Everyone who loves movies should get a chance to interview Darren Aronofsky once in their life. He is, all hyperbole aside, one of the greats. His films (Pi, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) all endeavor to push the medium forward -- which is pretty much all you can ask of an artist. We didn't have much time to talk (he had interviews lined up all day) but we were able to get into the ending of The Wrestler, how Marisa Tomei felt about all the nudity, Mickey Rourke's amazing physique, and of course the requisite question about Robocop. Enjoy!
Laremy Legel: I've heard you hate stupid questions ...
Darren Aronofsky: No, I like stupid questions! (laughs)
DA: Yeah, I have. But I had the idea in the early '90s. Me and the producer, Scott Franklin, started working on it in '02. I don't know when Beyond the Mat came out ... but I remember when we saw it we were like "Uh-oh, this is our world." But then we thought it could prep the world for our movie. There's also another film that's great this year, I don't know if you've seen it, called Bigger, Stronger, Faster*.
LL: Yeah, I didn't see it. I just can't get into the 'roids thing.
DA: Oh, you should really see it. It's a very interesting take on it; it's a very well made documentary. I think better made than Beyond the Mat -- it didn't have a voice-over. But Beyond the Mat is great; he got some great moments.
LL: It's all just so tragic, the moments in that documentary ... especially when you juxtapose the ups and downs of someone like Jake the Snake. Anyway, I'm not going to take all of our time talking about another movie so let's talk Mickey Rourke. The one thing that struck me is how jacked he is in this movie. I mean ... he's Rambo II cut up. When he showed up were you thrilled?
DA: Yeah, he put on 35 pounds of muscle for the role, and when I first cast him it was a big concern. I didn't really picture Mickey as someone who could pull off a wrestler. He worked out six months, twice a day, 5,000 calories a day. He did three months of wrestling training. An hour of tanning everyday for months. He did his work. A lot of work to get there, a lot of lifting.
LL: It's weird because he seems like, as the character, that he always has had that body. It really suits him ...
DA: Yeah, I think he was a boxer, but he boxed at 185 pounds.
LL: What struck me is that he's sort of a more "aged" jacked. Like the muscles have stories and scars behind them.
DA: Yeah, he comes from a weightlifting culture. His dad was a Mr. New York bodybuilder. So I think genetically and culturally he's been in gyms his whole life. He's part of that world.
LL: Do you know Danny Boyle? Because when I interviewed him he said he'd seen The Wrestler and really liked it. Are you two friends?
DA: Just recently. Both of our films were picked up by Fox Searchlight. So we met for the first time at The Toronto Film Festival, right after Fox bought my film. Then recently me and Danny did a face-to-face and they filmed it. It's us just talking about each other's films because I saw Slumdog Millionaire when I was in L.A. We had a great time together; it was really interesting, because he's a legend. He's one of my Gods. Trainspotting was before Pi even ... what year was that, do you know?
LL: Trainspotting would have been 1996 ...
DA: So yeah, two years before. I really looked up to him.
LL: I think every college dorm room in the world had that Trainspotting poster. I know mine did at least.
LL: As a director I think it's fair to say you leave a lot up to audience interpretation. What we make of it is up to us. You're not into giving answers ...
DA: Yeah, it's important to respect your audience. Audiences are pretty sophisticated and smart. We've all seen so many fucking movies and we know how they all work out. It's nice to allow people to talk about things afterwards and not just be hand-fed stuff.
LL: So me and the guy who just interviewed you, Brad Brevet (here's his interview too if you want more Aronofsky for your dollar) have argued about the ending to The Wrestler. And I don't know if it's our worldviews or what... but we have really different takes on what happens at the end.
DA: Yeah, he's completely wrong. What did you think?
**QUASI SPOILER ALERT START**
LL: I said that he dies in the last scene. He dies jumping off the ropes.
DA: Yeah, if not now, when? That was my answer.
LL: He's a timebomb.
DA: Yeah, there's been a few people like that (with Brad's interpretation). I think they just like him (The Ram) so much. But it's pretty obvious what's going on.
LL: And he's dies doing what he loves ... he dies happy.
**QUASI SPOILER ALERT END**
LL: Now then, on to Marisa Tomei. How did you get her comfortable with all the nudity here?
DA: Whenever you're dealing with nudity in a film it's a very sensitive issue. Those images end up on the internet, pirated, the second the film finds its way on to video. It's very tough. The only thing you can do is be straight, up front, and honest. So I just told her what it was. I said "I completely get it and understand if this role is not for you for those reasons. That's completely acceptable." I know a lot of actresses passed for that. But if we're going to do this here's why it's important. This film is about how these people use their bodies to make money. How they use their bodies for performance. So to not deal with it or not show it isn't going to happen.
LL: It would be a lie ...
