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Darren Aronofsky got jailed in East Germany. I had no clue. The arrest and the subsequent punishment made the press day all that more hilarious…From hiking mountains, his honest view of The Matrix and the latest Star Wars entries, what got Marisa Tomei in tip top shape to play a stripper, why we re-named a mountain because of its derogatory implications, why he’s angry about the digital releases of his films and oodles of completely useless but fascinating information.
This is going to be a funky 2 part interview. I’m actually reversing things. Usually you would get the proper interview and the outtakes but I’m flipping it here because I feel like it. What’s contained in this thing was just too good not to run first. You’ll get the straight laced interview next week so I hope you dig this.
What follows is, genuinely, a lunch with Darren Aronofsky. I talked to the guy, along with some other journos, during the Phoenix press day for THE WRESTLER. The interview was odd, and I’ll get into this later, in that it was just me and one more film site and then another guy who accidentally showed up late with about 5 minutes left in the interview. The situation was absolutely bizarre in that to further increase the oddity factor this interview was not held in some hotel room, it was in a vacated condominium. After I was about to leave the hotel where the interview took place, and I could have had the opportunity to talk to Marisa Tomei with the other guys, but I didn’t and don’t belong to the Phoenix Film Critics Society and was, therefore, denied entry into the interview room.
Lord knows I would never be part of club that would have me as a member but considering that of the whole city of Phoenix you had 2 outlets representing the entire metropolitan area it didn’t make sense that my conditional membership would have prevented me from asking a few questions. Believe me, there were no sour grapes at all as I am comfortably numb to just go with the flow. One of the solid PR reps who has been an absolute godsend in my tenure here in the Phoenix area - he was the very first guy who helped me get Darren the last time he came through town for THE FOUNTAIN - suggested I walk across the hall to another abandoned condo that was being set up for what was a Meet and Greet luncheon with both Darren and Marisa. The spread was phenomenal. Meats and cheeses of all different varieties. Fruit and veggies and breads of various kinds. Now, while Darren eventually saddled up close to me at the one of two tables for the event (I believe there was only about a dozen or so people who were invited to this mid-day hootenanny) I decided to click on my recorder and capture some real interesting tidbits about THE WRESTLER and when we can expect a better version of PI on DVD.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Was the deli scene improvised or was it all scripted?
DARREN ARONOFSKY: It was 50/50. A lot of it was improvised. We couldn’t close the deli in the supermarket, people were coming by and ordering stuff, and I said, “Mickey, go serve them,” and he just said, “Do you mind if we shoot you?” People couldn’t really recognize him, he couldn’t really be famous, his hair was up. It was hard to recognize him.
CS: Was the potato salad lady real?
ARONOFSKY: A little more, a little less? She was a real actress. The woman who ordered the fried chicken was fake, half of them were fake. And at one point the manager of the deli came over to me and said, “Can you ask Mickey to improve his handwriting? ” And I said, “What are you talking about?” I guess people were really buying the meat!
He was scribbling nonsense. Between takes he’s not sterile…he’s wiping his nose….
QUESTION: The character reminds me in some odd way of Charlize Theron’s MONSTER. He’s not the kind of person that you would associate with, and you would almost avoid him, but he has so much heart, so much humanity that you are just pulling for him all the way. And I felt like, Marisa’s character, I didn’t want him to go in that ring, I wanted him to go with her. And of course I loved that you just leave it up to our imagination what happened there. You just root for him all the way.
ARONOFSKY: Thank you so much. I’m glad. It’s kind of the magic of cinema. I’ve been watching My Neighbor Totoro, the Miyazaki film, with my 2 ½ year old and we watch it over and over again and that’s about a 7 year old Japanese animated film and that’s the beauty of film is that you can connect with Randy the Ram or a 7 year old animated Japanese girl and it’s just humanness.
QUESTION: I was talking to Marisa, she mentioned that one of her favorite scenes was shopping for the clothes, and I said it was nerve wracking when he pulls out that sweater and I’m thinking, “You made the wrong decision.” And then here’s the second package and she said originally that there may have only been the one gift.
ARONOFSKY: Yeah, the pea coat evolved because we realized that it was just too ridiculous just like that. It made sense because it made him more thankful to Marisa’s character and she kind of saved him as well. The script evolved a lot. There must have been 25-30 drafts. I tortured the writer. Normally I torture myself so it was really nice to have someone else do the heavy lifting.
(Marisa Tomei enters the luncheon)
Hello Marisa. Everybody this is Marisa.
MARISA TOMEI: Hello everybody.
