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Vast Conspiracies, Just Waiting To Be Exposed

Critic David Edelstein says the new newspapers-and-politicos thriller is stuck in the 1970s — but don't expect All the President's Men. This is one Beltway time bomb that never explodes.

05:21

Other segments from the episode on April 17, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 17, 2009: Interview with Darren Aronofsky; Review of the film "State of play."

Transcript

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Darren Aronofsky On 'The Wrestler'

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia
Daily News, filling in for Terry Gross. Our guest, Darren Aronofsky,
directed the film “The Wrestler.” Its leading actors, Mickey Rourke and
Marisa Tomei, earned Oscar nominations, and Rourke won a Golden Globe
for his performance.

Rourke plays Randy - The Ram - Robinson, a wrestler who was a star in
the ‘80s and is now living in a trailer park, wrestling for small change
with newcomers and has-beens in high school auditoriums and American
Legion halls.

He’s physically and emotionally broken but refuses to give up wrestling
because it’s the only thing he does well and the only place he feels
appreciated.

The person he’s closest to is a stripper, played by Marisa Tomei, who’s
also getting too old for the job. The wrestling matches may be fixed,
but the Ram is still subjecting his failing body to enormous punishment
in the ring.

Aronofsky’s scenes reveal how the fights are pre-planned but also show
how much real pain the wrestlers inflict on each other. Terry spoke to
Darren Aronofsky in January. Here’s a scene just before one of the
small-time wrestling matches. The promoter is backstage, telling the
wrestlers what the line-up is.

(Soundbite of film, “The Wrestler”)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) All right, FLG(ph), where
are you? You’re up first against TVS(ph).

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Thank you.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Second we’ve got Havoc and
Colebean(ph) versus Billy the Kid and Lex Lethal.

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) What I gotta do tonight?

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Third, Sapiens(ph) versus Devon
Moore(ph). Fourth, Judas the Traitor versus Rob Echoes(ph).
Intermission. Fifth, Kevin Matthews(ph) versus Inferno. Sixth, we’ve got
Sugar and DJ High versus the Funky Samoans. Seventh, Paul E. Normous and
Andy Anderson versus Jim Power and Pappa Don(ph). And last but not
least, for the strap we’ve got Tommy Rotten versus Randy the Ram. All
right, you guys got it?

Unidentified Men (Actors): (As character) Yeah.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) All right, let’s do this.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Darren Aronofsky, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, I would’ve assumed
that if someone made a movie about wrestling that it would be a kind of
satirical, campy film since a lot of wrestling, particularly wrestling
in the ‘80s, was so campy, but your film isn’t campy at all. It’s got a
lot of heart, and it’s got real emotional and physical pain.

Let’s start with the story behind the idea for the film. Why did you
want to make this film? How did you get the idea for it?

Mr. DARREN ARONOFSKY (Director, “The Wrestler”): I think it started with
an observation a long time ago that no one’s ever made a serious film
about wrestling, and I think that is because most people perceive
wrestling as a joke because it’s fake, and they sort of write it off.

In fact, most people, while I was working on this film, were saying what
exactly are you doing with Mickey Rourke? And they really didn’t get it.
But the more I looked into it, the more interesting it got because you
meet these guys, and they’re 300 pounds, and they’re jumping off the top
rope, down 10 feet into a pile of concrete, and you know, you can’t find
me anyone who’s not going to feel that the next day.

So that whole line between what’s real and what’s fake started to become
really interesting.

GROSS: Now, I also think it’s really interesting that your movie, “The
Wrestler,” focuses on washed-up, broken-down wrestlers who are in
chronic pain.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah.

GROSS: These are – they’re not people who are in their prime anymore.
They play these, like, little matches in recreation centers and American
Legion halls. Why did you focus it on broken-down wrestlers?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Well, it came out of the kind of economic approach of the
film. I knew it was going to be a low-budget film for several reasons,
but when we first started, to be honest we were thinking a more-
traditional route of, you know, a 20-something, 30-year-old movie star
doing this, but it became pretty clear that working the WWE at the
beginning might not give the type of creative control I would need.

GROSS: Oh man, I bet they’d want a lot of money because everything is
just so marketed and franchised.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah.

GROSS: They own a piece of everything. I don’t…

Mr. ARONOFSKY: But Vince actually – Vince McMahon saw the film, and he
called both me and Mickey and was really, really touched by it, and we
were very nervous wondering what he would think, but he really, really
felt the film was special, and having his support meant a lot to us,
especially to Mickey.

GROSS: And he kind of controls the wrestling world.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Pretty much. I mean, definitely everything that most
people know about wrestling comes out of what Vince McMahon did, but
there’s this whole other world of wrestling for people who aren’t
working, you know, that mainstream but still want to wrestle, that’s the
independent circuit, and it’s how wrestling used to be before it was all
kind of combined into one sort of national league.

