Natalie Portman takes a stab at her first romantic comedy No Strings Attached, opening Jan. 21. Luckily, rom-com veteran Ashton Kutcher co-starred in the film about friends who try to keep their relationship strictly physical, and constantly teased her on set, keeping the atmosphere light and playful. We got a chance to chat them up in a recent press conference in which they revealed their thoughts on romance, their unflinching sex scene, and Portman's Black Swan awards buzz.
Q: Natalie, you had more than a year of vigorous training for Black Swan. Were there any challenges with the quick turnaround to make No Strings Attached?
Natalie Portman: You're like, "How did you get fat so quickly?" [Laughs] It was pretty great. It was like a palate cleanser after all of that really disciplined, focused, very serious kind of set, to [then move on to] a really playful, fun movie. Everyone is still very professional, but there's an improvisational feel all the time and everyone's there to play.
Q. Ashton, what's the most romantic thing you've ever done for someone?
Ashton Kutcher: I think that romance sort of coincides with effort, so you can fall flat on your face, but as long as you're making great effort, it comes off as romantic.... I'm a little bit of a workaholic, and I was in a different country and I had one day off. I flew from that different country just to see someone for an hour then had to turn around and get back.
Q. Do you think friendship can survive sex without feelings?
Kutcher: I don't know that it's completely possible. I wouldn't know. I haven't been fortunate enough to try one of those relationships out. I really think that whoever you're with ultimately needs to be your friend, so all the really successful, happy relationships that I know of, the people that are together are friends anyway.
Q. Ashton, this was Natalie's first romantic comedy. Did you teach her anything or do anything to make her feel at ease on set?
Kutcher: I learned more from Natalie in one day on set together than I could ever possibly teach her in a billion years. She may not have done a rom-com before, but she's done so much work on so many different levels. I even watched Garden State; it's comedic in and of itself, but [it also has these] true, specific, organic performances, and I don't know that there's anything I can really teach her.
Portman: That's very sweet. He would always tease me. "Are you wearing flats again? Really?" [Laughs]
Kutcher: It was mostly height jokes. She looks like my child when we stand next to each other. [Laughs] I asked her if she could reach the pedals in the car one day. That didn't go over very well.
Q. You advocate safe sex in the film. Can you comment on the prevalence of sex in the movie and how it may affect teens?
Portman: Well, I'm not a teen, so it's the first thing I'll say. I'm a grown up.
Kutcher: Even though she's small. [Laughs]
Portman: It's deceptive.
Kutcher: I questioned it myself. [Laughs]
Portman: Obviously, it is really prevalent in our country. We have so much sex in our media that's disassociated with emotions… and they really do belong together…
Kutcher: From a purely entertainment point of view, to create a movie with a female lead that is empowered with her own sexuality, I think is a really, really powerful thing. I think if we could give teenage people something to think about from a sex perspective, I would say that it would be to start opening up a conversation where women are empowered with their own sexual experiences from an educational level as well as an entertainment level.
Portman: That was good! [Laughs] All the girls are like, "Yes, Ashton, you're totally right."
Q. The first sex scene was unflinching. Did you get embarrassed? How did you approach it?
Portman: I'm pretty immature so I get embarrassed easily. The nice thing was we did the scene pretty deep into the shoot. We already had a comfortable – as comfortable as you can be in that scenario – relationship.
Kutcher: I was wearing sweat pants. [Laughs] I think you're always wondering when the word "cut" is going to be said…. It was sort of technical, too. [Director] Ivan [Reitman] comes back and says, "I think you need to orgasm sooner." And your male machismo is saying, "No no no, it's gonna take me much longer than this." [Laughs] I just start by apologizing. Somebody [once said] – I think it was Sir Laurence Olivier. When in doubt, use Sir Laurence Olivier. [Laughs] He said, "I apologize if I get aroused, and I apologize if I do not get aroused." You have to say it with the accent. There's always that sort of awkward state. Let's act like nothing happened. Then you see how good of an actor you really are.
Q. Natalie, you have a mix of movies coming up. What influenced you to go this route?
Portman: It was a great opportunity to get to do a lot of different things in a year. I feel like I learned so much from doing all these different types of movies, and back to back because you bring the research and the seriousness and the discipline of doing a drama into something like Thor, and you bring the humor and improvisational attitude of something like Your Highness into Black Swan. It was really a lucky order because I did Your Highness, Black Swan, Thor, then No Strings Attached.
Q. What would a Best Actress Oscar mean to you?
Portman: The company in which it puts you, even to be mentioned among these other women, is a huge honor and a huge compliment. It's just extremely flattering and meaningful just to be among these other people.