Interview: Darren Aronofsky - Part 4

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. Part of the interview was a small two-person roundtable, so some of the answers might repeat some of the material we covered in Toronto interview (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Darren decided to give up 20 minutes of his lunch break to continue our talk 1:1. We're going to call this part four because it continues the series of interviews regarding The Wrestler. We'll have the last one or two parts (I'm still not sure if the remainder will be split) in the next couple days.

Q: I hope this is not a stupid question. Imagine you're a film critic and you've seen Darren Aronofsky's new film, The Wrestler. It's great but you're not quite sure how it's fitting in in the grand scheme of the Darren Aronofsy touch. How would you fit that in if you were in a film critic position?Darren Aronofsky: For me, I talked to Peter a little bit about this. The first three films were definitely a chapter for me. I don't know, maybe it's a new beginning. Some people have sort of talked about thematic connections between them. I think they're there, not that I was that conscious of them, but some people bring them up and I'm like hmmm... that's pretty interesting.Q: I think there' a couple of shots I–Darren Aronofsky: Not even shots, but like even themes about the characters seem to connect to people. I got a lot of characters falling at the end or something like that. I don't know. I just want to keep challenging myself. I think that this was definitely a real big risk for me in a lot of ways. In some ways it wasn't. It was such a small film. But in other ways I was just trying to do something completely different and working with a completely different team of filmmakers and working in a completely different way of approaching filmmaking. It just kept it interesting for me. Now I'm kind of excited to keep challenging myself in new ways and seeing what happens. I think it's important. You've got to keep it interesting somehow. Otherwise, I'm going to end up just hanging out or fishing or something.Q: Your first two films are very stylistic. Not to say that The Fountain wasn't. But it seems like in the last two you've become more minimalist or possibly more traditional in your style. Was that a specific choice on your part?Darren Aronofsky: I think the first two films were exercises in subjective filmmaking and pushing that to the extreme, trying to figure out every possible technique to put an audience member into the characters' heads. Pi was constructed that way because I had a limited budget and that became kind of the strategy of how to turn that limited budget into a strength. It was to really cut back on cutting away to the bad guys and really making a whole visual language that was all about pushing the audience into Max Cohen's head. Requiem, a big reason that I was attracted to it is when I read the novel, I realized that Selby's a very subjective writer and constantly going into fantasy and to dream. It would allow me to kind of expand on the thing I was doing in Pi, but with a bigger budget and color and with more time and with four characters. So when I read that opening scene of the novel and I saw the mom locked in the closet and the kid stealing the TV, I instantly had this idea of a split screen sort of showing the audience, "Oh, we're going to see two very personal stories here from two different perspectives." Then eventually it opened up into four perspectives. They were really exercises and really pushing subjective filmmaking. When I got to The Fountain, it was kind of a transition. I was definitely done with that as an exploration and also the subject matter of The Fountain was much more– It was a romance and it allowed me to move more towards the objective, although I still kind of played a little bit with getting into Tommy's head and into his reality. It was kind of a transition and kind of expanding my style, I guess. I think getting to The Wrestler was really just going in the completely opposite direction. Basically, the film is 98 percent objective. It's like a documentary. I call it proactive documentary, because I think in a real documentary everything is reactive. If you're watching Cops and a guy runs away and then a second later the camera chases after the guy and goes after him, we didn't have that second delay. We kind of knew what the scene was about and we knew where Mickey or Marisa was going to go. So we were able to choreograph that. We kind of had this proactive style where we were working with the actor to give a documentary feeling, allow realism to happen, but we were ready for it. There's no really internal sound stuff, except for maybe two or three times I used it, which was like during the heart attacks and when he's walking to the deli counter and the crowd comes up. Otherwise, besides that, there's never a personal sound beat. I kind of really didn't want to do that, but I couldn't resist. It's actually a little weak. People responded to those moments, I think

Q: Maybe it works that there's only two of them.

