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You’ve just to meet the twins.
The Massie Twins are perhaps the best thing in the world to happen at interview sessions when you find yourself cursing your lot at not having access to a 1:1 with a true visionary. These guys, genuine twins, are perhaps the nicest, kindest, honest to a fault interviewers that I wish were at every interview situation. The talent that sees them just fall over themselves as they look at these grown men who dress and look alike. Myself, I do want to throw the yellow foul flag in that these guys like to think that since there’s two of them that in a roundtable situation they get 2 questions when everyone else their 1 but I’m quibbling and this was a chance to talk to Darren Aronofsky after all.
When I had the chance to say hey once more to the guy who genuinely mixes enthusiasm for his job and a jaunty introspection in the way he speaks I could not pass it up. Darren is kind of person who is more interested in knowing what you thought about what he made than he is to tell you about it. When he rolled in with his tall tea, working a small packet of honey into his drink and then working his way though an orange, there is just no way you would guess by his humble persona that here is a man who has brought the world a film that is being mentioned in the same breath as other Oscar worthy productions; he defies the stereotype that you have to be a thick willed fist thumper to be great.
Darren is great simply for spending time with some schlubs to chitter chatter about THE WRESTLER. I know a lot could be made of all the different people I am able to talk to but getting time with this guy simply trumps 99% of everything else I am able to do throughout the year. My inner nerd was satiated thoroughly for weeks after.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: I have been reading the interviews that after The Fountain you wanted to get back to basics. You just wanted to work with actors again. How does this experience, obviously they are two different movies, compare to The Fountain?
ARONOFSKY: Well, ultimately it’s all very similar, the work. You have a very limited amount of time, amount of money. It doesn’t matter the scale of the film. You end up doing very similar stuff. There is just different challenges specific to the projects. This was the Mickey Rourke challenge for this film. Otherwise it was very similar but it’s amazing how quick it goes when you don’t have to do special effects. We finished shooting in March, so it’s been 6 months from the time we finished shooting that we were at the Venice Film Festival. So, that’s great. It was a lot of fun. I kind of admire Woody Allen for just being able to clock them out one a year.
QUESTION: How do you go about choosing your next project? How did you go from The Fountain to this?
ARONOFSKY: Well I was just looking for an actor’s piece. I looked at everything we had in development and this seemed like one of the strongest contenders as far as that. You never really know. When people ask me what’s next, I never really know. Until I have a script that’s like, “OK, I’m confident enough to jump in.”
But I was looking for something that was an actor’s piece and I was kind of nervous about the wrestling elements because they were action and they would take their time because all I really wanted to do was like two actors in a room talking and see what I could do with that. But it seemed like the best thing I had ahead of me. Everyone else thought I was out of my mind. “What are you doing? A wresting picture with Mickey Rourke? Are you out of your mind? ”
Now, in retrospect, the Mickey Rourke in the part makes sense but back then, no one wanted to support it.
QUESTION: When you first got into it, Mickey Rourke was already attached to it?
ARONOFSKY: I brought Mickey Rourke into it. I had an idea that when I graduated from film school in ’94 or ’95, I sat down and made a list of possible ideas for films. And the Wrestler was on that list. I can’t imagine the exact thought process but I think it came out of the idea that no one had done that world in a serious way. But then in about ’02, when The Fountain fell apart the first time, before I put it back together, I got together with this producer Scott Franklin who had been a producer on my first two films, together we started to work out story ideas and do some research and I chose him to produce it because he was a wrestling fan, more than me. So together we started to develop some stories and then about ’04 or ’05, we found Rob Siegel who was the editor of The Onion for 7 years and then he just seemed right for the material and that was about the same time the light bulb for Mickey Rourke went off.
CS: Building on that, the light bulb for Mickey Rourke, and now it looks like a master stroke, one thing I noticed watching the movie is that I didn’t know where The Ram stopped and Mickey Rourke started.
CS: And everyone is talking about that part at the end when he talks about redemption.
ARONOFSKY: You thought that moment worked?
CS: I choked up myself.
ARONOFSKY: Did you? During his speech?
CS: During his speech. Like writers say, you have to earn it, you have to earn that moment. And not only did you earn it but I think Mickey earned it.