[Ed. note - I have no idea why people felt compelled to clap. I kept eating my hummus and pita.]
SOME RANDOM A-HOLE: You look beautiful.
[Ed. note - I have no idea what sycophant tossed this out there but they obviously had grand illusions of possibly scoring with her at the hot artichoke dip table]
ARONOFSKY: Tell them your secret.
TOMEI: Hula hoops.
ARONOFSKY: Yeah, she had the hula hoop everywhere.
QUESTION: How often do you hula hoop?
TOMEI: I do do it everyday.
QUESTION: How long to you do it?
TOMEI: The longer you do it, the better. Less than an hour.
ARONOFSKY: Would you drop it after an hour?
TOMEI: I won’t do it longer than an hour anyway.
QUESTION: You are a tough interviewer.
[Ed. note - No, this person was not being ironic.]
ARONOFSKY: She talks about it all the time and I never really asked.
TOMEI: I try to get people into it. I gave a lot of people hoops for Christmas last year.
QUESTION: Did you take a lot of dancing classes, especially with the pole work?
TOMEI: I took pole classes. The pole is different than stripping. It’s more athletic, more like gymnastics. Like doing the uneven bars. I was always a balancing, floor work kind of girl. When I was young I went to tap school and jazz school and I do have a natural flexibility. I tried to use the assets that I had and then learned more skills. It’s very hard.
He has a new found respect for wrestlers and I have a new found respect for strippers. It really is not easy.
QUESTION: What attracted you to the role?
TOMEI: Part of it was that. I wanted to do that. I wanted to work on this film.
QUESTION: It was moving and I was really touched.
[Ed. note - Can you see what I am up against here?]
TOMEI: Women like it better than the men – at least my character. They really have a reaction.
QUESTION TO ARONOFSKY: When did you finish the movie?
ARONOFSKY: We finished filming in March. It was really quick work. We started filming in late January or early February. It took a long time to get the money – about two years. And during that time we kept working on the script.
QUESTION: How’s Noah’s Ark?
ARONOFSKY: Working on it. We’re doing a graphic novel of it. That will probably come out first probably. We’ve been interviewing a bunch of people and negotiating because we don’t know where we’re going to get the money for it.
QUESTION: The guy who did The Fountain graphic novel is doing the story board for the Jodorowsky film, King Shot I believe it is?
ARONOFSKY: Kent Williams? Really? So Jodorowsky is working now?
QUESTION: Yeah, he’s working with Marilyn Manson and Nick Nolte in King Shot.
ARONOFSKY: Have they started shooting?
QUESTION: I think they were scheduled to start.
ARONOFSKY: That’s wild. What’s the premise?
QUESTION: It’s set in the desert and there is a casino which is the head of Christ, beard, everything. Marilyn Manson is going to be the pope.
ARONOFSKY: Geez. So it’s buried up to here? Up to here? And the top is Christ’s head.
QUESTION: Yeah, casino slash bar or whatever.
ARONOFSKY: And some drama unfolds inside.
Good for him. I met him at a film festival in Spain at a sci-fi fantasy film fest and he came to a screening of The Fountain and he was great.
QUESTION: Have you read his comics?
ARONOFSKY: A bit. But don’t really care for them too much. I like his films but his comics go too far I think. I think it’s good that he has limitations. But, he’s getting rediscovered now. His DVD boxed set. So, it’s pretty cool.
QUESTION: Where’s the Aronofsky boxed set?
ARONOFSKY: We’ll see.
CS: Do you have any involvement in that at all?
ARONOFSKY: A little bit. They did do a Pi / Requiem boxed set but I was pissed off.
CS: You didn’t like that one?
ARONOFSKY: No, because what happened is that I called them up and said it was the 10th anniversary of Pi. “We should do a 5.1 mix for it,” I said. We did it old school with a stereo mix. I think it might have surrounds but it’s not 5.1. My crew wanted to go in for free and just wanted to update it and they said, “Why don’t we just put out a box set?” I said, “No, I don’t want to put out a box set. I want to do a re-mix of Pi.” But they wouldn’t do it.
The film comes back to me in 10 years. I sold it for 20 years. And at the time I remember they almost broke the deal. They said, “We’re not giving it back to you.” And I said, “Then I’m breaking the deal. I want it back.” And now it’s been 10 years. Amazing how time goes by. Maybe then I’ll do a 5.1 update.
QUESTION: Any special edition for Requiem?
ARONOFSKY: We got everything out on that DVD. It was a good DVD. There was so much on there – Easter Egg – we worked hard on that.
