Interview: Darren Aronofsky Part 5

Last month, I had another chance to sit down and talk with Darren Aronofsky, the director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain, about his new film The Wrestler. We’re going to call this part five because it continues the series of interviews regarding The Wrestler that began at the Toronto International Film Festival (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). You can read the fourth part, which was on the site yesterday, at this link. In the fifth and final part of our Wrestler series, I talk to Aronofsky about 3D, IMAX, High Definition filmmaking, The Fighter, Robocop, Watchmen, hopes for a 5.1 audio remix of Pi and more.

Q: The crumbling ballroom, when and how did you find that place?

Darren Aronofsky: We were scouting Asbury Park. I was like Evan Rachel Wood in the movie. I looked through the crack. I said, “What the hell’s that space?” I could see it through the crack. I was, “Let’s get in there.” We actually never scouted it until we actually shot it. We didn’t have that type of budget. I saw it and  was like, “Get me permission to get in there. That’s the location. Let’s get in there.” On the day of we had permission to go in. I think actually Bruce [Springsteen] might own it. I think he’s bought up, through a corporation, a lot of Asbury Park and they’re redoing it. I don’t know. I’m not sure. You may have to fact check that. That’s what I’ve heard. It’s an old casino. It says casino on the outside. I don’t know if it was a gambling casino or what it was, but it’s just this beautiful space.

Q: It looks like a ballroom.

Darren Aronofsky: Yes. That’s why we improvised the dance. I walked in there and I said, “Mickey, are you going to ask Evan to dance?” Mickey doesn’t like to dance. I was like, “Are you going to waltz? You’re going to waltz. You’re going to waltz here.” He’s like, “I can’t waltz.” I’m like, “I’ll teach you how to waltz.” So there’s a video of me teaching Mickey how to waltz, which is a pretty embarrassing video. I said, “Let’s just give it a shot and see what happens.” I wanted something. It was very much like that scene in Requiem when they break into the building and they go to the roof and they set off the alarm and all that stuff. In the script it was actually, I think it was a snowball fight they had, something silly. I think originally in The Wrestler script they were going to go play skee-ball. Then we realized Asbury Park doesn’t have skee-ball. Then we turned it into a snowball fight. Then it didn’t snow. I was like, “Okay, they need to do something that’s kind of silly and endearing.” That night we saw that space and I said, “All right. They’ll just break in here and do something illegal and then do something touching.” I remember afterwards, Evan walked away and she was sobbing. She had some personal connection with her own life, which is her story to tell. But she really resisted at the beginning. But then afterwards really was glad that she did it. Those things happen.

Q: It seems like much of the process of making this film was you making Mickey do things that he doesn’t want to do and laughing about it.

Darren Aronofsky: There’s a certain amount of that. Mickey is definitely a coaster. He’ll put his feet up on the table and just sort of– He’s like that kid in high school who did no work and got B+’s the whole time, because he’s got so much talent that he’s able to do it. Yes, it was pushing Mickey a lot. My biggest accomplishment on the film was that he wears no sunglasses in the entire movie. Every day Mickey showed up with a pair of sunglasses and it was about convincing him that they don’t want to see the sunglasses. “Mickey, people want to look at your eyes. That’s why they’re paying money. That’s why they’re here.” He knows that. He’s so much armor and he’s so soft inside. Did you meet him yet?

Q: Yes. Even at that party in Toronto he was wearing the sunglasses. It was a pretty dark place.

Darren Aronofsky: Yes. He’s got a lot of armor. He’s got a really soft interior and he’s really gentle. He’s got a lot of love and a lot of soul and a lot of spirit. He just hides it because he’s just afraid. There’s a lot of fear. I think like the outbursts he’s had and all that stuff is just out of fear. He was always resisting that. It was like, “No, you can’t have sunglasses. Yes, you have to sing Round and Round. Yes, you have to dance to Round and Round, Mickey.” I think Mickey would rather– Mickey likes to hang out. I think that’s kind of the feeling you get in the film is like he’s just hanging out in the movie.

Q: One of the things I noticed in the film is that Mickey does a lot of work playing off the way he breathes. Was that one of your directions or was that his choice?

Darren Aronofsky: I think it came naturally. Mickey is sort of like that. We pushed it a bit. North Dallas Forty, do you know that film?

Q: Yes.