ARONOFSKY: Well, Mickey ended up rewriting that to make it more personal. What happened, was me and Rob, the writer, went to this one match out in Long Island and this young wrester who was part of the Hart family which is a kind of a big famous wrestling dynasty, got up there and made this speech about very personal, a little too personal and I looked at Rob and we said, “Yeah, The Ram has got to make a speech at the end.”
Rob wrote a speech at the end that was great but about 2 days before Mickey said, “I think I have some ideas for that, mind if I work on that?” We said “No, go ahead” and came in the day of and showed it to me and I said, “Do you really want to say this?” Because I knew what he was doing but we never talked about it. Never talked about the connection between the character and Mickey. It’s not really my business. Now we are very good friends and I talk to him about everything. But back then, our relationship was young. So he said “Yeah, I want to give it a shot” and basically we had 2 takes on it because there was a crowd of 2500 – 3000 people and the first take didn’t go too well.
Then I talked to the crowd what the moment meant and the second take was that take.
That take is all the way from him walking out of the curtain, going around the ring, and then he enters the ring, there was a second camera in the ring, and then that first camera ran around and up a ladder to shoot Marisa for that closeup while that second camera continued as he went and did the whole speech. So all of Marisa’s close-ups and Mickey’s speech happened at the same time. So, it was pretty cool and a lot of fun.
QUESTION: How about Marisa and the rest of the cast? What was the casting process like?
ARONOFSKY: Mickey was the first step. I didn’t really want to cast the daughter until we knew it was Mickey for sure, so once we figured out how to make the film with Mickey, Evan Rachel Wood seemed like a good option because I thought they had a similar round face and the lips were similar and I thought it was passable. It’s always hard when you cast two famous people as say, father/daughter or siblings, always a tricky thing. That worked out and then it was a very hard role to cast the stripper because every actor knows that within a few months of the release of the film those images are going to be on the internet forever and that’s part of the deal.
But, I was just very clear that we are doing a very realistic film so the nudity had to be real. I about peeve when you see a couple waking up after having sex in a movie and they are trying to hold on to sheets so their privates don’t show. It’s just so unreal and pulls you out but this film was just so important that they are artist with their bodies and have to show their bodies. It’s all about that. So I put that out there and Marisa was a very early choice because I think her complexity is rarely tapped. She’s often playing very cutesy but I could tell she had a lot of depth. She brought a lot of life to a role that could have very easily been a cliché.
QUESTION: So were you a fan of the whole independent wrestling circuit before this?
ARONOFSKY: No. Not a fan now. I wouldn’t go back to a match ever.
QUESTION: Before this did you go to a bunch of different matches?
ARONOFSKY: We did a ton of research and went all over the place. Long two/three hour drives to go to places where sometimes there would be more wrestlers than there would be fans. We went to one autograph signing that totally inspired the autograph signing in our film where there were all these legends from Jimmy Snuka to Ricky Johnson, the Rock’s uncle, Captain Lou Albano was there, Iron Sheik was there, Nikoli Volkoff was there, it was a huge, great legends there. It was so sad for these legends. So sad.
QUESTION: Where did the staple gun come from? Did you see that?
ARONOFSKY: Oh yeah. Much worse. Necro Butcher is this kind of underground cult American hero. He is the marquee, top billing draw to a lot of these events. When he comes out the crowd goes crazy because they know they are going to get their blood. It’s a funny story actually. We were casting all day and it was tough. We cast in my office. My office ended up smelling like Ben Gay for weeks afterwards. And these guys would come in and I wanted to see their gimmicks. That’s what they called their costumes. Their costumes are their gimmicks. So they would slather themselves with Ben Gay. It was a long day and a lot of them were terrible actors, some were OK.
Necro Butcher lives out in Pittsburgh, doesn’t have a cell phone and just drives everywhere. Pittsburgh to Manhattan is probably about 12 hours so no one had heard from him, called his girlfriend, she was nervous because he hadn’t checked in. I was leaving and I got on the train and my phone doesn’t usually work on there but the phone rings and they said Necro Butcher just showed up. And he’s like the only guy on the planet, except for maybe George Clooney, who could have shown up in my office that I would have gone back because I was so exhausted I just wanted to go home. So I got out, went back and he was the sweetest guy in the world. He’s a military guy so everything is yes sir, no sir, thank you sir. When he read the script he said thank you for making a movie about my life sir, it means so much to me sir and then… he’s this sick mother fucker. The guy in the hardcore match. He’s a great guy. That scene when they talk about the staple gun, that was just improvised. I said “Have a conversation, tell him where you’re from, tell him about the match” and they just came up with the lines themselves and that’s what happened.
