'Black Swan' Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need To Know

We've been keeping up with the choreography of this ballet thriller from the start.

Long before Darren Aronofsky resurrected Mickey Rourke's career inside the ropes of a wrestling ring, the director hit upon the idea to spin a big-screen tale about a love affair between a ballet dancer and a wrestler.

"What was amazing to me was how similar the performers in both of these worlds are," he explained to MTV News. "They both make incredible use of their bodies to express themselves. They're both performers."

But Aronofsky soon realized that incorporating these two disparate athletic worlds was simply too much story for one single movie. He ended up dropping the ballet idea and making "The Wrestler," a film that nabbed two Oscar nominations. Two years later, he's picked up the ballet again for "Black Swan," the Natalie Portman-starring drama about a dancer in a highly competitive New York company. It's expected to garner even more Oscar nods.

"I've always considered the two films companion pieces," Aronofsky said. "They are really connected, and people will see the connections."

Long before we checked out "Black Swan" earlier this week, we've been connecting the dots. With the film getting a limited release Friday (December 3), here's everything you need to know about this awards-season darling.

Training for the Dance

Last June, with the status of his "RoboCop" reboot up in the air, Aronofsky veered away from his plans to make a movie about a futuristic man/bot hybrid and toward work on "Black Swan." After years of discussion with the director, Portman signed on to star in what was being described as a drama with possible supernatural overtones in which Portman's ballerina, on the verge of the biggest performance of her career, faces a terrifying question: Is her rival real or just a delusion?

"Like the way we kind of knew that Mickey Rourke was going to be in 'The Wrestler' and we were able to construct the material for him, Natalie had been attached to the film for eight or nine years; so when we were thinking about it, we were thinking about Natalie," Aronofsky told us. "First and foremost, we just wanted to make the character work and make sense of the character. Then Natalie, through her own work, was able to get to a place where she was able to play it."

By November, the rest of the cast began to come together: Mila Kunis as Portman's rival and Winona Ryder as a dancer past her prime. Vincent Cassel eventually came aboard as the company's intense director and Barbara Hershey as Portman's overbearing mother.

About That Sex Scene ...

Late that same year, rumors started floating around that the film called for Portman and Kunis to engage in a steamy sex scene. When we talked to Portman, she confirmed the scene would indeed take place. "It's a very extreme movie," she explained. "It's like very extreme situations. But it's not explicit in any way."

Yet it was explicit enough for Kunis to ban her father from watching the scene in question. "[My dad] was like, 'I don't think I should see the movie,' " she told us. "I was like, 'See the movie. There's going to be a point; get up and leave.' "

That scene, it turned out, wasn't the only sexually explicit one in the film. There's also a masturbation scene, in which Portman is caught by her mother. "So disgusting," Portman said of shooting the scene. "It was akin to the experience of watching the movie with my parents sitting next to me, let me tell you."

Raising the Curtain

The super creepy trailer dropped online in August and set the Web on fire; a prominent lesbian kiss will do that, we suppose. It was also clear that Kunis and Portman got into crazy shape for the production. As they'd tell us later, they each dropped 20 pounds and spent the entire shoot starving.

"We were on set together in tutus, emaciated and tired," Portman told us at the red-carpet premiere this week.

And the intensity of the experience continued to affect them, even after they were able to ditch their diets and eat like normal human beings. "I definitely felt both physical and mental aftershocks from the experience, because it was the first thing I've ever done that was this physically demanding on top of an emotionally demanding part," Portman explained in an earlier interview. "The kind of discipline that it demands also puts you in that space for the acting part. But yeah, it affects you in ways. I'll probably figure out how it affected me in, like, five years. I'll look back and go, 'Oh, that's why I did that and that and that.' "

Check out everything we've got on "Black Swan."

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