So after we realized that, I started to think of it first as a period
piece because before the WWE existed, there were all these territories
out there, you know, in the ‘70s and ‘80s - early ‘80s - but once again,
budget-wise I didn’t think I could do that, either.

So then I started going to these independent shows, which exist all over
the country, and they’re actually really interesting because they have a
lot of up-and-coming wrestlers, guys who, you know, want to go to the
big league, and then they also have, you know, people that will never
make it, and then they also have a lot of these legends that were huge
back in the day, you know, men and women that would sell out Madison
Square Garden and the L.A. Forum night after night after night who
basically are working for $500 a night in front of 200, 300 people. And
suddenly that became a really kind of intriguing story.

GROSS: Wrestling is really like the theater of cruelty and suffering,
and I think that’s really what you capture in the movie, and one of the
most amazing scenes is a match between Randy, the Mickey Rourke
character, and the Necro Butcher, Keith Dylan Summers, who’s a real
wrestler who plays himself in the movie.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah.

GROSS: And I didn’t realize that wrestling – I watched wrestling in the
‘80s, and I haven’t kept up with it, and I didn’t realize it had gotten
this hardcore where, like, the Butcher uses a staple gun with these,
like, big staples and barbed wire, and it’s a real bloody affair.

Before we talk about it, I want to just play a clip from the movie. And
this is like backstage, so to speak, before the actual match between
Randy the Ram and the Necro Butcher. And they’re talking to each other,
trying to, you know, like plan a little bit what the match will be like.
And the Necro Butcher speaks first.

(Soundbite of film, “The Wrestler”)

Mr. DYLAN SUMMERS (Actor): (As Himself) Anything you need me to do, sir,
just maybe keep the running to a minimum. Like maybe I can hit the ropes
once, take a bump for you, but like no criss-crossing please. It’s
hardcore stuff for me with you. Talk to me about it. What do you want to
do tonight? Are you cool with the staples?

Mr. MICKEY ROURKE (Actor): (As Randy Robinson) Staples?

Mr. SUMMERS: (As Himself) Staple gun.

Mr. ROURKE: (As Robinson) What do you mean?

Mr. SUMMERS: (As Himself) Like staple gun.

Mr. ROURKE: (As Robinson) Staple gun.

Mr. SUMMERS: (As Himself) You never did it before?

Mr. ROURKE: (As Robinson) No. Does that hurt?

Mr. SUMMERS: (As Himself) Silly question. Man, no so bad going in, kind
of scary. You know, you’ve got a big metal thing up against you. Pulling
them out, they’re going to leave a couple little holes, a little bit of
blood loss there.

Mr. ROURKE: (As Robinson) Rock and roll.

Mr. SUMMERS: (As Himself) Thank you, sir. It’s an honor.

Mr. ROURKE: (As Robinson) Take it easy with that staple gun.

Mr. SUMMERS: (As Himself) No problem, sir.

GROSS: One of the amazing things about this is that here’s, like, you
know, the Butcher talking about how he’s going to use the staple gun,
and it’s going to hurt, and he’s calling him sir, and you know, anything
you need me to do, sir. It’s just such an odd mix. Is this a typical
pre-match kind of conversation?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: You know, I mean it’s definitely pushed a little bit for
the audience’s sake. Wrestlers do discuss what they’re going to do
beforehand. We might have spelled it out a little bit more, but that
scene was actually not scripted. That was purely improvised.

We shot every wrestling scene in the film, we shot in front of live
wrestling audiences with real wrestlers. So everyone Mickey Rourke
wrestles is a, you know, is a real-life wrestler, as you said.

And so while we were waiting for our chance to get out there because
there was a match going on, I had some time to kill, and I was like hey
Mickey, go over to Necro and just start a conversation, and it kind of
evolved into that.

And I said oh yeah, that part’s great, and then we did another take, and
that’s what you see. It’s only two, three takes. And what was great
about working with these wrestlers is that, you know, they’re as much
athletes as they are actors, you know.

When you’re backstage, it’s you know, like being backstage at a theater
more than it is being backstage at a sporting event, and so they were
very natural in front of the camera and very realistic, and so that was
a lot of fun, all the improvisation and stuff that could go on back
there.

GROSS: I’m going to ask you to describe that match between, you know,
the Mickey Rourke character and the Necro Butcher. It’s the most, I
think, brutal, painful match in the movie. So I’d like you to describe
what happens and how you shot it.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Well to begin, you know, Necro Butcher is a real kind of
underground cult American hero. He’s a real wrestler, and he’s always
top billing at every wrestling event he goes to. And he basically gets
flown around the United States to come to these events, and people go
crazy for him.

