Interview: Darren Aronofsky from “The Wrestler”
Interview: Darren Aronofsky from “The Wrestler”

The Massie Twins recently had a chance to sit down with acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky (“Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream”) to discuss his latest film, “The Wrestler.”

Massie Twins: The Fountain and now The Wrestler. Other than the succinct titles, any similarities?

Darren Aronofsky: It’s ultimately very similar. You have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of money. It doesn’t matter the scale of the film, you end up doing very similar stuff. It is amazing how quick it goes when you don’t have to do special effects. We finished shooting in March so it’s been only about six months from the time we finished shooting to the Venice Film Festival. I kind of admire Woody Allen for being able to work with that clock and get one out a year.

MT: How do you go about choosing your next project?

DA: Well, I was just looking for an actors’ piece and I looked at everything we had in development and this seemed like one of the strongest contenders. You never really know. Until I have a script that I’m confident enough in to jump in. I was kind of nervous about the wrestling elements because they were action and would take time, but it seemed like the best one ahead of me. Everyone else thought I was out of my mind, literally. What are you doing? A wrestling picture with Mickey Rourke? Are you out of your mind?

MT: When you first came on board was Mickey Rourke already attached to it?

DA: I brought Mickey Rourke into it. 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 remember 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 producer Scott Franklin who had been a producer on my first two films, and together we started to work out story ideas and do some research. I chose him to produce it because he was a wrestling fan more than me.

MT: How about Marisa and the rest of the cast?

DA: Mickey was the first step. I didn’t want to cast the daughter until I knew it was Mickey for sure, so once we figured out how to make the film with Mickey, Evan Rachel Wood seemed like a really good option. It was a very hard role to cast the stripper because every actress out there 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 were doing a very realistic film so the nudity had to be real. I get peeved when I see a couple waking up after having sex in a movie and they’re trying to hold onto the sheets so as not to show anything, and it’s so unreal that it pulls you out. With this film it’s just so important that they’re artists with their bodies – they have to show their bodies because it’s all about that. Marisa was a very early choice because she’s sympathetic and her complexity is rarely tapped and I could tell that she really had a lot of depth there, and she brought a lot of life to a role that could have been a very easy cliché.

MT: So were you a fan of the whole independent wrestling circuit before making this film?

DA: No. (laughs) And I’m not a fan now – I wouldn’t go back to a match ever. But for this we went to a lot and we did a ton of research, taking long drives to go to places where sometimes there’d be more wrestlers than fans. We went to one autograph signing that totally inspired the autograph signing scene in our film where there were all these wrestling legends.

MT: Where did the staple gun idea come from? Did you see something like that in a match?

DA: Oh yes, much worse than that. Necro Butcher is this kind of underground cult American hero. He is the top billing draw to these independent circuits – when he comes out the crowd goes crazy because they know they’re going to get their blood. It’s a funny story actually. We were casting all day in my office and my office ended up smelling like Bengay for weeks afterwards because these guys would come in and I wanted to see them in their gimmicks, which is what they called their costumes, and they would slather themselves with Bengay. Anyway, the Necro Butcher lives out in Pittsburgh and doesn’t have a cell phone and just drives everywhere. No one had heard from him and I had left already and then my phone rings and they tell me that Necro Butcher just showed up. And he’s probably the only guy on the planet, except for maybe George Clooney, who could have showed up in my office that I would have gone back for. So I went back and he was the sweetest guy in the world. He was military so everything was “yes sir,” no sir,” “thank you sir,” and when he read the script he said thank you for making a movie about my life and it means so much to me. And then he’s this sick motherf*cker with a staple gun. (laughs)

MT: How did The Ram’s speech at the end of the film come about?

DA: Mickey ended up rewriting that to make it more personal. What happened is that me and Rob, the writer, went to this match out in Long Island and this young wrestler got up there and made this speech that was personal – a little too personal – and I looked at Rob and we knew that The Ram had to make a speech at the end. So Rob wrote a speech that was great, but about two days before, Mickey said “I’ve got a few ideas, do you mind if I work on it?” I said go ahead and he came in the day of and he showed it to me and I was like you really want to say this? Because I knew what he was doing but we never talked about the connections between the character and Mickey. I didn’t think it was really any of my business – now that we’re really good friends I talk to him about everything though. Basically we had two takes because the first take the crowd was too loud, so I talked to the crowd and told them what the moment meant, and they were great. And the second take is what we used. That take is all the way from him walking out from behind the curtain, going around the ring and then he enters the ring – there’s a second camera in the ring – and the first camera ran around and up a ladder to shoot Marisa for the close-up, while the second camera picked him up and continued as he went and did the whole speech.

MT: What was it like at Venice and winning the Golden Lion?

DA: To be honest, we finished the film about two days before and about two weeks before we thought about pulling out, not because we weren’t going to finish, but because I wasn’t sure that the Venice crowd would go for it because it’s such a small film and they like literary efforts it seems like. Everyone dreams about winning a gold medal but I never ever dreamt that the Golden Lion was possible – I didn’t even fantasize about it because I just thought we’ll go and hopefully we’ll survive and we’ll get some good notices internationally and maybe Mickey might get recognized because I knew Mickey was doing some good work, but it was a complete surprise. I remember the first thing that happened is we went out to lunch after the judges had seen the film, and we were at lunch with one of our distributors and she got a phone call and she said the judges really liked it. And I thought oh, that’s cool. And then we had a press conference and they gave us a standing ovation, which was unheard of, as the press is usually jaded (laughs) and especially at a film festival.

We were the last movie and usually the last movie of the festival is the crappiest because it’s the worst slot and everyone’s left at that point. And after the public screening which was really great, the head of the jury pulled us into his office and popped some champagne and said, “You guys are going to have to stay.” So that was really wild and 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 am, flew to Toronto and screened it at 6 pm, and then sold it the next morning to Fox Searchlight. It all seemed surreal but it was a good time.

MT: Is it true you’re attached to the Robocop remake?

DA: Well, we’re working on the script, but we’ve got a long way to go.