Darren Aronofsky: Yes, but I'm a very orthodox filmmaker in the sense that I try to be very strict with my rules, because I think it adds to the language. I think sometimes it's okay to bend the rules for a good moment. It's just a growth. I don't know how it answers your question, but [my] style is changing.Q: I thought you were going to say that Mickey Rourke wouldn't let you strap a camera to him. (jokingDarren Aronofsky: He probably would have. I didn't do that in The Fountain, because I was just kind of done with that. Every music video and commercial ended up doing it after us, so it was like enough.

More after the jump.

Q: I'm curious where this script came from. You're not credited on that one, as far as I can tell. Did you work on it and did it arrive at your doorDarren Aronofsky: No, no. It was an original idea that I had. It started off just called The Wrestler when I graduated from film school in the early 1990s. Then about 2002, when The Fountain fell apart the first time, I got together with this producer, Scott Franklin, and we started to come together with ideas about what it would be like. Then a couple years later we hired Rob Segal. At that point we had some ideas about the kind of world we wanted and the realism. We had the idea of an older wrestler. Originally, we didn't have the older wrestler idea, but it became pretty clear that if we had a younger wrestler doing something with the WWE, probably I wouldn't get the creative freedom I needed. So then we thought about making a period piece before Vince McMahon had organized all the territories. Then we realized we were probably looking at a low budget film here, so we can't do a period film. Then I started going to the independent shows and we saw a lot of these legends kind of working for $200-$300 a night–Jimmy Superflex Snuka, Rocky Johnson, Captain Lou, Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff. We saw all these legends. Even though I wasn't a huge fan, I knew all these names. They were kind of these big stars from childhood that I was embarrassed to meet. They were there signing autographs for $8. That's when the idea of like there's a story here. Then it made it even more independent, because we were dealing with an actor past their prime, or what Hollywood considers its prime. That's how it slowly evolved. Then Rob came on and that was about the same time Mickey Rourke as an idea came on. Then 25-35 drafts later, we got there. I definitely put him through. He definitely worked for it. That's why I gave him, even though we developed it a lot with him, the reason he deserved all the credit is because he did all the hard labor. We sat there and we would rip it apart, like any good development should happen. Then he'd go and he'd write it and we'd say, "Oh, this is better, but it still sucks," and just kept going. Then Mickey came on and Mickey had a lot of ideas. So it was a long road.

Q: I know you've told that story a million times, but I just genuinely wanted to know.

Darren Aronofsky: No, no. It's kind of like jazz, this whole press tour — like how to tell the stories, improvise in a way. They change up every time. I'm sure if you compared with– our interview was probably one of the first interviews I did or at least one of the early in-depth interviews. I'd be curious to match them up.

Q: The authenticity of the film, from the wrestlers wearing fanny packs to the NES game. There's just so many things that ring so very authentic that a Hollywood film would have totally missed.

Darren Aronofsky: Getting Mickey Rourke to wear the fucking fanny pack was a bitch. "Mickey, you've got to wear the fanny pack. They all wear fanny packs. You've got to wear the fanny pack." Can you picture Mickey Rourke, who is Mr. Cool and Mr. Macho putting on a fanny pack? It's like, "Mickey, every wrestler we've met has a fanny pack. You've got to wear the fanny pack." I got him for one shot to do it. That's a shot that's in the movie. A lot of those details just came from a lot of research and just traveling around. A lot of it came from Rob, the writer. What was the other one you pointed out?

Q: The Nintendo game.

Darren Aronofsky: The Nintendo game Rob wrote. We had the idea because that's definitely a part of these legends' lives.

Q: That's a big part of it. That's the first time you realize exactly how big he was.

