By Fred Topel | Image property of respective holders
Darren Aronofsky has had some uphill battles in his career. The indie film Pi was a black and white conspiracy thriller about math. Requiem for a Dream was an intense subjective view of the lives of drug addicts. The Fountain was an interpretive philosophical piece with historical and futuristic elements. That was all cake compared to directing Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.
Aronofsky Grapples The Wrestler
"He was a pain in the ass the whole shoot," Aronofsky joked. "I mean, he was tough. He's tough. He has really strong opinions and he's been around a long time so he knows all the games. I think the reality is this, that he's basically a ripped open nerve and he's just sizzling with emotion. That's why he's built up all this armor is to hide it. I'm sure he was very nice and open to you guys but when he meets people on the street, he's very guarded. So for him to do the work is painful because he's letting people into that. So getting him to the starting line was probably the hardest thing I ever did as a director."
Aronofsky jibes his star with love. He wanted to push Rourke so that audiences could see the actor he fell in love with in Angel Heart. "Between action and cut, there's no one better because he just lets it go. He's completely natural, he's a complete professional and he'll keep going until you call cut. He never called cut on me. That's the real diva is someone who basically stops a take, tries to control a take. He never did that. He always surrendered to the moment and went for it, take after take and I would make him do 10 takes in a row and he did it. So he was great once he got going. It's just I think he's afraid to get going because he doesn't know what's going to come out."
The Wrestler was also a change for Aronofsky, because he cut all the stylistic tricks of his previous movies. He just shot handheld documentary style and let the actors act.
"Look, the lesson of The Wrestler is that you need an honest performance and a lens to make a film. That's kind of been the big lesson. You can do something that simple if the performance is really honest and really strong. I think I've always been open to performance. I push my actors always to go, be it Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz or Ellen Burstyn and Jared Leto or Marlon Wayans or Jennifer Connelly, they all bring it for me. I try to structure my films so that they're open enough to allow the actors to really do their work. I think though there's just a lot of expressionist filmmaking with that. So the visual style came less out of the story and more out of Mickey and wanting to do an actor's piece. I think it was just the nature of the material. I really just wanted to do something with a different energy. The first three films were kind of a chapter. Being done with that chapter, I just wanted to move on and do something different. This is what kind of came up."
That said, even Aronofsky's biggest critics have warmed up to him. "I got my first good review today from Rex Reed from the New York Observer who f*ckin' hates me. He even put real jabs in there about me, like, 'Aronofsky who makes trash like The Fountain' or something like that which I love because I hate that guy but I got my first good review. So good things come out of it too."