Natalie Portman took her fans by surprise this week with a big announcement: She’s pregnant and engaged to marry her Black Swan choreographer, Benjamin Millepied. But that’s hardly the only excitement she’s got coming in the new year. The 29-year-old actress — who graces the cover of this week’s Oscar Race issue — is poised to score a Best Actress nomination for her career-high turn as a tormented ballerina in Black Swan, a role she says nearly destroyed her. “There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die,” she says. “It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down.” Instead, the performance has lifted Portman into the ranks of Oscar shoe-ins this year (alongside 127 Hours star and Oscar co-host James Franco, who also gets his own EW cover this week) and turned Black Swan into an unlikely box office star — with a little help from a steamy love scene between Portman and co-star Mila Kunis. “Everyone was so worried about who was going to want to see this movie,” Portman says. “I remember them being like, ‘How do you get guys to a ballet movie? How do you get girls to a thriller?’ And the answer is a lesbian scene. Everyone wants to see that.”
For more on Portman and Franco, plus Oscar picks from EW’s Dave Karger, check out this week’s issue, on stands Friday, December 31st.