They’re very much into his type of wrestling, and it’s an interesting
form of wrestling, a kind of – I have a whole theory about it. You know,
wrestling got really bloody in the late ‘90s because – I think it had to
do with the simultaneous announcement by the WWE that wrestling was
entertainment. And I think once the whole idea that this was
entertainment and not, you know, an athletic contest, the audience knows
that, and the audience is in on it.

What makes it interesting, I think, for certain parts of the audience is
the level of violence that these men do to each other, and so when we
start to do this film, I knew that would be a really important part
because it is a big chunk of the independent wrestling circuit.

So basically Mickey’s character, the Ram, goes to one of these hardcore
matches, one of his first, and basically these guys bring their own
weapons that they buy at a 99-cents store or a hardware store into the
ring, and they proceed to, you know, use those different tools on each
other, and you know, this happens in real life all the time, and they
even have events where the audience is encouraged to bring their own
weapons, and then the wrestlers use those against each other, you know,
just to prove to people that there’s very little trickery going on.

GROSS: So in this match, the Necro Butcher actually uses this really big
staple gun.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: And he staples right up and down Mickey Rourke’s back, and then
there’s like barbed wire that they’re using on each other and get caught
in and a plate-glass window one smashes over the other’s head. I mean,
it’s really brutal. But then there’s this amazing scene afterwards, you
know, backstage, so to speak, after the fight, when you see Mickey
Rourke’s back after all the staples have been pulled out, and it’s just
so painful to look at it.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Right. Yeah, well that’s sort of what these guys go
through. And it’s funny. You know, at the premiere a few weeks ago, we
invited all these famous legends to come and see the film, and there was
a guy who you may remember - Greg the Hammer Valentine - and he told me
that he actually wrestled with Dylan, the Necro Butcher, two weeks
earlier.

So it’s – you know, I think it’s – they’re out there just trying to
entertain, trying to hold onto their glory, trying to remain relevant
and, you know, at the cost of their health.

GROSS: So tell me what you learned about the stunt where, you know, the
wrestler - in this case Mickey Rourke – because this is one of his
specialties in the movie. He climbs on the top rope and positions
himself, kind of shows his muscles and then dives onto…

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Head first.

GROSS: Yeah, onto his opponent, who’s laying there, in quotes helplessly
on the floor of the ring. Like, what did you learn about how to do that
without killing yourself or killing your opponent?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Well, you know, they are – most of the time, if it’s done
right, you know, the wrestler who’s leaping lands. His knees will hit
first so that, you know, there’s not direct impact of that force hitting
the other guy.

Once again, this is, you know, the creative wrestlers protecting their
opponent. I mean, kind of the rule number one is to take care of your
opponent. So you know, often these guys are taking the hits themselves
to put their opponents over, is how they put it.

It’s a really interesting thing. I mean, it’s a lot of history to it, I
think. I really wasn’t able to track down where wrestling comes from as
far as, you know, this type or form of wrestling. Of course, Greco-Roman
wrestling is ancient, but I have a feeling it was – you know, they speak
this language that’s got its own words.

It’s almost like a carnie language. You know, they call the audience the
mark. There’s terms for keeping all the wrestling secrets secret. They –
you know, the performance is the show, and the good guys are baby-faces.
The bad guys are heels. And it’s all about their secret language so that
no one knows.

So I think it came out of, you know, the strong men fighting each other
back in the sideshow days. And so it’s got a long history, and because
of that, they’ve got their own kind of communicational language, and
that was what was interesting is how much of a world it is.

DAVIES: Director Darren Aronofsky. More after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We’re listening to Terry’s interview, recorded in January with
director Darren Aronofsky. He directed the film, “The Wrestler,” which
is coming out next week on DVD.

GROSS: Your interest seems to be beyond the theater of wrestling. I
mean, I think you’re really interested in the human body and what it can
endure and what it means to suffer pain, what the body can take and what
it can’t take. Yes?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: I think that’s a – I don’t know how much conscious I am
going into it. I know these themes are, you know, I think how people
manipulate their bodies to make art is pretty interesting.

I see – for me, I think you can take the word wrestling out of this film
and change it with any art or any vocation that someone is passionate
about, and you know, the story rings true.

It’s funny. When I was on the road doing the film in Dallas, I met a
preacher who was, I don’t know, in his 50s, and he said, you know, from
the beginning of the film he started crying because he just so connected
with the Ram’s story. And how he connected it with, was that, you know,
he’s watching his own congregation shrink, as everyone wants to get a
younger and younger preacher.

And so – and he had just told his wife recently how he’ll be preaching
'til there’s only one person left in the stands. So it’s kind of a
similar story.

