Interview: Darren Aronofksy – Part 2

Darren Aronofsky is the director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain. His latest film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and was bought by Fox Searchlight the morning after it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival (You can read my review here). Earlier this week, I was granted the chance to sit down with Aronofsky for a half hour interview. You can read the first part of the interview here. We will be running the final part tomorrow. Enjoy.

Peter Sciretta: How was your experience with the wrestling fans? I can imagine…

Darren Aronofsky: They were fantastic. They were hilarious. Look, I’ll tell you a funny story. We went out to shoot that final Ayatollah match. And this was set after Mickey sliced his thumb [in the story timeline]. One time we forgot to put the tape on and someone from the audience screamed that he forgot the tape on his thumb. “You forgot the tape!” And I heard it. And I was like, “Oh shit, we’ve got to tape him”. So the whole audience started screaming, “You fucked up!” Then Mickey came out and did that big heart-felt speech. I didn’t tell the audience it was going to happen. I just sent Mickey out there, because I just wanted to see what would happen with the audience. I was into this “live thing”. But the audience was shouting responses and they were stepping all over his lines. They didn’t show any respect to it. So I went out there and I was like “You guys, this is a heart felt moment. This is a man at the end of his career who you love and you respect…” And then they all started screaming. “We fucked up. We fucked up.” So they were great! The Ring of Honor audience was great. The CZW audience were obviously very rowdy and cursing us out. There’s that YouTube video where they attack us. But they loved it. They couldn’t help themselves but to be rude. And then the first match, that first match for Afa’s promotion, WXW was much more controllable.

Peter Sciretta: This is the first film you didn’t write? Were you involved part of the writing process?

Darren Aronofsky: me and my team at Protozoa did a lot of development, and really worked with Rob a lot. And that’s why I took a producing credit, which I’ve never done before. The structure and the bones of it was a collaboration between us and Rob. But Rob also added the humor. He wrote the Passion of the Christ line and he wrote the great Kurt Cobain line. He brought details that were just fantastic in the project.

Peter Sciretta: Did the budget dictate the style or was that a choice you specifically made?

Darren Aronofsky: I kind of wanted to do the project, wanting to free myself from the technical work I had been doing in The Fountain. And actually I should say, for me, Pi, Requiem and The Fountain were really a trilogy. I kind of call it like my mind, body, spirit trilogy. Pi – being mind, Requiem – being body and The Fountain – being spirit.

Peter Sciretta: That’s awesome…

Darren Aronofsky: And as far as a progression of style. Even though I hope they are unique of each other, there’s definitely connections between them. That was for me as a filmmaker, I was growing and developing a language. But if Madonna taught us anything, it’s that you’ve got to reinvent yourself. And I really believe that and so I kind of felt like The Fountain was everything I wanted to do, in the sense that everything in it, every frame, every sound effect on the speakers was thought about, and controlled and tweaked to what we wanted. And I just wanted to throw that out the window. That was a big part when I cast Mickey. I realized what type of actor he was. I wanted him to create an environment where he could completely roam free. So I hired Maryse Alberti to be the cinematographer. Maryse has done a lot of fiction work, but has also done a lot of documentary. So we just sort of lit up the spaces so that we could just basically let Mickey roam. We did crazy things like at that big wrestling match when I told Mickey to just “Go back stage” after their match ends. And that was not scripted. Those guys didn’t know we were coming. That was the first take and the only take, and we just put the camera on our shoulder and we followed Mickey through the crowd. And they just reacted. The wrestlers were great because they are entertainers and they’re used to cameras so they were just totally natural in front of the camera, and they just went for it. So we could do things like that.

Peter Sciretta: That was one of my favorite shots of the film, that and the sequence where Mickey first goes to the deli and it’s almost like him walking through the backstage area while getting ready to make his entrance to the ring.

Darren Aronofsky:
He did not like that scene, just so you know. Because he just felt the shame of Randy the Ram. Most of it was improvised; in fact a lot of those customers were not actors, they were real customers and we just started filming. They knew the camera was there, and we were like, “Hey! Do you mind if we shoot this?” I don’t know if they knew Mickey Rourke but they were like, “OK. Fine.” That woman ordering the chicken, that just happened. Really. All improvised. The supermarket was open and people were coming up to him. We didn’t shut down. We didn’t have the budget to shut the super market down. We were just behind the deli counter and people were shopping. We would kind of control them with PA’s. One of the managers came up and said “You know, the check out people can’t read Mickey’s handwriting.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” Apparently some people were trying to buy some of the things that Mickey was filling out. I mean Mickey’s scribbling random numbers. He doesn’t know what anything is. And customers actually went home with the food that Mickey put together.