DA: Yeah. It would be a lie. It's not what it's about. So we just have to be up front. She thought about it for a little while, we talked about it a bunch, and then she jumped in.
LL: You seem to be an incredibly rangy director. Do you like a bit of everything? Do you consider yourself rangy?
DA: Rangy meaning different stuff?
LL: I just think think you could do any script you were given. I really do.
DA: Well, thank you. I'd like to do a lot of different stuff. I think it's important as a creative person to keep challenging yourself and keep doing new stuff. If you end up trying to repeat yourself it's death. It just becomes boring and takes the passion out of it. You gotta find stories and characters that you really want to hang out with.
LL: But some directors are sci-fi guys, some are rom-com guys. You're a whatever-you-want-to-do director. How does one get to that place? Is it about using momentum from one project to fuel the next?
DA: Well it's always been hard for me to make my films. I've always had to make them with incredible financial limitations because it's the only way to get them made. After Pi everyone was like, "What do you want to do?" and I showed them the book to Requiem and no one returned my calls. After Requiem it took six years to make The Fountain. Then when we tried to put this movie together, because I cast Mickey Rourke, it took two years to finance it. No one believed that Mickey could be sympathetic. It's always a tough road for some reason. I end up choosing things that are not obvious.
LL: So then I guess the lesson is that you don't quit. You don't let them put you in a certain rom-com box or something.
DA: It's such a hard job, and to make a good film you really gotta fight and work hard, so to do that for something you don't believe in ... I'm not gonna do that.
LL: When the film opens you stick with an over-the-shoulder shot of Mickey Rourke and after a minute or so I started getting really worried, like we weren't going to see much of his face. I'm sitting there thinking, "Oh no, this is an artistic choice and it's going to be really disconnected." Of course we see a lot more of Mickey right after, but why open like that?
DA: Well, I think Mickey is the star and you're going to see him for 100 minutes. And he works so well with his body and his physicality. Plus it raises questions and mystery. People really want to see what Mickey looks like, so it's fun to tease the audience. But eventually you're gonna see him, in every way possible. But I figured let's have a slow introduction.
LL: Do you worry about marketing? Because it seems to me that the best films of this generation are inherently unmarketable. They don't conform to a 30 second clip and a catchy song.
DA: Yeah, my easiest film was Pi because of the symbol. I just got that symbol out there and it raised great mystery. But yeah, if you don't do something that's directly down a genre line it's always hard. But I like the poster they've done and the trailer is pretty good.
LL: Are you an Oscar contender? Can one even say that about oneself?
DA: You know, we finished the film two days before the Venice Film Festival ... and one always dreams about winning a gold medal, right? But I swear I never even fantasized about a Golden Lion. There's only been three American films in 65 years to win it. And here was this tiny little film. So it wasn't even a fantasy. So at this point everything is gravy. That's a meaningful prize because Rashomon won that prize. Wim Wenders gave me the award and that's probably my career highlight. So whatever happens is great. What's exciting is that people are laughing with the film, crying with the film. Feeling his trip. And Mickey is back! As a film fan I'm excited to see what he does next because I love watching Mickey on the screen.
LL: I told Danny Boyle that you guys have these sneaky Oscar hits because everything is so bleak and you guys have films that aren't all dark.
DA: This is pretty dark though, no?
LL: It's definitely dark subject matter, but I guess I just thought it was more of a real life type of story.
Okay, so of course I've got to ask about Robocop, but I want to come at it from a different angle. When I saw this film as a kid I remember it being the most violent and brutal thing I'd ever seen. Really visceral and the antithesis of the sort of work you've done in your career so far. When you see the original do you find it to be really brutal?
DA: Oh, absolutely. It's famous for its violence.
LL: Does that worry you at all? Carrying that baggage?
DA: I think it's important. Verhoeven is one of the few guys who dealt with what violence really does to people. My big thing with the MPAA is that they allow fantasy violence all over the place ... and then they don't allow human sexuality in any form. It's so backwards. When violence is fantasy-oriented it should be incredibly illegal because kids should know what a gun does. When you're a kid and you see what a gun really can do to someone, that's going to scare the shit out of you. It's so twisted.
I think real violence on film is completely acceptable and should be seen.
LL: Because it comes with consequences ...
DA: Right, there's consequences. When you don't show the consequences it makes it seem like it's okay. I think video games and that stuff should be as violent as possible, but age-appropriate. It should be realistic. When it's not realistic you run into kids running around shooting people and not realizing the consequences.
LL: And of course there's still the blatant double standard of violence in a Bond film being okay, but if it's a limited indie release that's not okay because you don't have a big studio behind you ...
DA: Absolutely. The Bond movie was pretty violent. I couldn't believe it. It was pretty disturbing; I actually respected that. But what's the big, big successful film that was successful this year that's pretty violent?
LL: The Dark Knight ...