopping and ballet aside, the little belly popping out of Portman’s Jason Wu frock is the scene-stealer today at the Four Seasons. Portman’s pregnancy and impending marriage to Benjamin Millepied, her Black Swan choreographer, who Portman has said “ partnered me in the movie and who now partners me in life,” took celeb-watchers by surprise last month. She’s now out of her first trimester, and the star’s frequent appearances on endless awards season red carpets presents a conundrum.
“ It’s the most private of experiences, so I’d definitely rather be at home right now. But also, it’s my job,” says Por tman, her hands naturally resting on her belly as she speaks.
But she’s also picking up A-list advice, such as at a recent Hollywood meet-and-greet.
“ The thing that was nice was hearing how like Amy Adams and Nicole Kidman were both talking about how they choose roles so differently ( now),” Portman says. “ You do have to really protect your emotional resources in a different way. But this I will find out, I’m sure.”
Plus, she says, she has friends like Kutcher, calling him “ a very good parent.”
The stepdad of Demi Moore’s three girls, Rumer, Scout and Tallulah, doesn’t think he qualifies in the baby department. “ Tallulah was like,” he counts on his fingers, “ 8 when ( Demi and I) first started dating. So I’ve got like the 8-to-20 thing on lock.”
Por tman nods. “ Especially with girls, that’s super-hard.”
“ Your best teachers are your parents anyway,” Kutcher says. “ You take the ‘ best of’ from your parents and you try to eliminate the ‘ worst of’ from your parents. It’s completely a learn-on-the-job thing.”
And don’t go asking if he has baby fever. “ I don’t know what that is,” he says with a shrug.
What he does have, Portman reveals, is a real connection to Judaism.
“ Ashton has taught me more about Judaism than I think I have ever learned from anyone else,” says Portman, who was born in Jerusalem. “ Ashton’s a very serious student of Kabbalah and Judaism. He knows a lot. When we had the funeral scene ( in No Strings Attached), that was a Jewish funeral. He was able to read all the Hebrew. It’s very impressive.”
Ashton interjects: “ I can make the noises. I don’t know what they mean.”
“ No, you like — he reads the Torah every Saturday,” she exclaims, and then realizes she may have revealed too much. “ I hope this isn’t too private to reveal, but it’s very impressive.”
Kutcher grows quieter. “ I’m a spiritualist, so I study a lot of different spirituality and try to understand it, and understand where people are coming from.”
Portman’s upcoming schedule most likely includes a stop at the Academy Awards, alt hough nominations won’t be an-nounced until Jan. 25.
“ There is no chance on this planet that Natalie Portman, on Jan. 25th, will be depressed,” says Deadline Hollywood’s Pete Hammond. But he also says releasing No Strings Attached during awards season could possibly factor against an Oscar win.
“ The release dates for those movies are out of her control,” he says. But, “ when you’ve got a super-serious shot at an Oscar nomination — and you’ve got another movie opening that’s anything but that, with billboards all over Los Angeles with the ad line ‘ C an sex friends stay best friends?’ — it’s a little bit of a distraction from what I think the consultants and the people who are doing the campaign for Black Swan would like.”
Not that any of this is keeping Portman up at night.
“ I look at people I admire,” Portman says. “ You see Meryl Streep doing Doubt and you see her doing Mamma Mia! and you see her doing It’s Complicated. The real actors I admire give themselves joy, give themselves pleasure.
“ I just feel lucky to get to work, and as long as I can keep working, I’m not worried.”
Out of the spotlight, both Portman and Kutcher run their own production companies. Her Hand some Charlie Films is producing the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, along with Important Artifacts, her next project, which Portman says will co-star Brad Pitt.
But that’s “ a long time off,” says the star, who will take a break after promoting Thor and Your Highness. “ I have no idea what this is going to be like,” she says with a nod to her belly, “ so I’ll feel it out.”
Kutcher is shooting new romantic comedy New Year’s Eve, and with his Katalyst Films production company might be planning a reboot of his signature celebrity pranking series, Punk’d.
And he’s working on landing Justin Bieber as host.
“ Whoa,” interrupts Portman. “ That’s cool. The Biebs? You got the Biebs?
“ Maybe,” Kutcher says. “ If I can get him off tour.”
The interviewer resumes a line of questioning, but the co-stars are whispering on the couch.
“ You’re the first on the list, by the way,” Kutcher whispers. Portman stares him down. “ You know I’ll never speak to you again if you punk me.”
“ I know,” he says. “ I’m prepared for that.”