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Darren Aronofsky Discusses ‘Black Swan’

Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman Black Swan photoDarren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman on the set of ‘Black Swan.’

© Fox Searchlight


Director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) is once again earning Oscar buzz for one of this films, this time with the surreal psychological thriller Black Swan. Natalie Portman (also an early fav for Oscar recognition) stars as a talented and troubled ballerina who obsesses over getting and then keeping the lead role in her ballet company’s production of Swan Lake. And while Black Swan is one of the few films to show the artistry of ballet and the athletic abilities of ballet dancers, it hasn’t done so without ruffling a few feathers.

The film’s earning mostly positive reviews from critics, however there have been a few naysayers who’ve said they believe Black Swan will hurt ballet. At the LA press conference for the Fox Searchlight film, Aronofsky had this to say about that subject: “I saw that report and I thought that it was really unfortunate because we’ve had very, very different reactions from dancers elsewhere. I think so many dancers are incredibly relieved that there’s finally a ballet movie that takes ballet as a serious art and not as a place to have a love affair. If you actually look at ballet, the ballets themselves are incredibly dark and gothic. Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and of course Swan Lake, and this movie could’ve been called Swan Lake. We took the fairy tale of Swan Lake and the ballet of Swan Lake and basically turned all the characters, Rothbart, The Prince, The Queen and translated them into characters in our movie reality. So it’s really just a retelling of Swan Lake.”

“But yes, it definitely shows the challenges and the darkness and the reality of how hard it is to be a ballet dancer. I think it also represents the beauty of the art and the transcendence that’s possible within the art all within retelling Swan Lake. So there are going to be people who are always going to have issues with things, but the margin by far, the dancers that we have met and talked to are like, ‘Finally, we have a real movie about ballet.’ So that’s the response.”


Darren Aronofsky Black Swan Press Conference

The reports are that this project started 10 years ago. Can you talk about that?

Darren Aronofsky: “I’ve been a fan of Natalie’s since I saw her in The Professional. Luc Besson is one of my favorite directors, and it turns out that her manager is an old friend of mine from college and so I had a little inside line to meet her. We met in Times Square at the old Howard Johnson’s which is now an American Apparel, which shows you where America is going. We had a really bad cup of coffee. We talked about the early ideas I had about the film. When she says that that I have the entire film in my head it’s a complete lie.”

“We talked a bit about it and I started to develop it, but it was a really tough film because getting into the ballet world proved to be really challenging. Most of the time when you do a movie and you say, ‘Hey, I want to make a movie about your world,’ then all the doors open up and you can do anything and see anything that you want. The ballet world really wasn’t at all interested in us hanging out. So it took a long time to sort of get the information and sort of put it together. Over the years Natalie would say, ‘I’m getting too old to play a dancer. You better hurry up.’ I was like, ‘Natalie, you look great. You’ll be fine.’ And then about a year out before the film – or maybe a little bit earlier – I finally got a screenplay together. That’s how it started.”

This is described as a companion piece to The Wrestler. How did you approach this in contrast to The Wrestler?

Darren Aronofsky: “I don’t really think there’s that much difference. I don’t think it’s that much of a big deal. I think people are people and if their feelings are real and truthful they can connect. I keep saying that it doesn’t matter if you’re an aging 50-something year old wrestler at the end of his career or an ambitious 20-something year old ballet dancer, if they’re truthful to who they are and they’re expressing something real, then audiences will connect. That’s always been the promise of cinema and that’s why we can see a film about a seven year old girl in Iran or an immortal superhero in America. It doesn’t matter as long as they’re truthful.”

Did you and Vincent Cassel create a weird symbiotic relationship based on his role and your approach to directing?

Darren Aronofsky: “I cast someone who looked a lot like me. No. I don’t know. I wish that I could be as manipulative as his character in the film. I think I’m really way, way too direct and I’ve actually scared away a lot of A-List actors. In fact, Natalie Portman is the first A-List actor I’ve worked with in my career. Everyone else sort of went, ‘You want me to do what, for how long, for how little money?’ And then they walk away. So I’ve lost a lot of movie stars along the way, and I think that a more manipulative director would be like, ‘Oh, it’s not going to be that hard. Come in and we’ll have fun.’ But I think that’s when wars start. It’s like, ‘You told me there would be sushi on set every day.’ So I’m a little bit too direct, too straightforward I think.”

Can you talk a little about The Red Shoes and how it influenced you?