GROSS: That leads me right into my other favorite scene. Like, one of my
favorite scenes is that really violent one that we just talked about.
And then there’s another scene where it’s a legends-of-wrestling
signing, and these like washed-up wrestlers are there with their videos
and their T-shirts to autograph for fans and to sell.

They’re selling the T-shirts. They’re selling the autographs. You know,
for a price you can get a picture taken with them. And so they’re in
this like what – is it a high school gym or rec center…

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah, that was a veterans’ hall.

GROSS: A veterans’ hall. So it’s this, you know, little place. And you
know, like a handful of fans are showing up, and the wrestlers are so
over the hill. Like one of them I think has a prosthetic leg, and one of
them’s in a wheelchair. They’re yawning; they’re sleeping. No one’s
there for the autograph, and it’s a great scene about what it’s like to
still be selling the autographs when no one much wants them anymore.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah, well that comes directly out of something I
witnessed. One of the first research trips I did, me and my co-producer,
Mark Heyman, went to an event out in Jersey, and there were so many
legends there, from Captain Lou Albano to Rocky Johnson, who’s the
Rock’s dad, to Jimmy Superfly Snuka.

They had a ring set up in the middle, and there was all these legends,
and less people came to that than came to the amount of extras I had in
that scene. And it was heartbreaking. It’s ah, you know, these guys just
trying to make ends meet, trying to live their past glories and just
trying to hold on to the dream. And I just knew we had to do that scene
after I witnessed it.

GROSS: Mickey Rourke got an Academy Award nomination for his performance
in the film. It’s an incredible performance because he has so much heart
and also does a lot of the stunts himself. And I’m sure he did a lot of
suffering during the making of the movie.

How did you choose him? I had read that you were first going to go with
Nicholas Cage and then decided to go with Mickey Rourke.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah, it was actually always Mickey - from the point
where we got the idea for him. And the problem was, no one in the whole
entire world wanted to finance the movie with him.

Basically how financing for movies works is, you go into the
international market, and depending on who the movie star is - and what
the project is and who the director is, but really the movie star - you
basically can, you know, get loans off of what people promise to pay for
it internationally.

But the problem was Mickey was actually pretty much a negative in
getting this film made. And I think that’s because, you know, where his
status as a movie star was – it just had fallen so much, and… But he
just made so much sense for me. But after about a year and a half of,
you know, no after no after no after no, I started to get a little antsy
because I didn’t think the film was going to happen.

And there was a small flirtation with another actor, but ultimately… And
that ended up getting picked up because once you start doing something
with a movie star, you know, they don’t write about the year and a half
of struggling to make a film with Mickey Rourke. They write about, you
know, the flirtation with the movie star. That makes the front page.

GROSS: Well, why did you know Mickey Rourke was going to be right? It
turns out you were correct.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: I don’t know. You know, I was a big fan. When I was a
kid, I can remember the exact moment of seeing “Angel Heart” in the
theater and just being blown away by him. And I was a big fan through
“Barfly” and his other work, and I think like a lot of people, you just
wondered what the hell happened to him. And you know, I think Adrian
Lyne told him that if he had died back then, he’d be bigger than James
Dean. And it’s pretty cruel, but there’s something – I mean, that’s how
huge of a star he was.

You know, and on the promotion, you know, talking to – you know,
promoting the film, I’ve gotten the chance to talk to Sean Penn and
Benicio Del Toro and Brad Pitt, and they’re all – you know, Mickey was
the guy. But he just sort of disappeared.

And I think when I met Mickey, I thought – I knew he had been an
athlete, you know, because of the boxing story - that he went and became
a boxer was very well known. So I thought that might help. And also just
sitting with him.

You look into his eyes. And you know, his body is just all this armor,
and he wears all these outfits, and it’s all about keeping people away
from looking in his eyes. Because the second you look into his eyes,
it’s just there’s so much there that it was really exciting as a
filmmaker.

And if I have any great accomplishment on this film, it’s the fact that
Mickey Rourke never wore a pair of sunglasses in the entire film.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Which you show me another film where that happened, and –
I don’t think it exists.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Director Darren Aronofsky with Terry Gross, recorded in January.
Aronofsky’s film, “The Wrestler,” is out on DVD next week. He’ll be back

in the second half of the show. I’m Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, “The Wrestler”)

Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (Singer/Songwriter/Musician): (Singing) Have you
ever seen a one trick pony in the field, so happy and free? If you’ve
ever seen a one trick pony then you’ve seen me. Have you ever seen a
one-legged dog makin’ his way down the street?

