The Actress Roundtable

This awards season, all eyes are on these six talents, who launch THR’s annual series in a freewheeling discussion of career, craft and personal choices.

It's an annual question during Hollywood's awards season: Why are there so few great roles for women? But this year that query has disappeared. To kick off The Hollywood Reporter's annual Awards Season Roundtable Series, we invited six of the most buzzworthy actresses -- Amy Adams (The Fighter), Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, The King's Speech), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Natalie Portman (Black Swan) and Hilary Swank (Conviction) -- for a candid, hourlong discussion of their careers, the roles they wish they'd played and the sacrifices they make for their craft. The conversation took place at Siren Studios in Hollywood and was moderated by THR's Matthew Belloni and Stephen Galloway.

The Hollywood Reporter: What is your toughest moment as an actress?

Helena Bonham Carter: It's every time you start a job. "What am I doing here? I can't actually act. Someone employed me again?" I think for me, the most excruciating thing is watching myself. It's like painting a picture blind and then taking the blindfold off, and unfortunately it's nothing at all what you intended.

Amy Adams: My hardest moments have a lot to do with being unemployed, which I'm very familiar with. I was in L.A. for about six or seven years before Junebug.

THR: Is there a time you thought about giving up?

Adams: Oh yeah, absolutely. That's what is great about being an actor; you really do examine every type of life. So I fantasized about, what if I became a teacher? But the good thing is that I get to embody all these different characters and get to experience a different life. So I think I'll stay.

THR: But there must be aspects you don't like about being a full-time actress?

Adams: I feel very vulnerable. I don't like that at all. You're very subject to people's opinions. It's hard to have tough skin and a vulnerable heart. It's a delicate balance.

Hilary Swank: It's so refreshing, isn't it? To sit here and hear someone say what I think we are all probably feeling. As actors, we just lay our heart on the line. It's just part of inhabiting another person, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Like you said, you know when it doesn't.

THR: Do you know when it doesn't? At what point?

Swank: When you're making a film, you can't see it as a whole until it's done. So you're hoping that it's working and it can feel really good, and then when it comes together it might not work. Clint [Eastwood] said something that I love, which is: "You always aim for the bull's-eye, but you don't always hit it."

THR: How involved are you in the filmmaking process? For instance, Annette, for The Kids Are All Right, I read that you had encouraged director Lisa Cholodenko to move the film in a much lighter direction.

Annette Bening: I wouldn't say that. I just didn't want it to be earnest. She's too generous when she talks about me and my contributions. I do remember not wanting it to be too earnest, and that's very hard. It's easier to do that, and that's why we've all made that mistake. I didn't want it to be idealized or the "noble couple" rising against the situation they're in. It's such a serious subject -- and the more serious it is, the more hilarious it can be. And the writing is really good. There are just little things that I kind of knew that maybe we could tweak a little bit. We could take it out of it trying to be noble.

THR: Do you prefer comedy or drama?

Bening: I don't know. I have played scenes that I thought were serious where people laughed. (Laughs.) That's good writing.

Swank: I would love [to do more comedy]. I can't find the scripts; they are few and far between. I don't know about you guys, but I have a really hard time. I think there is a lot of comedy for men.

THR: Natalie, what did you think when you got the script for Black Swan?

Natalie Portman: I was actually committed to the film before the script. Darren [Aronofsky] and I had started talking about it about nine years ago when I was still in college. He had the whole idea for everything, but that was really an instance where the script was very much a blueprint. Nicole actually said something to me when we were doing Cold Mountain, and I totally remember. You said, "Always choose by director because you never know how the movie's going to turn out and you're always guaranteed an interesting experience." I've always had that in my head, and it's so true because even when the script is great, I've had the experience where sometimes someone can really botch it. Really, it does take a visionary, and if your experience is worthwhile, you always have that no matter how it turns out.

THR: When you take on certain roles, do they change you?

Portman: Oh definitely. I definitely see skinny people as sad now. It's so sad to be skinny. (Laughs.)

Bening: I didn't think you were going to say that. (Laughs.)

Portman: I used to be like, "Oh, wow, I want to look like a model too," and now I'm like, "They're sad."

Adams: I don't have the discipline to be skinny, like truly skinny.

Portman: For a few months, it's possible.

Swank: Everyone [reading] this is probably like, "What are you two talking about? You're so thin."

Portman: Yes, we're totally thin. But there's a difference between [thin] and ballet.

THR: What was the hardest thing you did physically for a role?

Nicole Kidman: I got a bad injury when I was doing Moulin Rouge; I tore some cartilage in my knee. But it was that dancing mentality where you keep dancing. It was like 3 a.m., and I was thinking, "I'm so tired and I probably shouldn't do another one in these heels, but yeah, OK, one more take, this will be it." And I just kind of fell and tore my knee up.

Swank: Didn't you also break a rib?

Kidman:I broke a rib on that too, but that was in rehearsal, so I had time to recover. (Laughs.) The knee was bad because it [lasted] the next couple of years.

Bonham Carter: There is a point where you're responsible for yourself. Sometimes there are so many people around and it costs so much to keep a crew going. But there is a point when you should say, "This isn't going to happen." But it takes a lot of courage.

Kidman: Yeah, but when you're in a role, it's almost like a high. Once we started, there was no way I was going to stop.

Adams: I did. I was doing a shoot outside in Ireland.

Bonham Carter: What was the film?

Adams: It was called Leap Year, and it was tons of weather. We were in this ridiculously strong wind all day long, and people were getting eye injuries, and then it started raining. I'm in a sweater and a pencil skirt and high heels, and I kept going, "This isn't good. I'm done." I wasn't like, "I'm going home," or I'm throwing a fit. It was like, "Guys, we're not going to get this shot. It's not going to happen."

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