Chatting With Darren Aronofsky on ‘The Wrestler’ and So Much More

Mickey Rourke and Darren Aronofsky on set of The Wrestler
Photo: Fox Searchlight

I interviewed Darren Aronofsky for The Fountain back in November 2006 and while he was actually here in Seattle I was not able to meet him so I had to do it over the phone, which was frustrating considering I found The Fountain to be one of the most fascinating films as evidenced by my commentary just over a year ago when Darren had to release his own commentary for the film independently because Warner Bros. didn’t include it on the DVD release. So, that’s a roundabout way of saying, I didn’t get a chance to meet him face-to-face. Well, that has all changed.

In Seattle to promote his extremely impressive film The Wrestler Darren and I had a 15 minute sit down and I can’t tell you how flattering it was to hear him recognize the site and my work and have him say, “I know you’re site, I’ve got you bookmarked.” Very flattering indeed and a great way to start off an interview session, which bounces around to damn near every single topic I could come up with from The Wrestler to RoboCop and from Wrestlemania to “Grand Theft Auto”. We covered the gamut and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did putting it all together.


This is the first time you’ve really worked with a script you didn’t have a hand in.

Darren Aronofsky (DA): Well actually it was an original idea that I had…

Oh really?

DA: Yeah, when I graduated from film school I made a list of ideas for films — for feature films — and one of them was called The Wrestler and it was just an observation on how no one has ever looked into that world. Then in ’02 when The Fountain fell apart the first time I started developing some ideas to figure out what to do next before I went back to The Fountain and that was when I started working with a producer friend, Scott Franklin, and we started to come up with ideas, doing research and going to some of these shows – went to Wrestlemania. Then about two years later we hired Rob Siegel who was the editor of The Onion for seven years and I read a script of his and then we did a lot of drafts with him and he was very open to rewriting and we kept rewriting over and over again until we got it to a place where it was filmable.

So I guess you did have a pretty big hand in the creation of it all then.

DA: I think as a director if you are going to do something you didn’t write you still almost have to think about it as a writer because you still have to understand what the material is all about. You have to break it down and figure it out.

I’m sure you would agree this is much different than everything else you have made.

DA: Yeah.

And looking at your upcoming slate — the Noah project, The Fighter, RoboCop — I have to wonder, is this a conscious attempt not to delve into the same kind of genre and perhaps branch out of the cerebral? Because The Wrestler is far more emotional than it is cerebra,l which your other films have been.

DA: I don’t know, you just got to keep a lot of balls in the air. It’s very hard to make a movie so you try and push as many things as you can forward. Part of the reason it’s hard to make a movie is because it’s hard to get a good enough script that’s worth making. That’s the first step, getting a script you believe in, and then it takes a long time to raise the money — at least for me it’s always a hard time. The Wrestler took about two years and that was mostly because of Mickey. No one really believed in him and no one thought he could be sympathetic so it was a tough road to get the money to do it.

You really pulled a lot out of him.

DA: It wasn’t pulling. Pushed, I pushed it out of him. It was all in there I had to push him.

Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler
Photo: Fox Searchlight

The scene between him and Evan Rachel Wood is phenomenal. Just seeing a small glimpse of it in the trailer takes you back to the moment. It’s really powerful. [WATCH THE CLIP TO THE RIGHT]

DA: Mickey did it. Mickey came prepared. He was up the whole night before working on it. It was very emotional for him because he had to go to a place — he explained to me where he went — and it was a very, very dark place. He had that conversation, but in reverse, with his own dad so he had to go back there, because he’s a method actor, and that’s what he pulled on and it kind of haunted him and stayed with him for about two/three days afterwards. It was tough on him.

Speaking of Mickey, he talked about the sit down you two had.

DA: Well, it’s his version. [laughing]

That’s what I was going to ask about. He said you made him feel two inches tall and made it sound like you actually set out to do that…

DA: Well, I was just straight with him. I knew it was going to be a tough road with him because of how films get made in today’s world. A studio would never touch this film and so you have to go to the international market and how that works is it is all based on pre-sales for movie stars and the reality is Mickey is worth nothing, and the reality is he may be worth negative amounts of money, at least that is what some people told me. I was like, ‘I believe in you, but no one else believes in you and if I am going to do this I want to make sure you are up for it because I am going to put myself through hell so I want to make sure you are going to take the trip with me.’

I was just very straight and maybe I was a little too direct, but why waste fucking time? If he’s not going to go, ‘Yes, I’m going to do that,’ then it’s like, ‘Okay, then I’m not going to do the film with you in this way. I will figure another way to do it.’ I’m pretty brash, but I’m from Brooklyn and I’m just very direct. I’m very direct.

In your industry I wouldn’t think there is a lot of time to really pussy-foot around things and I would assume, considering it is your vision, there is hardly room for a lot of compromise.

DA: Right — well… everything’s a compromise. Filmmaking is compromising, and so there’s always people you answer to, but definitely we had creative freedom on this film. I mean, that’s the one thing the French gave us. They visited the set once and they paid for the whole movie. They watched one cut at the end and they said it’s fine and that was it. It was great. It was a great partner.

