Barbara Hershey Is Riveting in 'Black Swan' as Natalie Portman's Dark, Controlling Mother

Hershey is riveting as Natalie Portman's controlling mother.

November 29, 2010, 9:57 AM

Dec. 1, 2001—, 2010 -- Watch your back, Faye Dunaway. There's a new "Mommie Dearest" figure in town, and she's going to give you a run for your money.

Veteran actress Barbara Hershey -- she starred in "Hannah and Her Sisters," "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Beaches" -- has a pivotal role in "Black Swan." She's the big screen's newly christened mother-from-hell -- menacing, controlling and, for good measure, downright creepy.

Most of the recent media focus on "Black Swan," which opens Friday, has been on Natalie Portman as Nina, a ballerina on the rise. But without Nina's mom, Erica, there would be no story.

"Erica loves Nina, but Erica is not balanced or mentally healthy herself," Hershey told "Without Erica's control, could Nina even function as a ballerina or take care of herself?"

"I was fascinated by all the contradictions in Erica," said Hershey. "She lives vicariously through Nina, is competitive with her, yet worries about her and tries to protect her. They need each other. Nina needs Erica to function and to be a ballerina; Erica needs Nina to live. It's a symbiotic relationship."Immediately after the movie's ravishing opening, signs of impending disaster are quick to manifest.

Nina, a young adult, addresses Erica as "Mommy." The daughter's bedroom is still full of plush toys. Mom swoops down -- a brilliant mashup of fussiness, anger and solicitude -- after noticing that Nina has been aggressively and self-destructively scratching herself.

There are also unmistakable sexual innuendos. "At times, Erica is very male with Nina," said Hershey. "There's ownership in having your hands on someone. Erica undresses Nina, removes her earrings, clips her nails and is always stroking her hair. When someone loses control over the person they're controlling, they often lose control over themselves."

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