On Saturday afternoon HeyUGuys had the opportunity to attend one of this year’s American Express Screen Talks at the London Film Festival (hosted at the BFI Southbank) where guest, director Darren Aronofsky, discussed his work and career over ninety thoroughly engaging minutes.
Aronofsky, director of such bold and iconoclastic pictures as Pi and Requiem for a Dream, also brought Mickey Rourke back from a career wilderness in last year’s character drama, The Wrestler, winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his pains. In a relatively short (yet varied) career, he’s a filmmaker who possesses that unique ability to move effortlessly between different genres and styles, yet still leaving his own personal imprint on the finish product.
His fifth feature Black Swan, a psychological thriller set in the world of ballet, was part of the festival’s Galas & Special Screenings section on Friday.
While Aronofsky’s films tend to reflect a darker and more sombre outlook, the man himself appeared to be far from that persona of tortured artist, and was a funny, amiable and open interviewee during the retrospective, conducted by film critic and journalist Mike Goodridge.
The afternoon kicked off with a discussion of Black Swan and Aronofsky revealed how the film had first begun life on a list of potential cinematic ideas he began formulating early into his career, and something he first mentioned to Portman eight years back as a future project for the two of them.
Aronofsky has enjoyed a close collaboration with many of his key crew throughout his career, and he met cinematographer Matthew Libetque (who’s been by his side on every film except The Wrestler) during his college days. He revealed how his regular composer, British–born Clint Mansell, took the score for Black Swan (originally produced in the late nineteen century for the ballet ) in a unique direction.
“Clint took Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece from the ballet and deconstructed it, ripped it apart and turned it into movie music. He then recorded it with an 80-piece orchestra and this was where it became something else. It’s really an amazing fusion. You can’t really tell where Tchaikovsky ends and Clint begins.”
It was refreshing to hear that the director was surprisingly upbeat about his ill-received opus The Fountain. It’s a film which he still holds dear to his heart, particularly as both his Mother and Father were diagnosed with cancer during development, which resonated in the work and weaved its way into the film’s key theme of loss and mortality.
It’s widely known that the initial Australian-based production was abandoned close to its start date, due to lead actor Brad Pitt quitting at the eleventh hour, and Aronofsky revealed that the sets which had already been built were auctioned off to an Aztec/Mayan-themed restaurant in Melbourne!
Following the collapse of The Fountain, he had a humorous and tongue-in-cheek tale of how he inadvertently inspired Sylvester Stallone to get back in the ring again for his last bout as Rocky.
“The week that The Fountain fell apart, I got a call from Stallone’s people saying that he wanted to meet me. I went up to his house in the hills of Hollywood and pitched him The Wrestler, which was this idea I had and it was before he did Rocky Balboa. I think I influenced that film a little bit, because I’ve seen him once since, and he never gave me sh#t for casting Mickey, and I think it’s because he stole some of the ideas for Rocky (Balboa).”
He also talked about how Nicholas Cage (who had actually signed on to play the lead in The Wrestler) was extremely understanding when he sensed that the director really had his heart set on Rourke (his initial choice) to play the role of faded wrestling champ Randy “The Ram” Robinson.
“He was a total gentleman when we parted ways, and was actually excited that Mickey was going to do it. When we (himself and Rourke) won the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, Nic was the first person to text and offer his congratulations.”
He was less upfront in revealing if his next film would be the sequel to Wolverine but he did state, in a refreshingly honest way, the attractions for him in doing a big-budget studio film.
“I’d really like to direct a movie where I’m not the only person in the room who wants to make it. It would be a really exciting prospect to take on a product and attempt to do it well. I’d be extremely game to give it a shot.”
During the audience Q&A section at the end, he was asked about his brief involvement in bringing the Batman franchise back to the big screen, and his ideas for a back-to-basics version of the myth were even a notch below the world which Christopher Nolan ended up creating.
“I took the writing job and pitched what we called a low-tech, duct-tape version of Batman where basically, the Batmobile was going to be a Lincoln Continental with a diesel bus engine dropped in it. It was intended to be the exact opposite to where the Batman films had gone.”
He revealed the reason why this take on the Caped Crusader never saw the light of day.
“The bottom line was, at the time I wasn’t ready to do something like Batman, and I really wanted to get The Fountain made.”
He also talked candidly about his first exposure and subsequent journey into the world of filmmaking, and how it happened purely by chance.
“I entered colleague having no clue what I wanted to do and I was terrified. My roommate (at Harvard) was doing animation and I couldn’t believe that you could get away with taking a course like that. I started helping me drawing and painting animated cells and then I took a drawing class and that started my path in the visual arts. I made a short film in college and got addicted to it. I made this one cut, and it was a really emotional experience and that was it!”