Darren Aronofsky: “It’s funny, the one thing about that is that it was a really hard film to make. There was really no money for the film and we had to push a lot of times, and I only found out recently the person who suffered the most from pushing. I actually don’t mind pushing because it means that I get an extra two or three weeks to get my sh-t together, but I found out that Natalie would just be screaming to our mutual friend, the manager, that she had to live on carrots and almonds for another three weeks and what was she going to do? So she was the one who suffered the most from not eating.”

“But the question was about The Red Shoes. I actually wasn’t aware of The Red Shoes. I mean, I had heard of The Red Shoes but I didn’t see it, and then [Martin] Scorsese did the restoration a few years ago and then I was like, ‘You know what? I better go and see it.’ It’s a masterpiece, an unbelievable film, and I saw that there were similarities in the story. But I think that’s because we both went back to ballet and pulled from ballet the different characters and stuff. So we ended up in similar places, but I wasn’t really influenced by it and I really didn’t ever try to be influenced by it because it’s such a masterpiece and the dance sequences, they weren’t doing visual FX like that for 20 years – they were so ahead of their time. So I just sort of kept it in the back and said, ‘Look, we just sort of address it.’ I forget the year, but it’s a long time ago and most people may not know about it, but unfortunately they do.”

Aronofsky: I think the back story was that you had a lover that was a foreign dancer. I don’t know if he was French or Russian or something, but then he left. But it was just a back story and we really didn’t get that deep into it.”

How did your actors get into these characters?

Darren Aronofsky: “[…]I’ve dealt with a few method actors, and I don’t know if should say this but I think it’s a bunch of nonsense. I think it’s film acting and you just have to be on when the camera is rolling. I mean, sure, if it’s a very intense scene then you might want to keep that energy in between the takes while the crew is resetting. And they would all do that, but when it’s ‘Cut’ it’s ‘Cut.’ Even when it’s action there’s still a camera here and all these lights and all these people moving around you. It’s impossible to fully make believe that doesn’t exist. That’s why they’re so good, that they’re able to sort of make believe that that’s not there convincingly. But the second that it’s ‘Cut,’ someone is coming over to touch your mike and someone is putting powder on your face. It is make believe, but I don’t know. Whatever works…not to scare away method actors. Actually I want to scare away method actors because it’s a pain. It’s like, ‘Come on, what are you doing? It’s not real. What are you doing? Oh, you’re really brooding. Okay, good. Go to your trailer. I’ll see you in an hour.'”

Your films have surreal qualities. Do you have an interest in that kind of thing?

Darren Aronofsky: “I think it’s all about what the story is that we want to tell. One thing that I realized during one of these, it’s funny because a lot of times you figure it out when you’re doing the press because you start talking about it and becoming aware of it. The whole cinema verite, handheld approach to The Wrestler was a big risk to bring over into this ballet film because I had never seen a kind of suspenseful film that had this kind of handheld camera and I didn’t know if it work. I was always really worried that if in a really scary scene everyone would wonder why Natalie wouldn’t turn to the cameraman and go, ‘Help,’ or something. So I didn’t know if it was going to work, but I then we sort of went, ‘Fuck it. Let’s just go for it because it’s never been done,’ and I really enjoyed the camera moving. Having a man hold the camera I could really move the camera in ways that you can’t in any other way. The result of that is that the first third of the film has a very different feel than the last half of the film because it’s got this very naturalistic feel, which I think actually is kind of cool because it makes people feel like they’re watching a very different type of movie that can’t ever freak out like the way that it freaks out. Yet it gives you that kind of immediacy of being in that other moment and being in this other world with little hints like she’s peeling her finger and things are going to get really freaked out. In general it just feels like a documentary in the beginning before it freaks out. So it kind of worked out for us.”

Do you enjoy bouncing between genres as a director?

Darren Aronofsky: “I’m not really much of a genre guy. This was my best attempt at a genre film, and I just don’t know really or I just haven’t been able to do that. I think that audiences don’t need that anymore where you just need a very specific genre. Audiences are very sophisticated and as long as it’s fun, it’s okay and entertaining. That’s kind of what I was trying to make and I think it’s also very different, which I think people who are bombarded by so much different types of media are hungry for, just a very, very different experience. So that’s what we were going for, something that keeps you excited and keeps you going and is hopefully memorable so that you talk about it with other people. And, hopefully, they’ll go to the movies.”



December 3, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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