CS: Not so much on The Fountain?
ARONOFSKY: The Fountain? I was pissed off as shit, man. Whatever. It made less money internationally than Requiem did. Made less than Pi did. They just completely dumped it. If it doesn’t go for blockbuster they just…. I said, “Just do an art house release, you’ll get your money back. There’s enough people out there…” But they didn’t. When it went to DVD they just kind of dumped it and I didn’t give them any support.
CS: The commentary track you did was a rare freebie.
ARONOFSKY: That’s cool. It was one way of doing it. But at some point I’ll get enough power to put that out in the right way.
It’s all about power.
QUESTION: Is it out on Blue Ray yet?
ARONOFSKY: It is out on Blu Ray. It looks OK and sounds OK. My sound guys still think it’s the best mix we ever did. So I think the sound mix is good.
CS: Some filmmakers make their films, shooting material specifically for the DVD – this obviously was a low budget film. Did you do anything special?
ARONOFSKY: For the Wrestler? Not really. There is going to be an hour long documentary which is going to be really great. I’ve already seen a trailer for it and it’s really cool. Same guy who did the documentary for The Fountain
It’ll be a good one.
ARONOFSKY: I don’t think so. I don’t think I have the energy to do it. Maybe if I can get Mickey to do it with me. We could just sit there and joke and smoke a couple cigars to get through it.
CS: Do you have an aversion of seeing your films or are you just done with it?
ARONOFSKY: I just think you shouldn’t go back there. You watch it so many times when you are finishing it because you have to go over it inch by inch and then when all the technical stuff you have to go over it and by the time you’re done you are so exhausted from it.
CS: Why does Lucas keep going back to the well?
ARONOFSKY: Howard the Duck.
QUESTION: That was supposed to come out on DVD.
ARONOFSKY: It’s not out on DVD?
QUESTION: Not officially. But you can get it.
ARONOFSKY: Those second pre-Star Wars sucked, didn’t they?
ARONOFSKY: Indiana Jones sucked.
Question: But a lot of critics liked that one. They said it was right in the same vein as the other ones – and it was like, “No, it’s not. It’s terrible.”
ARONOFSKY: I actually liked the aliens part of it – when the thing took off - I liked the ending but the action scene through the jungle and stretching of the jeeps and stuff…it was just terrible action.
QUESTION: Cate Blanchett. She looked cool in the trailers.
ARONOFSKY: She did look cool in the trailers.
Question: I was waiting for the face melting off scene but then it was so stupid – just this blur of special effects – couldn’t even tell what was going on. What was funny that a lot of people don’t realize that early on she was supposed to have psychic powers and she goes to Harrison Ford “You’re a hard man to read” and then the rest of it was supposed to be about her powers.
ARONOFSKY: She was supposed to have powers?
QUESTION: Yeah, she was supposed to have psychic powers but couldn’t read Indiana Jones.
ARONOFSKY: She quit. The other night I saw the 2nd or 3rd Matrix while I was surfing through the channels on TV. Oh man, that’s bad. I really kind of like them too but it doesn’t really hold up. There’s a scene in Zion…the costumes are terrible.
The Massie Twins: The whole story falls apart because they tried to split it between two movies so then number 2 doesn’t make sense and number 3 doesn’t do a good job of resolving anything. It’s too abstract. Although I like the action in number 2. I liked the drunk.
ARONOFSKY: I don’t remember the drunk. Oh yeah, the albino.
The Massie Twins: Yeah, he dresses up for Halloween – we bought the official costumes from Matrix.com and had all the makeup.
ARONOFSKY: Did you look good?
The Massie Twins: Yeah, I thought we did.
The Massie Twins: We were over on Mill Avenue and thousands and thousands of people gather there people were taking pictures. We took like 3rd place for the costumes. That was the best part about Matrix is the fact that they created those characters.
ARONOFSKY: So, there you have it.
CS: You mentioned you started out not knowing a whole lot about wrestlers.
CS: On the other side when you saw that moment when The Ram was sitting at the table for a signing and you see a guy with a catheter and a lot of other broken men. Did you see a lot of that, guys all busted up?
ARONOFSKY: We went to an autograph show that was just desperate. All these legends and nobody there. It was just desperate. The catheter and the urine bag was fictional but there was a guy in a wheelchair that we saw. Actually Lou Albano was there. I think I talked about that, but he looked terrible. I didn’t even recognize him, that’s how bad he looked. He had a lot of strokes and it was just sad, holding on to that glory.
Can’t you wait to see what Paris Hilton will turn into?