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. We’re
listening to Terry’s conversation with Darren Aronofsky, the director of
the film “The Wrestler,” which comes out on DVD next week. Mickey Rourke
was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Randy ‘The Ram’
Robinson, a washed up wrestling star now reduced to matches in high
school gyms and recreation centers. His personal life is as broken as
his body. He lives alone in a trailer park and his only friend is on
over the hill stripper who feels she has to treat him like a customer.
Here’s a clip from the film. In this scene, he’s trying to reconcile
with his estranged adult daughter. He’s taken her to the boardwalk where
they used to go when she was a child.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Wrestler”)

Mr. MICKEY ROURKE (Actor): (As Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson) I just want to
tell you. I’m the one who is supposed to take care of everything. I’m
the one who is supposed to make everything okay for everybody. But it
just didn’t work out like that. And I left. I left you. You never did
anything wrong. I used to try to, forget about you. I used to try to
pretend that you didn’t exist, but I can’t. You’re my girl. You’re my
sweet – you’re my little girl. And now, I’m an old broken down piece of
meat. And I’m alone. And I deserve to be all alone. I just don’t want
you to hate me.

DAVIES: Mickey Rourke in a scene from “The Wrestler.” Let’s get back to
Terry’s interview with the film’s director Darren Aronofsky.

GROSS: Mickey Rourke has said that you were very hard on him while he
was making the movie. What did he mean?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Well, you know Mickey is blessed with more talent in his
pinky than most of us have in a lifetime. And so it’s very easy for him
to coast through his work and I think that’s what we’ve seen for the
last 10-15 years. And to be honest, I’d say Mickey worked really hard on
this film but he didn’t give me everything. I mean he says he gave me
everything and he probably did but there’s even more in there and that’s
how talented he is. He is so gifted but because he is, he’s just little
bit afraid of it and - and also, you know, it just hasn’t been put to
the test. And so if anything, my biggest job was just to push, pull,
encourage, inspire, challenge, you know, for him to really, really dig
deep.

GROSS: Well, he has the kind of muscle in this film that you usually
need steroids to get and his character does shoot steroids in order to
get his muscles. So what does he do to get the muscle legally?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARONOFSKY: He worked really hard. He - I mean, since it took a year
and half to raise the money and he knew about it for that long - it was
ultimately about two years he had to start thinking about it - he hired
this really hard core trainer who is a former Israeli commando, who was
a former cage fighter. And the guy just took no BS and he lifted twice a
day. Eight – drank about 7,000 calories a day and was always walking
around with one of those shakes. And the thing is Mickey’s dad, his real
dad, was actually Mr. New York bodybuilder. And so I think it’s – he’s
always been kind of a gym rat. So he’s in that culture.

GROSS: Marisa Tomei, I read that you went to high school with her.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: We went to the same high school. I was friends with her
brother. She was already kind of a legend when I was there because she
was on TV and stuff.

GROSS: Oh, I see.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: She was pretty famous. But - and then, you know, as I
made a film or two in the business, I got to meet her and we’ve just
been very friendly for years.

GROSS: She, in the movie, plays a pole dancer and lap dancer who works
at a, you know, a strip club that Mickey Rourke’s character goes to and
he really loves her and she feels something for him but he’s a customer.
So…

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Right.

GROSS: …there’s nothing that she can really express. And like him, she’s
kind of washed up. She’s still working but the customers consider her
old and it – there’s some terrific scenes on the pole because there’s
times when she is really getting into the pole dancing and other times
when it’s so clear that she’s doing it quite mechanically. You do this
motion, you do that motion. You look and see if anybody is interested.
And I guess I’m wondering what kind of advice you gave her about when
she was doing it just mechanically and disengaged - to make it look as
disengaged as she was feeling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARONOFSKY: You know, I think she – you know, Marisa took a role that
could have been done very one dimensionally and she added a lot of
dimension to it. Because for me, her character was always kind of as
much a love interest as a mentor for Mickey’s character. And that she
was going through the same thing, kind of this line between what’s real
and what’s fake. There was the, you know, the realness of her real life
outside the club, and then this fantasy life of the club and it kind of
connected very well with ‘The Ram’ Mickey Rourke’s character - the
wrestler’s struggle of what’s real and fake. And the wrestler kind of,
has confused, you know, what’s real, his real life versus his life in
the ring, while she’s kind of set up these real boundaries to separate
and to keep herself healthy. And she’s really trying to get more into
her real life and sort of leave her fantasy life behind. And so all of
her scenes with Mickey are about that line and she just added this, you
know, real complexity to it where she kind of floated between being
engaged, to being, you know, completely outside of it and above it.

And for me she was almost like – I call it like a drunken tightrope
walker. You know, she’s on that tightrope that line and yet, you know,
what makes her performance dynamic and exciting is you just don’t know
which way she is going to fall.

