The Wrestler team opens up to The Beacon

by Beacon Staff • December 3, 2008

Director Darren Aronofsky is most notable for his brutal and emotionally exhausting iRequiem for a Dream/i, but in his new film, iThe Wrestler/i, his signature hyper-active style appears to have slowed down and become more observant. Premiering in January 2009, iThe Wrestler/i tells the story of a washed-up professional wrestler named Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a character played by "comeback star" Mickey Rourke. "The Ram" is slowly realizing that he is getting too old to continue doing the one thing he knows how to do best. Randy's story is paralleled by that of his friend, stripper and single mom Pam, played by Marisa Tomei. At a roundtable interview with iThe Beacon/i, Aronofsky and Tomei answered some pointed questions about iThe Wrestler/i's filming process. "It's about a guy who wants to be loved," Aronofksy said during the course of the interview. "And he's loved by his audience and then when he can't be loved by them anymore, he looks for love from women ... and when he can't make that work, he goes back to the only place where he knows it works." In essence, Aronofksy's film is an intense character study about redemption and personal affirmation.

biDirector Aronofsky dishes about the film's budget and its poignant and difficult themes/i/b

bBerkeley Beacon:/b You used Clint Mansell as your composer for iPi/i, iRequiem for a Dream/i and iThe Fountain/i. For this movie, you tended to lean towards Ratt and other '80s hair metal bands. What was your process of choosing which songs to use?

bAronofsky/b: The writer was very much into that music, so he put a lot of that music in. Unfortunately, well, fortunately, or either way, he chose a lot of the biggest hits of that era. We couldn't afford a lot of them. So then it became about kind of educating myself on as much of that music, because I didn't really listen to them when I was that age. I was growing up in Brooklyn, so I was very into hip-hop and missed the whole hair metal thing. So I had to learn all that stuff, but it was kind of fun. Then I tried to choose songs that we could afford that sort of fit into the right slot and kind of still were comedic.

bBB:/b You've described directing as a triangle between time, money and creativity. Do you want to talk about what that triangle was like with this movie?

bAronofsky:/b Money was the big problem because we only had a little bit of money, and when you only have a little bit of money, that kind of screws up your time issue. So we only had 35 days which is, you know, it's fine for an independent film, but it's tough, especially when you're doing action scenes because we basically had about two days for each of the wrestling scenes, just two or three days.

That was just hard: we had no stuntmen and it was just a very low budget, but we had a great creative team. So together, we were able to figure out a way to sort of make the best of it. And that's always, you know, whenever you have a limited amount of time and money, it's all about clever ways to get by. I think my whole visual style comes from having no money because I've never had enough money every time. So every visual style I've made has come out of just trying to save money to have more time with the actors. The big problems with films happen when you have too much money and it's just getting wasted. I think there are always limitations. So the money thing kind of makes you think "OK, I've only got this limited amount of time, what can I get done?" If you have limitations, you have to figure out how to turn them into positives. That's the big secret.

bBB:/b You mentioned the word clicheacute;s, and I was wondering, how did clicheacute;s fit into a piece that is fiction but is supposed to have this realistic style where you're supposed to avoid every clicheacute; or else it's not real? What stories can't you tell?

bAronofsky:/b Hubert Selby, Jr., who wrote iRequiem for a Dream/i, the novel, used to say that "it's called a clicheacute; for a reason; because it's mostly true." And he was saying that there is something about clicheacute;s that is important. I think it's all about executing clicheacute;s. If you execute clicheacute; in a clicheacute; way, you're screwed. But if you do it in an original way, it could actually be very poignant. I think iWrestler/i is a very basic story; it's a very simple film with relationships that we know between people. But hopefully, it kind of explores them and the way the actors approach it is somehow original.

We knew the ending from the beginning, and then it was just about figuring out how to get there.

ibOscar-winning actress Tomei talks about the troubling contradictions of Cassidy/i/b

bBerkeley Beacon:/b It seemed to me that the movie was really in a lot of ways about identity; kind of trying to reconcile who you used to be with who you actually are. As an actress, have you ever experienced this sort of identity crisis as you're moving forward with your career?

bTomei:/b Not so much in my public life, but definitely in transition points in my own life. Probably two big changes, times where I was like, "Who am I now if I'm not that person?" Whether it's something, like, I had a relationship of 15 years and then, when that was over, I was like, but if I'm not that person anymore, than who am I now?

It's just like those moments in time where you come and it is about how much can you grow, and it's not even just reinvention from the outside or a public persona thing, but just expanding yourself like not limit yourself to this is what I always am.

And that's what Randy "The Ram's" problem is, he can never really expand past that wrestler. That's all he is. And I think that maybe because she [her character Cassidy] has the child and because she's trying to be conscious about it, she has a little more breath there where she has more hope and possibility to kind of get through this time.

I think that, almost in a way, this movie is making that transition for me because this is an age that typically my age, which is early forties, is something that people say, "Oh, you can't act anymore" or whatever. This is like Hollywood hokum. I think in a way this movie has just opened up another layer for me as an actor. So it in itself is kind of taking me through that.

bBB:/b Within your one character, it seemed there were also two separate characters; Cassidy the stripper, and Pam the mother. So when you approached playing Cassidy, were you looking at it through the eyes of Pam playing a role of her own, or did you act them as two completely different characters?

bTomei:/b It was super confusing. It took a lot to kind of get into that mindset of being something but not; it's not like, she would never be a conscious enough person, even though she's trying to say that she is, ok I'm a mom at home and then I'm that. But she's not, nobody is that. She's not an enlightened person.

She especially is screwed up, and she's every single day exercising the muscles of manipulation and deception and fantasy giving and just a whole other persona, and she's just wearing a mask the whole time and I think

that she slipped into something that she doesn't really have control of. So as much as she's trying to control it by talking about it-but she doesn't have control of it. So when we were doing those scenes, it was like, what am I- what would she really be thinking right now?