ARONOFSKY: It’s the reason I stay alive, just to watch her decay.
CS: So how much longer are you on this tour?
ARONOFSKY: I’m almost done. I’ve got two more cities. We’re going to go to San Francisco and Seattle. I’ve never done Russia so I want to go. My grandparents came from Russia and I’m very curious to see it.
QUESTION: How many places have you been too before here?
ARONOFSKY: Too many.
Question: All over the U.S.?
ARONOFSKY: Not really, just major cities. San Diego, Boston, D.C., Miami, Dallas.
QUESTION: If they make you go all over the place they should make you go in a straight line.
ARONOFSKY: Did Will Smith come through here for Seven Pounds? He seemed to be one city ahead of us. I think he’s doing St. Louis, Cleveland, he does tiny towns. I was talking to his people in Dallas, he comes with a private plane, 4 SUV’s, they got two giant tour buses that are wrapped with the poster and his face.
It’s just like a circus. The fact that he does that at that level just shows you how hard a job it is. I guess he does it for every movie.
QUESTION: What about Mickey? Did you try to get him to come on this thing?
ARONOFSKY: I don’t think he could have handled the pace of it. He’s actually 57 years old or so – I don’t know how old he is, so don’t quote me on that, I don’t think he can handle it. I’m getting a day off tomorrow and I’m going to stay here. It was between here or going to San Fran. I know what San Fran looks like and I’m so glad I’m staying. I’m going to climb Camelback tomorrow. I’m very excited. And go to the Botanical Gardens, that’s my day.
QUESTION: Take lots and lots of water.
[Ed. Note - Keep reading this stream of consciousness. I have no idea who was talking but it's quite a bizarre, hilarious exchange.]
ARONOFSKY: Even though it’s cold you have to just keep drinking, right?
QUESTION: Yes. And Run from the bees.
ARONOFSKY: What bees? What are you talking about?
ARONOFSKY: There are bee swarms?
QUESTION: Along the mountains there are.
ARONOFSKY: Really? Tell me more.
[Ed. Note - Point, Aronofsky]
QUESTION: Mountain lions, jack-a-lopes.
ARONOFSKY: Any of you climb that thing?
ARONOFSKY: Is it hard?
CS: No. It’s all relative. You are not running up the mountain.
ARONOFSKY: Four hours, right?
CS: No, not a chance. Unless you’re 80 and have a heart condition. Maybe 45 minutes. Depending on how fast you move. Are you taking a leisurely stroll?
QUESTION: It’s tougher than Squaw Peak.
ARONOFSKY: I’ve heard that. That’s been renamed right? Is that because it’s a racist term?
QUESTION: That was part of why they wanted to rename it. There was just a real outcry that she be recognized, which was nice.
ARONOFSKY: Who was she?
QUESTION: Laurie Piestewa was the first Native American killed in combat. She was ambushed with Jessica Lynch.
ARONOFSKY: Was that the first Iraq war or the second Iraq war?
QUESTION: That was the second one.
ARONOFSKY: Jessica Lynch was the second war? This war?
QUESTION: Yeah, can you believe it?
ARONOFSKY: When George W. was in office?
ARONOFSKY: That’s crazy. That feels like the first war. Really? That’s when we were all pro-war and she was a hero and everything.
QUESTION: It would be nice to be living in a time when we didn’t have a war.
ARONOFSKY: Yea. Well that’s these kids. When were you born? 80’s?
The Massie Twins: ’84.
ARONOFSKY: Right when the Cold War was winding down. You don’t even remember the Cold War do you? But you’ve heard about it, right?
The Massie Twins: Yeah. Just what’s in the history books.
ARONOFSKY: I got arrested in East Berlin.
ARONOFSKY: For stealing an East German flag. I was there on May Day and there were flags everywhere and I told someone I was going to steal a flag. So I lowered a flag and stuffed it down my pants and I hear, “Passport!”
And they took me to this East German jail. We had to be back across the border by 10:00 PM to get through Checkpoint Charlie. So I was in jail. They took away my shoelaces, took away my belt so I wouldn’t hang myself. It was a concrete room with just a little peephole.
I was crying.
I was 17-18 years old. I was just sobbing. And finally they came and said they would let me go if I just raised the flag. I said absolutely. I don’t care. I’ll raise your flag. So we go and me and the Australian kid raised the flag and he said what are you doing because we were raising it upside down.
We walked across Checkpoint Charlie at 1:00 o’clock in the morning.
Question: That’s amazing.
ARONOFSKY: It’s a good story though.
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