Courtesy of Vogue

Actress Natalie Portman hits her mark on the cover of Vogue magazine's January 2011 issue. Happily, she looks more like a hopeful young dancer than the demented ballerina she plays in her current hit, "Black Swan." In the revealing profile, Portman peels back her good-girl reputation.

For the cover, she wears a graceful, hand-pleated J. Mendel silk chiffon dress in blush pink, accessorized simply with Tiffany & Co. rose-cut diamond earrings. Her makeup (all Dior) is soft and natural.

In the photo spread, however, the drama ratchets up. Shot in a suggestively timeworn former hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Portman channels a ghostly romanticism.

With ragged strips of lace woven into her waved hair and wound around her neck, she twirls barefoot through a grand but empty room. The photos evoke a touch of Miss Havisham -- or perhaps a modern couture version of "Giselle," the classic ballet in which the heroine's spirit haunts her lost love.

The images throughout are by Peter Lindbergh, who recently rejoined Vogue's stable of photographers. In an accompanying video from the photo shoot on Vogue.com, Portman praised the "ethereal" atmosphere created by Lindbergh and fashion editor Tonne Goodman.

In one image, Portman wears an ivory version of the J. Mendel pleated dress from the ballet-influenced spring 2011 collection. A cream Chloé dress with a draped bodice also hints at dancewear, while a Valentino gown drifts in a layer of tulle.

The profile by Joan Juliet Buck, however, is anything but ethereal. Portman opens up about stripping off her sweet public image, her tough times at college and her attraction to extremes.

Courtesy of Vogue

As Buck points out, "Black Swan" is not the first time the pristinely beautiful Portman gets down and dirty, nor will it be the last. Portman clearly relished the chance to tackle the role's darker, sexier scenes. Portman says, "because it's me, people are shocked. I see the value of a good-girl persona -- it's so easy to subvert it!"

Her next films lighten up with raunchy humor, including the friends-with-benefits comedy "No Strings Attached" and the medieval-stoner spoof "Your Highness."

With her own production company, Portman seeks out funny scripts. She tells Buck of her quest for "that guy-movie tone, but with women -- who are generally not allowed to be beautiful and funny, and certainly not vulgar."

Portman's days playing a raucously potty-mouthed warrior princess are a far cry from her difficult period at Harvard University.

"I gained my freshman fifteen or 20 and had superdepressed moments," she confided to Buck. "That Cambridge winter is tough....You start learning how to ask your friends or professionals for help, or go to mentors."

Now she splits her time between New York and L.A., where she sometimes goes for hikes with Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the Rodarte designers who created costumes for "Black Swan."

Portman doesn't miss her pointe shoes, however. "I think I maxed out on my ballet," she ruefully laughs on Vogue.com. "I love going, I love seeing it, but in terms of doing it, I'll leave it to the people who are the experts."

Since she's now dating New York City Ballet dancer Benjamin Millepied, she's got an expert at her fingertips.

Vogue's January issue spins into newsstands on Dec. 21.

Meanwhile, check out Vogue's earliest covers dating back to the 1900's!

To discover the secrets behind Portman's dramatic look in "Black Swan," read on!