Darren Aronofsky: But that was a great scene. That scene was interesting. Mickey hates child stars, child actors I should say. He just hates child actors. He didn't want to have to deal with the child actor. He just hates them. So I got them shooting. The kid was a good actor, but he was a little over-rehearsed, which a lot of these kid actors they come in there a bit over-rehearsed. The dialogue was very funny that Rob had written. It had to do with how old the game was and very much sort of what the scene is about. But then finally, after just maybe 10 or 20 minutes of shooting, I was like, "You know what? What's your favorite game, John?" John was like, "Call of Duty." I was like, "Tell Mickey about it." It just came out like that. So that was the whole thing. The whole nature of the film was so much improvisation like that. It was great to watch.

Q: The potato salad lady at the counter is another one that just feels so–

Darren Aronofsky: She was a real lady. I don't know if I told you this story, but half those people were real people. We didn't have the money to close the deli counter or the supermarket. So people were coming over. All the other people behind the counter and Mickey with the real women, they were all women that worked there. People were coming over and I was like, "You know what, Mickey? You should just start serving these people." He started serving them. Then the manager came over at some point and asked me if Mickey could improve his handwriting. I asked why and it turned out people were buying the meat that he was serving them. In between takes Mickey was like, you know, wiping his nose and his hands are all over. I'm like, "Oh, god. These people are, you know." I don't know if they realized there was a movie going on and what it was. We were very, very kind of stealth. We weren't a huge crew. There was no video playback. Most films have that. They have those monitors that everyone sits around and the director sits around. We didn't have that. There was no like director chair or actors chairs or any of that. There was nowhere to sit.

Q: Was it like filming Pi or?

Darren Aronofsky: Well, Pi was $20,000. This was $6 million. So we had shots and everything. But it was the same attitude. It was very similar when we were actually in locations. We had the same type of control of the situations as what we had when we shot Pi, which was minimal. Every day a new location. We were just in and out of places. Luckily, we had a DP that most times you go into a location and you spend half a day lighting it. But this, we were up and ready to go, which was great.WARNING: Spoilers

Q: I know what you're going to say to this question, but I have to ask it. What happened to The Ram after he jumped off the top rope?

Darren Aronofsky: What do you think happened, Peter?

Q: He won the match, goes home.

Darren Aronofsky: What do you think happens?

Q: I don't know. Does he die?

Darren Aronofsky: If not now, when? Everyone thinks maybe he dies. Maybe that's the end of the story. But I like the ending.

Q: I do love the ending. Was the idea for that ending something that you came up with early on? Was there any resistance to that?

Darren Aronofsky: No. It was always about– before Rob was on, the writer, I went to Rob and I said, "The ending is he leaps off the rope and he jumps through the frame and that's it." I said, "I don't know emotionally what it means, but that's how you end the wrestling picture. There's no other way to end the wrestling picture. You've got to jump off the top rope. That's how it happens and the ram's got to jump off the top rope doing his signature move." It was kind of like one of those things when you do those mazes and you go to the end and you work your way backwards, when you cheat. I had the ending of the film. I just didn't know how we got there. That was always it. It was always that. I think it's pretty clear what's going to happen to the guy. I don't think you need to be as clear. I think if you got any more clear, it suddenly becomes melodramatic, which is exactly what we were fighting against in the film. We're very close to becoming– we didn't want to be overwrought in any way. I just have too many cheese alarms. If something's cheesy, I just run. I can't stand cheese. I just can't do it. I tried. I'd make a lot more money if I had a little cheese in my arsenal. I just can't do it. Have you seen Benjamin Button yet?

Q: No.

Darren Aronofsky: I wonder how much cheese. Fitcher can't do cheese either or has a hard time with it.

Q: We're supposed to be seeing it in two weeks.

Darren Aronofsky: Did you guys see Australia?

Q: Yes.

Darren Aronofsky: You haven't written anything yet.

Q: I admire it but didn't enjoy it too much.

Darren Aronofsky: All right. What do you think?

Q: You know what it is? It's a good 95-minute pop western in a really bad two and a half hour war movie.