Darren Aronofsky: Do you know that wake-up scene with Nick Nolte? I watched that with Mickey, because Mickey’s a big fan of the film. We looked at it and talked about it. As soon as Mickey started doing it, I talked to our sound recorders and I said, “We need a lav on him at all times. You need to be recording him at all times, even when the camera’s not rolling. We just want those grunts.” Then when we went into looping, which Mickey completely says he never does, but he gave me three days. It was a negotiation. But he told me very early on, “I never loop.” I’m like, “Mickey, you’re the star of the film. You’re going to have to do some looping.” He’s actually very good at it. I think, once again, it’s work and he’s kind of lazy. He did it. I had him go for about 20-30 minutes of just making those grunts and then we sort of sprinkled them around wherever we needed to pepper them. Mickey was doing it anyway. I think Mickey also was sore because of all the training he was doing. He’ll talk about it, but like six months of the bodybuilding to put on the 35 pounds, then three months of the wrestling training. He lived on a third floor walkup and he talks about how his trainer would have to push him up the stairs to get up the three flights to get home, because he was so sore. He really worked really hard to do it. He was also dealing with a lot of physical issues. I don’t know his age. It’s anywhere between 51 and 67 or something. You think about a 50-something year old guy doing what he did physically. It’s really tough.

Q: Definitely. I want to get your opinion on a couple things here. When RoboCop was first announced, they were saying it was going to be 3D. I think you’ve since said that it isn’t going to be.

Darren Aronofsky: There’s been no discussions about it. I love 3D, but there’s been no discussions. There’s not even a screenplay. Everything’s very premature. Everyone loves announcements, especially the Internet. For me it was like it’s a really interesting title that’s really big, which I definitely have interest in doing. The studio’s a very exciting place. I love the people there.

Q: You haven’t started work with that? You’re still developing the screenplay?

Darren Aronofsky: We’ve finished the treatment just like a week ago. The studio was very excited. Now we’re writing the screenplay. There’s nothing. Until there’s a screenplay, everyone wants to spend all those zeros on it. It’s not a discussion. It doesn’t really exist. Hopefully, things will continue to move forward well. We’ll see.

Q: Sorry to direct it to RoboCop, but I actually wanted to get your opinion on 3D. What is your feeling on 3D? I don’t think I’ve ever read an interview where you talked about 3D.

Darren Aronofsky: I actually haven’t seen the new technology of 3D. I haven’t seen any of these films in 3D. The first one was like Polar Express. Was that one of them?

Q: Yes, I think so.

Darren Aronofsky: I didn’t see that. I haven’t seen anything yet. I’m dying to. I didn’t go to see the other one, Beowulf. But I remember 3D as a kid and when it came out. There was like a brief window of it. I don’t know when it was, maybe the late 1970s or early 1980s, it must have been, probably the early 1980s.

Q: It was very gimmicky.

Darren Aronofsky: It was very gimmicky. I saw a couple of them and it was great. I loved it as a kid. I think it’s really interesting. The whole question I just have is the whole headache issue and that type of stuff. Also, a guy with glasses, “Am I okay?” Are you okay when you go and see them?

Q: Yes.

Darren Aronofsky: They slide over?

Q: Yeah, they slide over.

Darren Aronofsky: I haven’t done it yet. I am really not the good guy to ask. But the money it’s making, the way IMAX is making, it seems like adding to the event spectacle of movies is always helpful.

Q: That’s my next question, IMAX. Did you see The Dark Knight in IMAX?

Darren Aronofsky: I didn’t see it in IMAX. I went to a screening and I just saw it in the normal projection. Was there a big difference?

Q: A huge difference. I highly recommend it when they re-release it in January.

Darren Aronofsky: Oh, they’re going to re-release it in January?

Q: Yes, for award season. They’re doing–

Darren Aronofsky: Oh, they’re doing some of that. I’ll check it out.

Q: That seems to be the big buzz. Everybody’s asking, “Are you going to be doing any scenes in IMAX?” Obviously, you haven’t seen it, but I highly recommend checking it out. I’d love to see what you could do on the huge screen. It expands from normal widescreen to the full screen.

Darren Aronofsky: Right. I’ll tell you, when I go to the movies, I like sitting in the back so I can feel the whole screen. I don’t like going– Tarantino always talks about sitting in the front rows. Is that who it is? Someone like that? I don’t know. I thought it was him. Anyway, I like to go to the very back. Otherwise, I get a little eye strain and a little nauseous and stuff. Also, I like to see. I think the frame is part of the picture. I think it’s like if you go to an art gallery and if you don’t see the edges of a painting, you’re not really seeing it. I like to sit back and feel the blackness around it. That’s why I hate when they have exit signs right by the edge. I don’t go to movie theaters where there’s exit signs. I want to see like a black frame around it and get lost that way. I sit pretty far back. But then you get screwed with the surrounds and stuff. It’s really hard. I’m really picky and choosy on the movie theaters I go to.