CS: The music. Two things about the shift from your previous films – you went through a very long, long stretch in the beginning of that film and you just don’t hear anything. What was Clint’s job when he said, “What do I have to do with this?”
ARONOFSKY: We almost went without a score with this one. The film ultimately didn’t need one but because whenever we stuck score music in it kind of made the emotion of the scene collapse. I think just because there was such a tender line and so naturalistic that if you stuck something unnatural like a score, it really hurt.
So it was a very slim score but probably the hardest score he’s ever done according to himself. And I think the reason for that is because it just had to be atmospheric. It had to just kind of create the mood but not add to the emotional content of the actors. So, that’s what the score is doing. When we started to hear guitars that’s when we came up with the idea for Slash so he came in the recording. He’s a great guy. Really sweet guy. Not your typical rock star.
And then the Bruce song was all because of Mickey. Mickey wrote him a letter and they are old friends and ended up doing it for free just to support the film. And to support Mickey really.
THE MASSIE TWINS: You refer to your films…
ARONOFSKY: Do you guys really wear the same shirts?
THE MASSIE TWINS: It’s for a picture with you afterwards.
ARONOFSKY: Oh, OK. You don’t do that everyday? That would be really upsetting.
ARONOFSKY: One of you has got to get Lasik and screw with the other one.
QUESTION: You refer to your films as wild style. How would you refer the Wrestler?
ARONOFSKY: Wild style has definitely taken a trip away so I don’t know. I think, if I was going to use a hip-hop term because I used a hip-hop term back then, it would be something like, it’s more of a tag. Do you know what that is? It’s just very street style. I call it pro-active documentary style because I wanted to do a documentary style because I’m a verite but because I knew somewhat what the actors were going to do and what the plot was you can lead them a bit or be ahead of them a tiny bit or really work with them almost like dancing with them. We knew what they were going to do so we were with them. If something different happened, we were able to adjust as well because there was a human operator holding the camera. That’s why it’s a proactive documentary style.
QUESTION: Online it shows that you are going to be associated with the Robocop remake. Any truth to that at all?
ARONOFSKY: Well, we’re working on a script. It’s just a development deal but we have a long way to go. We have a great writer and we’ll see what happens.
QUESTION: Do you use the internet for feedback? Do you Google yourself and see what people are saying?
ARONOFSKY: Not too much. I look at some of the film blogs just so I know what’s happening in the film business. Like Slash Film, Hollywood Elsewhere. There are a few sites I’ll check once a day just to see what’s the latest news is. But I think it’s bad to read your reviews because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about making stuff and then moving on and keep making stuff and you’ve wasted time looking at stuff.
CS: I read an interview with Mickey Rourke when you approached him to do it. It was basically a Come to Jesus meeting of you telling him what you expected out of him. Can you explain the process of convincing the people who had the purse strings that he was the person you wanted and then to Mickey telling him, “There’s a lot on the line right now…”
ARONOFSKY: First I went to Mickey because I knew it would be difficult to raise the money for Mickey but I first wanted to be sure that if I wanted to do the hard work of trying to find money to finance a film that he would show up and want to do it and wanted to get back to work. And once I got that kind of understanding with him, it was really hard to find the money. It took us about two years to finance the film and every single financier in the business said no.
Every single financier in the business said no. Everyone.
We went to all kinds of different types of financing – studios passed. Everyone passed. Independent. International. Except for one French company that was offering way too little money to make it but they at least were supporting us with full creative freedom. So we figured out how to make it for 6 million dollars and we did it.
QUESTION: You have incredible detail for the visual elements, how was your dynamic with your cinematographer?
ARONOFSKY: She was great. It was the first time I worked with Maryse Alberti. The whole crew was an improvement. I wanted to do something very different and reinvent myself. I’ve joked that if Madonna taught us anything, it’s that you need to reinvent yourself and I think that’s true as a creative person, you have to just keep mixing it up and changing and moving forward. So, Maryse was an interesting candidate because, not only has she done some great features like Happiness and Velvet Goldmine back in the day but then she ended up doing a lot of documentaries like Crumb and Enron and Taxi to the Dark Side. She had exactly what I needed, had a film background plus documentary. Once I heard about her I was very intrigued. We talked on the phone and got along pretty well. She’s a spunky French girl and she was just great. Basically I only had to wait 5 minutes, the longest time I had to wait. She would just go in, light it, no baloney and we would shoot.