One thing I found particularly interesting is that you never go too far into his back-story. As I was watching and getting wrapped up in the story I started to get emotionally involved with his story, but there is still that lingering thought of what exactly has placed him in his current predicament — ruin his marriage, create the friction with his daughter, etc. — was that ever in the story or was there a back-story in your mind?

DA: Sure, we talk back-story and work that out. That stuff’s really not important, it’s moment-by-moment watching what this guy’s going to do with the challenges in front of him, but then you end up with a three hour long film and it’s not about that, it’s a character study of a brief moment of this guy’s life.

Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler
Photo: Fox Searchlight

If someone asked you what the film is all about at its core how would you answer?

DA: The film’s ultimately about a guy who wants to be loved and he gets all this love from his work and then when he can’t do it anymore he tries to get love from these two women [his daughter and a stripper played by Marisa Tomei], but it ends up him asking for a little too much a little too late. He ultimately can only get love from one place and that’s what he learns.

I think if you take the word “wrestling” and swap it out with pretty much anything from writing to any sport, to whatever your art is, it kind of — you know — how one deals with their own life and what they consider their art or their work and your real world, that’s kind of what the film’s about.

Looking forward to the projects you have coming up, what is the situation with the Noah project?

DA: We have a script actually, it is a script but there is more work to do. We’re actually going to do a graphic novel of it right now, we’re just starting it, and we’re hiring a writer.

And are you shopping the script around to studios and actors…?

DA: There is an actor attached, but I’m not going to say who, but he’s a big movie star.

Steve Carell… [joking]

DA: [With a smile] Yeah, exactly… Eventually we’ll set it up, but we’re just figuring it out. It’s a very difficult film to get made and we’re slowly working on it to get it put together.

A lot of folks in the online world are interested in RoboCop and I can only imagine it is because your name is attached. Because RoboCop is very much an ’80s film, but you have been quoted saying it’s going to be a “real reinvention”. Can you talk about what that means?

DA: It’s very early days, there’s a writer involved and hopefully it can turn into a script I want to make and the studio wants to make. Once again, it’s really hard to talk about until there is a green light. The writer’s writing so we’ll see what happens. It bums me out how much gets picked up on the Internet and stuff because nothing exists until you are in pre-production and then it doesn’t really exist until you’re shooting.

So you’d say all these projects are pretty much —

DA: Yeah, what I’m making next… Who knows?

Is Pitt still attached to The Fighter by the way?

DA: He was never even attached. Wahlberg was the only one ever attached. There was some flirtation with Pitt, but it didn’t really go anywhere and it just got picked up. The whole thing with Nic Cage on The Wrestler was a tiny little blip and it just got picked up when none of it really ever happened. So we’re just trying to get the scripts in the right place and hopefully I can get to work soon.

Screen capture from “Grand Theft Auto IV”
Photo: RockStar Games

Some people were picking up on your little blurb in the “New York Times” on how much you like “Grand Theft Auto”.

DA: [laughing] Yeah.

Are you a big gamer?

DA: I’m a pretty big gamer. I mean I wish I had more time. I mean, I have a two-and-a-half-year-old kid so I cannot wait until he is gaming! I’m so psyched for my kid to start gaming.

Yeah, you sounded pretty excited just in the little blurb talking about how you wish they had games like that when you were a kid. Now were you a big wrestling fan as well?

DA: Not really. I think like most guys my age it was an eight month window where there was a romance with it. That was it.

I had that in college. It was Thursday night WCW and then The Rock’s stint on WWF and I was done.

DA: Yeah, it was fun for a little while, but not really. I made it because no one has seen that world and I think it’s an original world and it’s such a cultural phenomenon in America that it had to be addressed.

Was it modeled after any one specific wrestler?

DA: There were a lot of people, and the sad thing is they are all very similar. The other night Rowdy Roddy Piper came to a screening and afterward he kind of tearfully broke down in Mickey’s arms and was like — it wasn’t his story, yet his story was finally being told. It just meant a lot so I can’t wait to show it to the legends.

I was going to say, after I got out of the screening a friend of mine and I were talking about the wrestlers we remembered and we both had a different one of the windows you were talking about and brought up different names. Is that the only legend that has seen it so far?

DA: Piper is the only one that’s seen it, at least that is famous, of the legends. We’re trying to get a bunch of them —

A legends screening would be insane.

DA: That’s what I am trying to do. I am trying to get Fox — write about it on RopeofSilicon that we’re trying to put it together because it will add to the hype, but I’m trying to get it. There’s a premiere in L.A. on December 16 and I’m trying to get them to fly in like ten guys from the legends to get them to see it. So it would be great to get them there.

The Wrestler hits limited theaters on December 17 for more information on the film including the trailer, pictures and more click here.

Box Office

Weekend: Aug. 22, 2019, Aug. 25, 2019

New Releases