Peter Sciretta: That is funny. That is really funny.

Darren Aronofsky: Yeah.

Peter Sciretta: And I noticed that some of the people in the Deli sequence also had the last name of Aronofsky.

Darren Aronofsky: Yeah, my parents. Both of them have been in all the films, so it was great to bring them back in.

Peter Sciretta: How did Mickey’s training go? There’s some sequences in there where he’s fighting and it looks like a real wrestling match of an older wrestler.

Darren Aronofsky: He did every single move in that film. He performed everything in that film. And he wanted to. We hired Afa. I don’t know if you remember the Wild Samoans. Afa is a great wrestling teacher, now out in Allentown. He put together a team of guys who trained Mickey for three months to do it. As he got deeper and deeper into it, he wanted to do more and more and more challenging and more and more difficult things, which scared the shit out of me. As a director concerned for his safety, but as you know, he didn’t want to look like a sap. One of his trainers, Tommy Rotten, came up to me last night and said, “he’s better than 80 percent of the guys in the WWE right now. And there’s not a wrestler in the world who will see this movie and not think Mickey is a wrestler.” Yes, Mickey is athletic, we know he was a boxer. But boxing and wrestling are opposites in many ways, even though they both take place in the ring. Mickey explained to me, that in boxing you hide where you’re going, you don’t want people to see your moves. But wrestling is the exact opposite, you’re showing them. It’s complete broadness. Boxing is like a simple quick, can’t see it, wrestling is all about being seen. So it actually hurt Mickey having been trained as a boxer. I had to constantly watch him and make sure he wasn’t moving like a boxer in the ring because they move completely differently than wrestlers. But being a boxer and trying to play a wrestler was very difficult for that reason as well as the reason is that most boxers look down on wrestling. But I think as he met Afa and as he met all these old-timers, Greg The Hammer Valentine, that he saw that it was a real art and truly a real sport. I think he learned to really respect it and I think he’s very proud.

Peter Sciretta: Did he even like the glass shot, and stuff like that?

Darren Aronofsky: No, he didn’t go through the glass, but he did get hit on the back with the bucket and so he did a lot of it. There were a few things he couldn’t do, you know. He climbed to the top rope. You saw that shot where he jumps on the top rope and mounts the other guy and does the spin. So he did a lot of crazy stuff.

Peter Sciretta: Can you talk a little about the music of The Wrestler. You have Slash doing guitar riffs for Clint Mansell’s score, and you have Bruce Springsteen… How did you pull that one off?

Darren Aronofsky: Well, Bruce Springsteen did the film for one reason. And it had nothing do with me. In fact, to be honest, I met with Bruce, and he’s heard of me, which is very flattering, but he had never seen any of my work. He did it for one reason and that was that he did it for Mickey. He’s a friend of Mickey’s. He’s a tremendous fan of Mickey’s and when he heard about this film, he felt that this was something that Mickey’s been looking for for years. So he wanted to help, and that’s the only reason he did it. And he did it for basically nothing.

Peter Sciretta: That’s awesome.

Darren Aronofsky: Purely out of love for Mickey. And so I can’t wait for him to see the movie because Asbury Park is in it and I think he’ll be psyched.

Peter Sciretta: Oh, I’m surprised he hasn’t seen the movie. You listen to that song and it’s so dead on…

Darren Aronofsky: He actually put more effort into it. He read the screenplay which is probably harder than watching the movie. He read the screenplay, knew it and basically just pumped it out. It’s a beautiful song. As Mickey says, rock stars love him, and so he got Axl [Rose] to close a deal on Sweet Child of Mine. It was really fun rediscovering all that old Hair metal and finding a place for it in the film. And then Clint did a very subtle job in this movie, as compared to what we’ve done in the past. The film really didn’t call for a big score and what I really admire about what Clint did with the help of Slash is that they did very very very subtle work.

Peter Sciretta: Yeah, I didn’t even notice it…

Darren Aronofsky: Yeah, I know, I read your video [blog].

Peter Sciretta: Speaking of boxing. What’s going on with The Fighter?

To be continued in Part 3 tomorrow. We talk about The Fighter, Robocop, The Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Darren’s Noah’s Ark project and much more!

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