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Friday, June 5, 2009
Getting a grip on Aronofsky
Darren Aronofsky burst onto the scene in 1998 with "Pi," the most bizarrely original debut since David Lynch's "Eraserhead," and a film he self-funded by hitting up an extended circle of family and friends for small donations. He confirmed his talent with "Requiem For A Dream," a visually inventive adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel about NYC junkies. That film also earned an Oscar nomination for Ellen Burstyn, which resulted in Hollywood calling. Aronofsky wound up with the "Batman" franchise in his hands for a while, but it eventually landed with Christopher Nolan instead. Brad Pitt bailed on "The Fountain," which left the project in limbo for years, but Aronofsky finally got it made with Hugh Jackman and his partner Rachel Weisz in the leads — it proved too "cosmic" for most critics and audiences, but can expect a long life on the cult shelf. "The Wrestler," perhaps the straightest film Aronofsky has made so far, thus represents a comeback for him as much as for Mickey Rourke. The Japan Times spoke with one of our favorite directors about his film.
You're a Harvard boy, right? What attracted you to pro wrestling?
Well, I grew up in a lower-middle class neighborhood in Brooklyn and I went to public school, which was a very different world (from Harvard). Basically, like a lot of American boys, I think I had an eight-month romance with wrestling. But that was about it. I think most people write it off as a joke. But the more research I did into it, the more I realized there's a whole universe here.
The script was by Robert Siegel who writes for The Onion, yet it's not a comedy, it has a very melancholic feel. Did you bring that to it?
Well, me and the producer, Scott Franklin, worked on a couple drafts of the script, but we couldn't quite figure it out. I read one of Rob's scripts, and his stuff had this very Hal Ashby aspect, it was very funny and dramatic and dark and humanistic. So when I approached him, it turned out he had had similar experiences with wrestling when he was growing up, and completely understood it.
How early in the process were you sure you wanted Mickey Rourke in the lead?
Probably after the second or third meeting. I knew there were a lot of connections between Mickey and the material, and there could be some real magic going on if we got those two things together. But I just wanted to make sure he could really do it, that he was still up for it.
How hard was it to get financing with Mickey as your lead
It was near impossible. I mean, it took two and a half years of every single financier in the world saying "no" at least once to the film with Mickey Rourke attached. The way movies are made these days, you go to the market with a movie star and they tell you how much it's worth, and the reality was that Mickey was more of a negative. And I think that's because people had really forgotten about him.
So, did you enjoy having the last laugh?
I enjoyed it like six months ago. Now, y'know, people have forgotten it. He's become such a big star again, people don't remember how difficult it was.
Those fight scenes certainly look brutal — were you ever worried about your lead injuring himself?
Of course. Especially Mickey, because he was a big whiner! (Laughs.) Even though he's a tough guy, he's soft inside. But we wanted to make sure everything was safe. Even though it looks very intense, it's a movie, and we were careful. But sure, anytime a guy in his 50s takes a fall to the ground, they can hurt themselves badly. But Mickey's an athlete, and he was in high training.
Mickey knows fighting; how real did he want it to look?
Sometimes, when something really intense would come up, he'd surprise everyone and go way beyond the call of duty. A perfect example is the match where he does something called "gigging," which is when a wrestler cuts himself. I had spent about $3,000 on this low-budget film to find a way to do that with prosthetics, and Mickey said 'no way, I'm gonna do it myself,' and he did!