Capone straps on his tutu and dances with director Darren Aronofsky about BLACK SWAN, THE WOLVERINE, and more!!!
Published at: Dec. 2, 2010, 12:37 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I know I lead a charmed life if for no other reason than I've gotten to speak to one of my absolute favorite directors three times in the last four years. Darren Aronofsky's films have repeatedly made me feel everything from edgy to terrified to anxious to uplifted. He is a filmmaker that puts his blood and soul right there on the screen and doesn't car what it reveals about him and the way his mind works. In person, Aronofsky is a fairly soft-spoken but articulate artist who knows exactly what every shot in his movie means even if the rest of us are scrambling to assign meaning or interpret the nuances of his work.
From early works like PI and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM to later, more emotional efforts such as THE FOUNTAIN, THE WRESTLER, and now BLACK SWAN, Aronofsky has always has style that somehow manages to be sophisticated while never exclusionary. Both the most hyper-critical analyzer of films and the guy who goes to the movies once every two or three months can appreciate THE WRESTLER because it speaks to the dreamer in all of us without getting precious about itself. BLACK SWAN is another, feathery monster altogether. It's part horror film, sure, but Aronofsky infuses it with thoughts on sexual repression and the mental anguish some artists go through to achieve perfection. He also made me care about ballet in a way I never have outside of THE RED SHOES or a documentary. And to tell this remarkable and utterly unique story, Aronofsky has assembled some of the best lead and supporting players he's ever worked with, doing work well beyond what we've seen them do before, especially Natalie Portman.
This particular interview was the first time Aronofsky and I have not sat face to face, and it's also the shortest interview we've done of the three (typically, I've gotten 30 minutes; this was more like 15), but we cover a lot of ground. When I saw BLACK SWAN for the first time at the Chicago International Film Festival, I tweeted something to the effect of "Seeing BLACK SWAN just forced me to rearrange my Best of 2010 list." I leave it at that, and leave you with Darren Aronofsky. Enjoy…
Capone: Hey, Darren. How are you doing?
Darren Aronofsky: Very good, thanks.
Capone: Good. It's too bad you're not here in Chicago this time around.
DA: It’s too bad, it’s just been crazed.
Capone: First of all, I’ve got to say, to this day,you remain the guy who has done the coolest thing ever during an interview. Last time we spoke about THE WRESTLER, you played me the voicemail you got from Bruce Springsteen…
[Darren bursts out laughing]
Capone: That still remains the coolest thing anyone has ever done during an interview. You are unchallenged.
DA: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Capone: So, to put it mildly, BLACK SWAN blew me away. You keep doing that.
DA: Thank you, man.
Capone: I believe it was just last year that Frederick Wiseman, the documentary filmmaker, put out that film LA DANSE about the Paris Opera Ballet, and it’s really funny, because…
DA: LA DANSE was a big inspiration for us. Yeah, the Wiseman film--he did one on the Paris Ballet, and then years ago he did one on ABT, the American Ballet Theater [BALLET].
Capone: Right. But LA DANSE opened my eyes to just how physically and emotionally, of all the “fine arts,” challenging that is. And you literally have to change the shape of your body to be good at it. Did that sort of physical and emotional and psychological toll what fueled your interest in tackling this world?
DA: Yeah, I was interested in it before I really understood it. When I started to understand it, I was definitely attracted to that, because it’s very dramatic. But I think my first instinct about the ballet world is that it’s only really been tackled once seriously before--and that was many moons ago. That means there was plenty of stuff to explore. I think audiences are interested in worlds that they haven’t seen before. I remember we were doing THE WRESTLER, and everyone was like “Why are you doing something on wrestling? It’s a joke.” Then the second you go behind the curtain and you see these huge men being incredibly sweet with each other, then suddenly you realize what’s going on. It’s the same thing in the ballet world, I think most people, if you ever watch ballet, they think it looks kind of effortless, and when I went backstage for the first time and I saw these athletes coming off the stage covered in sweat and completely out of breath bent over, and their muscles just like fighting to hold them up on point--then of course there was all of the blood. It was anything but effortless, so that definitely attracted me as a director like how to show that.
Capone: And you definitely do. There’s a sequence that I keep telling people about. And it’s funny, because I’ve seen the film twice now and the first time I thought it was one continuous take, just because in my mind that’s how it was, and in seeing it again I now realize it’s not. It's at the beginning of the final performance, when Natalie [Portman] comes from the dressing room and your camera is over her shoulder most of the time, and she land up backstage in the wrong place, and then the guy redirects her, and we just follow her right to the moment where she meets her partner on stage.
DA: That’s the exciting thing about being backstage--the flow on and off stage is something that doesn’t get exposed that much, and it’s very interesting and dramatic. I remember that feeling the first time I saw a dancer who was on stage being beautiful and magnificent, and then she comes off stage and she just turns into a woman again, a little girl again. The transition was very interesting to me.
Capone: I love the way that you set up very early this paranoia in Natalie’s character. There’s nothing more frustrating for her than to spend her whole life trying to do something perfectly and then see another dancer who makes it look like she’s barely even trying. That infects Natalie’s brain right off the bat, and I love that so much of this movie could just be a product of her twisted imagination. Can you talk a little bit about that?