Q: Definitely. What is your feeling on shooting in HD, HD filmmaking?

Darren Aronofsky: Does that include Zodiac? Would Zodiac be an HD film? I think that was the first film I saw that was completely convincing and that looked as beautiful as film. I think with low-end video there’s been a lot of successful features, from Blair Witch to Celebration. That’s one way of pushing video. Then there’s other ways of trying to make video look as beautiful as film. I think Fincher and Harris Savides completely pulled it off in Zodiac. I thought that film looked amazing. It was funny. There was one shot I had an issue with. When I worked with Harris I talked to him about it. I said, “There was one shot.” He knew the exact shot I was talking about. But I think it took them a lot of time to make it look that good. First of all, the technology they were walking around with, they had a giant refrigerator following them to store all this stuff, at least my understanding of it. But when it gets into a handheld with that quality and it has the responsiveness of film, I don’t think there’s a difference. The thing about film is that it’s more like the human eye still. The way it sees contrast, it just has more– the whites don’t blow out and the darks don’t disappear. It kind of gives you a good balance. I think it really matters what’s the right tool for the medium. I think if we had shot The Wrestler in video, it would have fallen apart. I think giving it the film and the widescreen aspect makes it feel bigger in some way, because it’s part of our visual language. But then Danny Boyle shot on video, didn’t he, for Slumdog?

Q: Yes, he did Slumdog.

Darren Aronofsky: It looked gorgeous.

Q: I think that’s a smart approach to it. A lot of people, like Robert Zemeckis and James Cameron, they’re pioneering this whole new level of filmmaking, but they’re looking at it like this is a better way to make films, rather than a better way to tell the required story.

Darren Aronofsky: It’s great that they’re pioneering and I’m so happy there’s technicians like James Cameron. The fact that whatever he’s doing with Avatar is going to be off-the-shelf technology in three years. It’s really exciting as a filmmaker. That’s how quick it takes. I remember when he did morphing in what, T2? Yes, it was T2 was the morphing guy?

Q: Yes.

Darren Aronofsky: Two years later you could buy it on a laptop for nothing. It’s great. He does this. In The Abyss he did all that water stuff that ended up. Now anyone can do it. It’s great that he has the money and the support to do that stuff. I know the filmmakers can use those tools and do it. I’d say I’ve kind of come from the school, just because I’ve never been in a place where I can pioneer technology. You need a lot of money behind you. I think I’m more into the scrappy or garage take of taking these techniques and then kind of figuring out new ways of using them. That’s kind of been my attitude towards it.

Q: I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask about The Fighter and whole Brad Pitt thing that recently went on.

Darren Aronofsky: Brad Pitt was never attached.

Q: Wasn’t there a report in the trades?

Darren Aronofsky: There probably was, but he was never attached. He read it and was considering it, but he didn’t come on it. It’s very complicated. It’s deep into studio politics over at Paramount. There’s also a lot of money against it. Me and Mark Wahlberg really want to make it and Scott Silver, the writer. It’s just really complicated. It’s unfortunately complicated to make because of the context it’s sitting in right now. It’s a great script. Hopefully, it will get made at some point. It’s just kind of mired in a lot of stuff.

Q: In Toronto we talked about a lot of the projects you’ve been attached to or weren’t attached to and you cleared up some of that stuff. I’m wondering what project did you have within your grasp that you regret not being able to make?

Darren Aronofsky: I don’t actually regret any of them of the ones that came through. The film I ended up making was really the film I wanted to make. Making The Fountain cost me the opportunity to make a bunch of movies. That whole time I was completely focused and interested in making The Fountain. I ended up getting to make the film I wanted to make. I don’t really look back and regret it. I’m excited to see– The only one that comes near some regret, I spent one week on The Watchmen. I can’t wait to see it. It looks great. You saw 20 minutes of it, right?

Q: No, I didn’t. I saw minutes of Trek last week.

Darren Aronofsky: Of Trek which looks good?

Q: It looks good. It looks very different. It looks very Star Wars.

