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Darren Aronofsky interview, Part II

In which Aronofsky deconstructs rumors that he was inspired by Roland Barthes’s essays on wrestling and striptease, and explains why Marisa Tomei’s character is not a dental hygienist.

PK: Marisa Tomei, was she who you had in mind first for the role?

DA: It was a very hard role to cast, because of the nudity, so I kind of cast a big net, and I didn't have any ideas about who I wanted because I figured I'd be more of a beggar than a chooser. Just because I think a lot of women were wary of working with Mickey, and because it's a stripper role. You know, as soon as they met Mickey, and had a sense that he was an amazing actor, and if they were brave enough to look at the stripping stuff as just part of the role, then maybe they would come and do the film. I think any actress who looks at it knows those images are going to end up on the Internet, pirated by people looking at them for whatever reason they want to look at them.

PK: Strictly professional reasons.

DA: Yeah, so it's tough. But it was really important to get the reality of this film across, so I just had a very straightforward conversation with Marisa at the beginning and she seemed game.

PK: Well she had sort of broken through that barrier with “Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.” And was it a difficult process?

DA: I think it’s always hard when an actor is out there revealing themselves physically or emotionally, you know, you got to feel for them. You can't help but feel for them, because it’s tough. But you know, inch by inch you get through it. Dance by dance, step by step we got through it.

PK: Well you had a similar thing at the end of “Requiem for a Dream.” It’s a motif now.

DA: What?

PK: The stripper. Two movies out of four.

DA: Was she really a stripper at the end? [of “Requiem for a Dream”] I think she was a little bit past stripping.

PK: Yeah, I guess so. Why couldn’t the Marisa Tomei character have been a dental hygienist or something, why did she need to be a stripper?

DA: Believe me, you know, when you've got an independent film and you put a stripper in it a lot of red flags go up. Not only because it’s difficult to cast, but because it could easily be a cliche. The more we looked at it, the connections between a stripper and wrestler were just so fascinating. The fact that they both have fake names, the fact that they’re both up on stage, the fact that they both create a fantasy for the audience, they both wear spandex. And more importantly, that time and age are their great enemies. Eventually, they’re going to have to stop doing it, because their bodies can't do it anymore. There’s this whole line between the real and the fake. Mickey doing something fake in the ring, but that's become his real world. Marisa is really strict about keeping her real world from the fantasy world at the club. And the way that Mickey's character mixes it up and Marisa's character is fighting to keep it straight, was just an interesting counterpoint, or whatever you call it.

PK: One's alienated from his child, one isn't.

DA: Right. So there was a lot of that, and it just made a lot of sense and kind of worked and so even though we looked for something else to do with it, and there was just nothing that worked. And in reality, most wrestlers, when they’re done with a gig, is they go to the strip club and spend their money, in real life. So it just made sense to make it work.

PK: On the other hand, strippers don’t go to wrestling matches when they're done.

DA: No, they don't.

PK: Why is that?

DA: Unless they’re performing in it; there are actually a lot of strippers that work the wrestling circuit.

PK: They’re both objectifications of the body for commerical, spectacle purposes. One’s an objectification of suffering and other one's of pleasure. There’re essays on wrestling and striptease  by Roland Barthes; I'm sure you’ve read them and that’s what inspired you.

DA: [Picks up copy of “The Barthes Reader.” Puts it down] No, I never read them.  

PK: Want to talk about “RoboCop?”  [Aronofsky is said to be involved in a remake].

DA: Uh-uh.

PK: How about “The Fighter?”  [Another project]

DA: Uh-uh.

PK: No?

DA: I don't know what’s next. I'm working hard trying to get a film together. We'll see what happens.

PK: No “Noah?” [likewise]

DA: No, I got no comment.

PK: How come you didn't write the screenplay for this?

DA: I was working on the post of “The Fountain” and I kind of like the idea of bringing in a new writer, and ultimately it was great because you're kind of collaborating with a whole other brain and so that creative person can bring so much to the table. Rob [screenwriter Robert D. Siegel] brought a lot to the table. Being the editor of  “The Onion” for seven years means he's a pretty funny guy and he brought a lot of humor to the film. 

PK: Yeah. I thought there was a lot of humor in “Pi,” but mostly in the next two movies it was kind of like, humor-free. That something you’re working on?

DA: Yeah, all my student films were comedy so it's just kind of weird that those were kind of solemn.  

PK: He came up with the 80s line? The Kurt Cobain line? [referring to 80s heyday of Heavy Metal, the Ram says “Then that Cobain pussy had to come and ruin it all.”]

DA: Yeah, there were actually more lines there, but it didn't work.

PK: You believe that?

DA: I thought it was very funny.

PK: You were into hip hop though?

DA: I was into hip hop. I would say the 80s kind of sucked too.

PK: Not as bad as the 90s.

DA: I like the 90s. I would say I’m pro-90s. The 90s were like the roaring 20s. people were having a good time, there’s a lot of positivity, you know things were pretty positive.

PK: How about the new millennium? Looking up?

DA: Everything’s just changed a couple weeks ago, it’s been really interesting.


PK: So after “The Fountain,” fhow devastating was that for you after putting so much work into it twice to have it not be embraced...

DA: I think it has been embraced by a lot of people that get it, deeply. And that’s kind of the great reward. I mean, ultimately, I made an expensive art film, that was for a specific audience. But that audience that’s gotten it has just been great. I made the film I wanted to make and for me it was a great success.

PK: Even though it’s not the original version you had planned.

DA: No, ultimately, that was in many ways a completely different film, the first version. The second version became a new film in many ways and it became one that I loved and I got to make the film I wanted to make.

PK: There seems to be kind of a religious sense in these films........some sort of attempt to achieve an absolute. Would you say that’s true?

DA: That’s for you to say my friend. But there are definitely some Christ references going on in this one. There’s a little bit there.

PK: You’re being a little cagey.

DA: It’s hard to talk about those metaphors and stuff.

PK: Did I ask you about “Robocop” already?

DA: Uh, yeah, you did and I gave you like a 20 minute answer.

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Peter Keough tosses away all pretenses of objectivity, good taste and sanity and writes what he damn well pleases under the guise of a film blog.

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