DA: I think it’s a big part of all of the arts and it’s definitely something deep in ballet. But I think was I was really attracted to, the big engine of this film, is the idea of losing yourself, and I thought that was a really good kind of fear engine, this idea that you wake up one day, and someone is pushing out everything that makes you you, and I guess in this world of identity theft [laughs] people can relate to it somewhat, but I meant much more in a physical way where you are just dispensable. I thought that was scary and I hadn’t seen that. That was kind of what I took from Dostoyevsky's "The Double," and then when I saw Swan Lake and I realized that one dancer was playing two roles, and the roles were so polarizing--it was going to be a really good way to merge these two ideas.
Capone: You mentioned before about the idea of letting go, I kind of read this whole film as a metaphor about sexual repression, because it’s something that keeps coming up, whether it’s coming from Vincent’s [Cassel] character or from Mila Kunis’ character. The conversation Natalie has with Vincent, where he asked her if she’s a virgin, I don’t believe her when she says she’s not. I’m convinced that she is, and living with your mom kind of makes that happen whether you want it to or not. But the story is just so dripping with sex that isn’t happening.
DA: There definitely is the story of a girl becoming a woman in the film and what separates a girl from a woman, if you think about it. That was definitely one of the things. So yeah, those ideas are definitely in there. You’re not far away. [Laughs]
Capone: You have this incredible supporting cast, and I was lucky enough to talk to Vincent earlier this year, and we talked a little about BLACK SWAN. Vincent and Barbara [Hershey] play the devil and angel on Nina’s shoulders, where they are pulling her in very different directions. Vincent seems like someone who could just walk in and do it, but he also seems like he'd be a great collaborator.
DA: He definitely really takes care of himself, but he's very open to working with a director and taking direction and running with it. I think he is really easy. He’s really smooth. He just relaxes and becomes the part; it’s really an impressive thing. His father was kind of the Fred Astaire of France, and so I think that kind of movement that his father had is in his body and also in the way he acts.
Capone: How did you get to casting Barbara Hershey?
DA: It was actually my casting director, Mary Vernieu. We did a script reading probably a year and a half before we shot and we just needed someone to read, and she said Barbara Hershey and I was like “Would she do it?” And she said, “Yeah, I think she would do it.” She came in, and it’s a good thing for actors to know, if you get into a director’s head earlier, it really helps. [Laughs]
Capone: That’s right. If that’s the voice you start hearing when they are thinking of that character. You used this technique in THE WRESTLER too, the over-the-shoulder POV shot. Why do you like that, and what you got out of it in this film by using it?
DA: I think it’s a very subjective place to put the camera and I think it creates a lot of intensity and closeness and just connects the audience with the protagonist.
Capone: Perhaps more than any of your other films, critics seem to be stepping over themselves to compare BLACK SWAN to other films and other filmmakers, and I think that kind of short changes the work to be honest.
DA: Why do you think they are doing it?
Capone: Maybe when somebody sees something this wholly original, they want to make a connection to something familiar in the mind of the readers, just so they have some idea of what they're in for. The most common comparisons have been with filmmakers like Cronenberg and Argento--those are filmmakers people are going to respond to hopefully in a positive way. It's the classic, “This movie is a little bit like this and if you like those, you’ll probably like this.” Were there any films or filmmakers that inspired any parts of BLACK SWAN for you?
DA: I mean it’s hard to say, because I think I’m the product of all of the movies and all of the music and all of the art I’ve seen over a lifetime, I think. That’s where you get ideas from, just seeing other people’s work and then it goes into your brain and shuffles it up, and you put your own personality on it. There’s as much of the Dardenne Brothers and Frederick Wiseman’s documentary in there as there is Cronenberg and Polanski. So, it’s from all over the place.
Capone: To get a level of authenticity, why wouldn’t you be inspired by a documentary filmmaker? This is a very isolated film in that, except for that one club scene, the story pretty much takes place either in the dance studio or Nina’s apartment that she shares with her mother--and it feels like a very small apartment. Did you want to limit it to show how small her world really is?
DA: Well I mean that’s not untruthful to the life of a bunhead ballet dancer. Their lives are very regimented and very, very ritualistic, and it’s not that huge of a canvas. They also tour the world, if they are in a premiere ballet company. We weren’t covering that part of the season, but I think that kind of ritual and that limited world is definitely part of the restraints of where her character is. Ultimately, the entire film ties into Swan Lake the ballet. We really--me and Mark Heyman, the writer--went to the original ballet and then tried to translate the ballet into a movie, and so she’s a prisoner in the ballet of this lake. This magician has turned her into a half swan half human creature--I called her a were-swan--and she’s trapped. So, we tried to create those same trappings for her in New York City and in her world of ballet.
Capone: Okay, can I ask one THE WOLVERINE question?
DA: Yeah, but I may not answer it. [laughs]
Capone: Are you excited about making a movie you don’t have to struggle to get made for once?
DA: Well, I’ve been saying to people how I’ve done five films now where I’m the only person in the room who’s wanted to make the movie, and now it’s kind of exciting to be in the room where everyone wants to make this movie. [laughs] Right now, independent film is really tough and I think it’s going to be a very fun experience. I have not started working on it. BLACK SWAN opens in New York, L.A., and a few other cities on December 3, and then we have to do the slow opening over the next two weeks after that. So, I’ve got to get through that before I jump in and then I’ll have more of a sense of what’s going on.
Capone: Alright, well good luck with both fronts.
DA: Thank you, man. Tell Harry I said “Hi.”
Capone: I see him next week, so I'll do that. Alright, thanks a lot man.
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