Darren Aronofsky: It’s a very complicated thing he undertook. But I’m really looking forward to Watchmen. By everything I’ve seen, it looks pretty amazing. I think he did a great job. As a fan I’m excited to see that. It’s rare as a fan when you get really, really juiced up. You take off a day of work and take the whole company down. We used to do it all the time, but it’s been a long time since there’s been something to see. We’d go opening day to the opening screening. That will definitely be for Watchmen.

Q: How many people are involved with Protoza?

Darren Aronofsky: It’s me, there’s two development guys, Ari Handel and Mark Hayman, and then there’s a lot of producers loosely attached to us. We’re going to start trying to produce more stuff. Then there’s like a support team. So it’s like seven or eight people.

Q: Do you think Warner Bros will ever release The Fountain with the commentary track you recorded and released online?

Darren Aronofsky: I really hope that some day I get the ability to be able to redo that DVD or whatever it turns out, that download or whatever. I had no input on it. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t get to. I didn’t have that type of power to get it made the way I wanted to get it made. So to me, it’s an eyesore. I’d really like to do it the proper way and give it the right release of paths. I have all these other surprises for it. Maybe at one point I’ll get the chance to do that.

Q: I think it was great that you released the commentary track on online.

Darren Aronofsky: Yes. It was fun for the fans and everything. People appreciated it. It’s been great. This tour has been great and seeing the underground Fountain movement. There’s been so many people who have come up to me and just talk about their personal experiences with it. That’s been really rewarding.

Q: Your other two films, when are they going to be on Blu-ray?

Darren Aronofsky: They’re not?

Q: I thought I looked last night…

Darren Aronofsky: You might be right. I have no idea. I went to Lionsgate. It’s the tenth anniversary of Pi this year. I was like, “Let’s do a 5.1 mix and update it.” It would be great. Update it, but I couldn’t get them to do it. That film comes back to me in 10 years. I get it.

Q: Oh really?

Darren Aronofsky: Yes. I get full control of that film in 10 years. I’ll be able to do something with it. Hopefully, Requiem there’s some technical issues with the DVD. There’s some technical fuck-ups that need to be repaired as well. At some point we’ll get back into that. It would be great for Pi to do a digital remastering of it at some point. I would love to do that.

Q: Do you think Hollywood will ever remake Pi?

Darren Aronofsky: Never. Now that the economy’s gone to shit, who knows? I’d be more interested in a Broadway play. Actually, in Europe they want to do a stage production of Requiem. I was like, “Go for it.”

Q: Really?

Darren Aronofsky: Yes, it would be great.

Q: That’s awesome.

Darren Aronofsky: It would be very funny.

Q: My last question is your short films, like Supermarket Sweep, when are those ever going to be available or will they ever be available?

Darren Aronofsky: For your short–

Q: Yes. Big director, small films I’d love to–

Darren Aronofsky: You’re embarrassing me.

Q: I’ve never even seen them. Usually I get sent stuff. No one’s ever–

Darren Aronofsky: Do you get permission from the guys to do that?

Q: Sometimes but most of the time it is readily available.

Darren Aronofsky: Student work. It was a little bit embarrassing. Maybe at some point you’ll convince me to do Supermarket Sweep. I did a documentary before that, a little portrait film. I have to get them digitized. That’s a problem, because it’s predigitized.

Q: So it’s film?

Darren Aronofsky: They’re all film. Some of them are on videotape, but they’re probably on like some weird beta cam format and you probably can’t even find a deck to transfer them. At some point maybe I could convince technical to do a remastering of it, scan it and do it. Maybe if I actually get paid one day I’ll be able to afford to do that. I have the negatives in storage. Maybe at some point I’ll get them up. I’d love to do that for you, but if I get them digitized, I’ll do that because I’m sure there’s some rights issues with some of this stuff.

Q: The other thing, it seems like supermarkets are in a lot of your films.

Darren Aronofsky: They are.

Q: Why is that?

Darren Aronofsky: I have an issue with supermarkets. Not an issue, but I have a fascination, an issue with supermarkets. They’ve just been a big part of– I just think– I haven’t actually analyzed it in a long time, but they show up a lot. It’s true. It’s in Requiem. Pi there’s no supermarket, is there?

Q: I don’t think so.

Darren Aronofsky: And The Fountain there’s no supermarket. I’m a big fan of supermarkets. I don’t know what else to say.

Q:  It was great talking with you.

Darren Aronofsky: It was great seeing you again, Peter. The next time I’m in town we’ll do lunch or something, maybe less rushed.

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