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From Black Swan to rom-com

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Most romantic comedies end with a kiss, a reward following a romantic pursuit. “No Strings Attached,” however, just gets down to business.  


The film, featuring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, hits theaters Friday. The Lantern was among a small group of college newspapers selected to attend a press screening and conference, all expenses paid, in Los Angeles.


The press conference included director Ivan Reitman and screenwriter Liz Meriwether, as well as Portman and Kutcher.


Emma, played by Portman, is a doctor-in-training who works 80 hours a week. She isn’t one for emotional involvement, so she opts for a “friends with benefits” relationship with longtime friend Adam (Kutcher) instead. Emma doesn’t have a lot of free time, but she makes time for one thing: sex.


Emma and Adam don’t dilly-dally with their relationship; they make it clear they want sex and nothing more. Meriwether said this is a much-needed update to romantic comedies.


“I think it’s the way relationships come together these days,” Meriwether said. “I think a lot of romantic comedies need to catch up to what’s actually happening.”


A film that focuses on a “friends with benefits” relationship features many sex scenes, something Portman and Kutcher said never comes comfortably.


“I think you’re always waiting, wondering when the word ‘cut’ is going to be said when you’re doing those scenes,” Kutcher said.


Portman said the best way to handle steamy scenes is to pretend like nothing ever happened.


“You’re like, ‘So, what are you doing this weekend?’ You know, just totally benign conversation in between to make it all normal,” Portman said.


Despite the admitted awkwardness, the two look and interact like a natural couple, a connection that was evident to Reitman.


“I just really believe in their chemistry,” Reitman said. “They’re clearly exciting to look at together in every form.”


When Kutcher’s character wants to take their friendship further, it’s Portman’s character that pushes him away. Portman connects Emma’s commitment issues with the character’s early loss of her father.


“It was about having this incredible loss early and wanting to be this sort of pillar for her family, not wanting to get hurt,” Portman said.


Reitman said he values the real life issues the film’s characters go through.


“When I started working with (Meriwether) on this thing, I just loved the words, I loved the situations,” Reitman said.


While Reitman is re-embracing comedy, Portman is attempting romantic comedy for the first time. “No Strings Attached” is a stark contrast from her last role in “Black Swan.”


“It was a pretty great palette cleanser after that really disciplined, focused, very serious kind of set,” Portman said.


Kutcher said Portman didn’t need any acting advice, but she did require a little teasing.


“It was mostly height jokes,” Kutcher said of the 5-foot-3-inch actress. “She looks like my child when we stand next to each other.”


Kutcher’s 6-foot-3-inch frame creates a foot-long gap between the two actors, but that really doesn’t matter when the characters spend most of the film off their feet.

“Being horizontal gave us the only opportunity for a tight shot,” Portman said.


Having Portman and Kutcher lay horizontally not only provides the best camera angles, but also gives the film an “R” rating.


Reitman said the rating is “particularly for language and ideas.” The film’s sex scenes are tame and Kutcher’s unclothed behind is the most viewers see.

Meriwether and Reitman made sure the scenes were tasteful and sent a message of safe sex.


“Yes, fake condoms were used in our fake sex scenes,” Portman said.


“But people should wear real condoms,” Meriwether said, laughing.


“Exactly, not prop condoms,” Portman said.

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