QUESTION: Do you have any plans on doing cameos in your films?
ARONOFSKY: I used to back in the day but it’s too stressful and there’s enough people who do it. I’ll just stay behind the camera. I’m not really actor.
CS: When you were writing this script and coming off The Fountain where your head was at after it got the reception that it did, how did you know that The Wrestler was going to be the one? The only reason I’m asking this question is that I’ve read about you wanting to make a tent pole, that you have the ambition that you could. It’s not that you want to be an independent guy for the rest of your life. This is a $6 million dollar picture and not a tent pole, was there any impetus for wanting to go the tent pole route or get back to basics with this?
ARONOFSKY: It wasn’t about that. There was no tent pole that was that interesting which is probably going to be the case for a long time. This was the most interesting project in front of me. For me, The Fountain was the exact film I wanted to make and it’s got a great split of people who hate it and people who love it and I think the people who love it are starting to win as time goes by and I think choosing The Wrestler really was not a reaction to anything about The Fountain except that the first three films was the same filmmaking team, the same producer, the same dp, the same production designer, the same editor and it kind of just was the end of an era and I was a dad and just wanted to do something different. I looked for the most radically different thing I could do and it just seemed like it, and it was. It didn’t fit into anything I had done and I liked that idea of breaking out of molds.
QUESTION: Did you see the film with an audience?
ARONOFSKY: Yes, at festivals.
QUESTION: What did you think about the reactions? There are some parts where people were laughing and they were comedic at a superficial level but if you really thought about it they were really tragic. Did you notice that?
ARONOFSKY: Yes. I love that there’s humor. And yes, they are laughing at things that are really kind of tragic but it’s meant to be funny. That’s part of what Mickey brought to the table. It’s OK to laugh at him sometimes and it’s OK to laugh with him and he’s laughing a lot and even in sadness there’s a lot of humor. But even that deli scene, it’s a really sad scene that this guy’s been reduced to this level but you just kind of root for him deep down. I think it means they are connected with him. You are never really laughing at The Ram in a way that he wouldn’t be OK with.
QUESTION: Building on that, how was it at Venice and getting the Golden Lion?
ARONOFSKY: To be honest we finished the film two days before. And about two weeks before we were thinking about pulling out. Not because we weren’t going to finish but because I wasn’t sure the Venice crowd would go for it. It’s a small film and they like literary efforts it seems like. Everyone dreams about winning a gold medal but to be honest, I never, ever dreamt that the Golden Lion would be possible. I didn’t even fantasize about it. I just thought “OK, we’ll go, and hopefully survive and get some good notices internationally and maybe might get recognized” because I knew that Mickey was doing some good work but it was a complete surprise.
I remember the first thing that happened was that we went out to lunch after the judges had seen the film and we were at lunch with one of the distributors and she got a phone call and she said the jury really liked it. So I thought, that’s cool. I still never put it together of what that meant because she kind of slipped it. But then we had a press conference and the press gave us a standing ovation which is something I’ve never seen. The press is usually jaded.
At the film festival we were the last movie, the last film of the festival and usually the last film of the festival is the crappiest film because it’s the worst lot because everyone has left by that point. The sexy part is the first weekend and we were the final, 10th day or 12th day, the last film. So half the audience stood up and I’m like “OK, that’s weird” because the press was very friendly which in Venice they can be really tough and after our public screening, which was great, the audience really liked it. They didn’t really laugh at the humor which concerned me but I think the humor was very American and subtle in a lot of ways.
The head of the jury pulled us into his office and popped some champagne and said you guys are going to have to stay. I said, what do you mean I’m going to have to stay? We have to go to Toronto to sell the movie. And he said, no you have to stay. So I said, do I have to stay or does Mickey have to stay? He said, no you both have to stay. So I said, do we sorta have to stay or do we really have to stay? I mean, how much? And so it was just wild. Way beyond our expectations.
Wednesday we finished the film, Thursday we got to Venice, Friday we screened, Saturday we won The Golden Lion and Sunday we woke up at 5:00 AM, flew to Toronto, got there at 3:00 PM, screened it at 6:00 PM and sold it at 5:00 AM in the morning to Fox Searchlight. So it was really like in 6 days it was one of those things. It all seems surreal but it was a good time.
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