Port­man, Kutcher in a romp

They’re pals off-screen and more on-screen in sexy No Strings At­tached,

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drea Man­dell USA TO­DAY

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.

Bar­ing all

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.”

Awards bo­nanza

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.”

Gain­ing con­trol

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.”

By Dan MacMedan, USA TO­DAY

On her new-film soap­box: Ash­ton Kutcher stands tall, over 6 feet, while co-star Natalie Port­man is 5-foot-3. “ You re­ally chose to wear flats” to the photo shoot? Kutcher teases. “ I know!” she says.

By Paul Drinkwa­ter, NBC

Big night: Port­man wins the best-ac­tress Globe for Black Swan. Her No Strings At­tached ar­rives in the­aters Fri­day.

By Dale Robi­nette, Para­mount

Para­mount Pic­tures

Thread count: Adam ( Ash­ton Kutcher) and Emma ( Natalie Port­man) wind up in bed — many, many, many times — in No Strings At­tached. “ It’s naughty in a kind of orig­i­nal way,” di­rec­tor Ivan Reit­man says.

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