GROSS: There’s so many similarities you make between the wrestler and
the stripper, they both have stage names. They both have to do their
hair…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …put on make up. You know ‘The Ram’ Mickey Rourke…

Mr. ARONOFSKY: They both (unintelligible)…

GROSS: … has to shave his armpits.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You know – you know, they both have choreography.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah…

GROSS: And they both have a different personality in the ring than – or
in the club than outside of it. Did you intentionally want to make sure
that there was a scene where Mickey Rourke was shaving his armpits…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS:…just to show how cosmetic you have to be and the similarities
between, you know, what a stripper would go through or what a woman
would go through and what the wrestlers go through?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: You’re actually the first to point out that connection. I
think in the script, it was that he had to shave his chest. And Mickey
was - Mickey was against that, shaving his chest, because he was like,
you know, there’s certain secrets, blah blah blah. And I said, you know,
what? Then shave your underarms. And he couldn’t deny it because he
realized that – in many ways, it was more revealing and embarrassing,
yet you know it happens. So, he went for it. But that was kind of the
whole spirit of the whole film is me and Mickey kind of - there was just
a lot of improvisation always, and Mickey bringing his own expertise and
his own history to it and then sort of happy accidents happened where,
you know, the connection between, you know, their underarm hair is made
for someone like you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Another great scene I have to ask you about is in the
supermarket, there’s a period which, you know, The Ram, the Mickey
Rourke character is – is unable to work as a wrestler.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah.

GROSS: And so he’s working at the end of deli counter at an Acme
Supermarket. And…

Mr. ARONOFSKY: In – in Bayonne, New Jersey.

GROSS: Yeah, I was wondering where it was because it looks like it’s a
real supermarket.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

GROSS: And I read that some of the customers were real too.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah, well, the whole thing was - you know, we didn’t
have enough money to close down the supermarket or even close down the
meat deli counter where we’re shooting. So people were coming up and
asking for, you know - and all those other workers behind, you know,
with Mickey were the actual employees, you know. And so I just – I was
like hey Mickey, just go serve these people. And so he was game and, you
know, that was once again, you know, a lot of improvisation and Mickey
bringing his own spirit to the screen.

GROSS: So, what did the customers think that. They must have seen the
camera. Did they know that they were shooting a movie? Did they know
that was Mickey Rourke…

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah.

GROSS: …behind the counter serving them?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: I think that’s the advantage of having someone like
Mickey Rourke at that point of his career is that most people, with his
hair up in a hair-bun, aren’t going to recognize him and even if they
do, they’re not going to be screaming through the aisles, you know, for
an autograph. So, people were very - they were kind of natural, you
know. And with so much reality TV going on and so much…

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: I think people are really comfortable now and they just
don’t care. So, you know, they were just, you know, that woman who is
asking for the fried chicken was just a woman who came up and, you know,
she said give me two big breasts and Mickey made up the line, that’s
what I’m looking for two big breasts with a brain, you know, and that
was just – it was perfect but it just happened.

DAVIES: Darren Aronofsky speaking with Terry Gross. He directed the film
“The Wrestler,” as well as “Requiem for a Dream,” “Pi” and “The
Fountain.” More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let’s get to our interview with Darren Aronofsky. His film “The
Wrestler” comes out next week on DVD.

GROSS: Now, I have to say your film seems so about pain…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …pain and drugs. In “Pi,” the main character who’s really into
math and how math can, like, describe the world and explain patterns in
the world. And - but he has these terrible migraines which is how the
movie starts. In your film “Requiem for a Dream,” which is an adaptation
of a Hubert Selby novel and he also wrote “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” you
know, there’s drug addicts, the mother is addicted to amphetamines and
the Jared Leto character who’s a heroin addict, I mean, he gets this
horrible infection in his arm from shooting up with dirty needles and
toward the end, he injects himself right into the heart of the
infection.

GROSS: And ends up having his arm amputated at the end. I mean like I –
tell me that I’m wrong, but it seems to be between that and “The
Wrestler” that you are interested in pain.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Have you not seen “The Fountain”?

GROSS: I have not seen “The Fountain”, is there more pain in that?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARONOFSKY: No, you should see it. It’s my romantic film.

GROSS: Oh, oh I see. Okay.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But you should go see that. I mean
there are actually – there’s, kind of, drugs and there’s different type
of pain as - broken heart pain in that one. I don’t know, the connection
between the three films. It’s so, you know, people see different things.
You know, between - you know, it’s funny someone was talking about how
fall - all my characters fall at the end. You know, “Requiem for a
Dream” Jared Leto falls. In “The Wrestler” he falls and in “The
Fountain” Hugh Jackman’s character falls. So, I don’t know, people see
different things and, you know, I’m just happy that people are making
connections between the films, that there’s a sense that I’m not losing
myself as I get older through this life.

