Words: Paul Dean
American Express Screen Talk: Darren Aronofsky (23 Oct 2010)
It’s surely a good thing that Darren Aronofsky’s personality is absolutely nothing like the intense, disturbed and sometimes distressing films that he makes. He must be one of the most comfortable, casual and communicative filmmakers around, swivelling his chair as he answers questions and effortlessly delivering a great many friendly jokes and warm anecdotes. At one point he even performs a passable Sylvester Stallone impression.
It’s disarming to see a man considered one of today’s most impressive filmmakers so without ego, but he appreciates filmmaking is a process that can fail in many ways, something that has kept his feet very much on the ground. He has worked hard to not only see his films realised, but also to ensure they even get as far as being funded. He would love, for once, to be in a pitching situation “where I’m not the only person in the room who wants to make the film”.
His box office successes have never been ideas that were easy to summarise or to sell and he has plenty to say about the funding of independent film. Many projects collapse simply because nobody wants to pay for them, particularly if, like his own, such films “don’t hit a genre on the nose”.
Surely his work has demonstrated their popularity by now? The very modestly budgeted 'Pi', 'Requiem For A Dream' and 'The Wrestler' were enormously well received, but he cautions that it’s foolish to assume or expect success. “Audiences like to go to unique places and unique worlds”, he says “and I’ve got a really demented imagination and it sort of goes in that direction, but you don’t really know what [film] you have until audiences see it”.
Lessons were learned after his abstract and splendid labour of love 'The Fountain' lost its original lead, Brad Pitt, suffered a protracted development, received wildly contrary reviews, made back a third of its $35m budget. It further hampered his attempts to secure funding from tight-walleted investors. “The gold rush of independent filmmaking has dried up. The people who are investing are in control and they want a lot of things”. Independent film is a difficult proposition right now, he says. Aronofsky is still very much at the mercy of money.
This remained the case with 'Black Swan', his latest, even though he secured Natalie Portman as his lead. A “nightmare” search for backing led him to a lunch with one man who talked him through an investment process of “really high-risk money” that would later be backed by “new, less-risk” money. “’That sounds like a ponzi scheme’”, Aronofsky joked to the man. “And he was just...totally quiet. And I was like...‘Oh shit.’”
It’s a tribute to Portman that, while 'Black Swan' was still in uncertain development, she committed to extensive and demanding ballet training. Her dedication was likely a boost for Aronofsky, as he reveals that there was no big secret behind Pitt’s departure from 'The Fountain', the actor simply got tired of waiting for the film to be funded and made.
It’s not so commonly known that Aronofsky was in discussion with Warner Bros over a possible Batman reboot after 'Batman And Robin' almost destroyed the franchise in 1997. Aronofsky pitched something darker, a vision of a psychotic caped crusader who was “low-tech - the Batmobile was going to a Lincoln Continental with a diesel bus engine dropped in it. It was the exact opposite to where the Batman movies had gone”. Warner decided that, at least at that time, they didn’t want Batman to be so gritty. “They weren’t ready for it”.
His name is currently tied to 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2' and he was, until recently, also attached to a 'Robocop' remake, but he has little to say about current projects except that their success and even their conception are at the mercy of many factors. When I ask him how he might pull off a superhero flick, something that seems at odds with his genre-straddling style, he concedes that his own interpretation of the work might be at odds with the expectations of others. “I might really fuck things up”, is his frank conclusion. “I’ve got to find the right situation and I haven’t found that yet”.
For Darren Aronofsky, filmmaking requires an acceptance that there are many factors beyond your control. Perhaps this is how he has remained so modest.
Aronofsky's new film 'Black Swan' is fully booked at the LFF 2010 but is scheduled for release in the UK in February 2011, preceded by the US release this December.