GROSS: Oh, tell me you’re not interested in pain. I just would find that
impossible to have made these movies and not thought…

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Well…

GROSS: …a lot about that.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: …you’re – you’re talking about physical and emotional
pain? Or you talking about…

GROSS: I’m talking about both but I think there’s…

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah.

GROSS: …there’s a real strong feeling about physical pain throughout
your films - with the exception of a film which I haven’t seen.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Well, I guess. Yeah, I don’t – I couldn’t tell you that
it’s something that I’m focused on. And when I approach this, I’m -
that’s like the thing that’s pulling me to the subject matter. It must
just somehow come out in the work. You know, people talk about that
there’s obsession in there and the struggle between people choosing
their real life versus their art. So, there’s lots of different themes I
think. But I would say I approach a project thinking about the emotional
and physical pain of the characters before going in. I do think that,
you know, the emotional end of it is very, very important because you
want people to connect with these characters and feel for these
characters and be touched by them hopefully.

GROSS: Your cinematographer is best known for documentary films for
“Taxi To The Dark Side” and “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” Why
did you want to use a documentary cinematographer?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Well, Maryse Alberti, she was not only had she done great
documentaries to add to that list she also did “Crumb.”

GROSS: Oh, that’s a great film. Yeah.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah, a great film. She also before that did a lot of
narrative film. She worked with Todd Haynes on “Velvet Goldmine,” and
she shot “Happiness” for Todd Solondz.

GROSS: Oh, wow.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: So she had this independent, you know, narrative
experience as well as documentary experience. I always knew I wanted to
bring a verite style to this film. It’s how I was trained when I was in
film school and it’s something I haven’t done in a really long time, and
it’s – I almost did a documentary instead of this movie. I just sort of
wanted to get back to grounding myself in reality. And so that was the
approach. I wanted that immediate energy approach of the film. And I
just wanted that feeling when we went into those wrestling worlds, when
went into the wrestling ring itself, that we were really there.

And she was great because she just was game to shoot anything, anywhere,
anytime.

GROSS: My guest is Darren Aronofsky. He directed the new film “The
Wrestler.” You grow up in Brooklyn. I think both of your parents were
high school teachers?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: No. My mom taught at Public School 206 on Neck Road.

Gross: Oh, wow. I know Neck Road.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARONOFSKY: And my dad taught at Bushwick High School, which I think
at the time New York Post said it was the worst high school in North
America.

GROSS: It was a dangerous school.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah, it was pretty dangerous back in the day. Now it’s
all filled with, you know, hipsters, but back in the day wasn’t too
good.

GROSS: And your father could handle it?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: He’s a big guy. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit his
shoulders. I got his height but not his shoulders.

GROSS: You know, it sounds like you had, you know, a very middle class
upbringing, but, you know, filmically like you’re interested in Hubert
Selby, who writes novels about people who are like down on their luck
and addicted and desperate; and you know, “The Wrestler” also about, you
know, someone who’s broke and - you know, physically, emotionally and
financially.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Well, if you saw “The Fountain” – it’s about a middle
class scientist.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Middle upper class. But - and you know, Brooklyn is one
of those rare places where, you know, you could be in a sort of middle
class neighborhood, which is I guess where I grew up was, but you know,
the guy - I guess three kids that were my age that grew up, you know,
two of them are in jail and one of them is dead. You know, half of my
friends became stockbrokers and half of them became drug dealers. And
then, you know, that was my neighborhood. You know, you go five minutes
outside of the neighborhood and it’s a whole different world.

So its not - you don’t really live in a bubble when you’re in Brooklyn.
You’re kind of – it’s - even if your section is one thing, it’s kind of
a big mix that you can’t escape.

I mean when I was in college I drove a - what they call, you know, a car
service type of thing in the neighborhood. And I couldn’t believe it,
but literally a five-minute walk from my house where I grew up was one
of the big, you know, crack supply, you know, spots, and I would be
driving people to get their stuff. It’s just a - it’s a very strange
place, Brooklyn, in that way.

GROSS: Now, at the Golden Globes, when Mickey Rourke won and he was at
the mike, I forget exactly what he said about you, a kind of loving,
sarcastic thing.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Yeah.

GROSS: And in return you gave him a finger, and the camera was on you.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: That’s a loving sarcastic return for – for Brooklyn.

GROSS: Exactly, right, exactly. But the camera was on you and I’m sure -
tell me what the producers of the Golden Globes, or the network that
carried it had to say about it. Anything?

Mr. ARONOFSKY: I haven’t heard anything. I mean I had a big smile on my
face, and I mean for me, Mickey - we’re old friends and that actually
means I love you between us. So it was done with a lot of love.

GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. ARONOFSKY: Thank you for having me.

DAVIES: Director Darren Aronofsky speaking with Terry Gross. Aronofsky’s
film “The Wrestler” is out next week on DVD. Coming up, David Edelstein
on the new Russell Crowe film, “State of Play.” This is FRESH AIR.
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Vast Conspiracies, Just Waiting To Be Exposed

DAVE DAVIS, host:

Film critic David Edelstein has a review of “State Of Play” - a new
political thriller adapted from a 2003 BBC mini-series. The setting has
been changed to Washington and stars Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: The American version of “State Of Play” feels creaky
and nostalgic. It’s as if the filmmakers are pining for the days when
journalists were all that stood between us and an alliance of the
military industrial complex and crypto-fascist politicians. They’d like
to bring back the atmosphere of Watergate and “All The President’s Men.”
The reporters played by Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams are
photographed through windows or from high above or behind cars in
underground garages, as if someone’s always watching, while in the
background loom icons like the Washington Monument to remind us how
American ideals have been perverted.

For a while, it’s gripping stuff. And Crowe’s edginess gives the
convoluted plot a charge. The problem is, the filmmakers aren’t remaking
“All The President’s Men.” They’re remaking a six-hour British mini-
series with a different thrust. Both versions of “State Of Play” center
on university pals who’ve gone different ways. Cal McAffrey is a scruffy
journalist, and Stephen Collins a slick, ambitious politician. An aide
to Collins, his mistress, it turns out is murdered. It’s a PR disaster,
and Cal is torn. He wants to help his friend clear his name and he wants
to get the story.

The mini-series was an ensemble piece and a portrait of two machines,
one investigative, one legislative. It was also a paranoid conspiracy
thriller that opened with a murder. But you sense that in the end it
wouldn’t come down to a chase or gun battle, that the answers would be
in the characters’ faces, in secrets even close friends couldn’t detect.
The new script by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray
makes the reporter more of a lone wolf. Gone is the give-and-take among
multiple characters that gave the newspaper scenes texture. It’s also a
stew of topical headlines - the unchecked power of a Blackwater-like
security firm, the financial straits of daily newspapers, the rise of
gossipy bloggers.

The allusions add punch, and the Watergate tropes ratchet up suspense.
But they prime you for a more conventional thriller. Everything added
turns out to be beside the point. The point is blunted, anyway, because
the new “State Of Play” is a study in stars’ non-combustion. Crowe and
Ben Affleck as Collins don’t fit together. They don’t inhabit the same
existential space. Crowe is a transformer. His actor’s DNA changes in
every role. And you always feel his mind racing. Whereas Affleck is
slack-jawed, dopey, not quite broken in. He’s temperamentally suited to
the part.

His opaque, Al Gore-ish affect is the reason, we infer, his character
went into politics. But his wheels turn too slowly to keep up. Crowe is
doing all the acting.

(Soundbite of movie, “State Of Play”)

Mr. RUSSELL CROWE (Actor): (As Cal McAffrey) (Unintelligible) one way or
another, they got 40 billion good reasons to want you out of way. You
got to go on the record (unintelligible) you got to protect yourself,
man.

Mr. BEN AFFLECK (Actor): (As Stephen Collins) You go out there, find me
evidence linking Sonia’s death to PointCorps. I will go on the record, I
will shout this thing from the rooftops.

Mr. CROWE: (As Cal McAffrey) I can do that.

Mr. AFFLECK (Actor): (As Stephen Collins) Alright. I got to get back.
I’ll be in touch.

Mr. RUSSELL CROWE (Actor): (As Cal McAffrey) Stephen?

Mr. BEN AFFLECK: (As Stephen Collins) Yeah.

Mr. RUSSELL CROWE (Actor): (As Cal McAffrey) Just watch your back.

EDELSTEIN: The music under that scene is one way director Kevin
Macdonald gives the illusion of momentum. And until the climax, the
movie does fly along with excellent actors bobbing in and out. It was a
neat idea to make McAdams’s character a cheeky blogger and an insult to
Cal’s journalistic scruples. Although after a good confrontational
start, she settles into the role of sidekick. Robin Wright Penn brings
amazing depth of emotion to Collins’s wife. Forced to stand by her man,
she evokes the poor spouse of Eliot Spitzer after his prostitution
scandal. As the editor of the Washington Globe, Helen Mirren is
perfection.

Watch how abruptly she shifts from solicitous to chummy to imperious -
anything to get what she needs from her reporters and keep her
endangered newspaper afloat. But the climax to which the movie builds is
in this context a non-event - feeble, spurious, and so 1974. “State Of
Play” is like a time bomb that’s never dismantled but never explodes.

DAVIS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. You can
download podcasts of our show at fresh.npr.org.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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