Darren Aronofsky is not your normal Hollywood director, if there is such a thing. In 1998 he came out with “Pi,” a low-budget film about the over-analyzing of numbers. In 2000 Aronofsky directed Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans and Ellen Burstyn in the dark, disturbing “Requiem for a Dream.” It remains one of the best cinematic showcases of destructive drug addictions. “The Fountain” is Aronofsky’s latest, but it has taken awhile to get the film to theaters. Originally, Brad Pitt was signed on and the budget was much bigger. But now with Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz (Aronofsky’s girlfriend) and a budget of $35 million, “The Fountain” is set to release Wednesday, Nov. 22. The easiest way to describe the film is to say it’s a love story, adventure, drama and science fiction story that spans over 1,000 years.
I sat down with Aronofsky at the James Hotel to talk about Pitt/Jackman, his girlfriend and the TV show “Lost.”
Bayer: Jackman does a great job, but he wasn’t your first choice? Aronofsky: No, he wasn’t even on my list to be honest. But his people invited me to see “The Boy from Oz” even though that character was a singer/songwriter from Australia married to Liza Minneli and had nothing to do with Tommy of “The Fountain.” He’s just so tremendous in that performance, so committed, so passionate, so alive and full of fire, that I wanted him to read the script and see what he thought. He called me the next day and just got the material. The original reason I cast Brad (Pitt) and Cate (Blanchett) was because those were the first actors that wanted to meet with me after they saw “Requiem for a Dream.” I am pretty committed and push pretty hard. I need actors that are willing to go for it.
Bayer: With Brad Pitt, did he choose to do “Troy” over “The Fountain”? Aronofsky: No, that was nonsense. We had worked together for two and a half years. It’s really complicated. When you have a relationship with someone for years, and then you break up, it’s not because someone kept the toothpaste cap off the toothpaste. I think it came down to the fact that I was in Australia prepping the movie for six months and he was in L.A. and we grew apart. So it was very much a relationship in a lot of ways.
Bayer: With Jackman’s performance, I feel like he could get nominated for awards. Do you think about awards ever? Aronofsky: Probably what’s going to happen is, like “Requiem,” we got one nomination for Ellen Burstyn, but the score didn’t get nominated which was copied and pirated and butchered by so many people afterwards. I think my films tend to work outside the awards. They don’t get that kind of recognition. They are different and not really the normal path.
Bayer: What’s it like working with your girlfriend, Rachel Weisz, on the set? Aronofsky: It was great. You want to try and create lines between professionalism and personal life and it gets complicated but if you work hard at it, you know on that first day when you say it’s a wrap for the night, it is a wrap for that night. It didn’t come easy. It’s very hard to draw lines. Relationships are hard on their own.
Bayer: There isn’t another job out there where you instruct your partner to be intimate. In general are you a jealous person? Aronofsky: Probably, I think I have a pretty average jealousy. I am not out of my mind jealous, but I’m not totally like, free love.
Bayer: What is it like to see Weisz in other intimate performances compared to directing her? Aronofsky: I think that “out of sight, out of mind” definitely applies. We don’t really talk about it and then I will see the movie and I’ll have to hide my eyes. I get nauseous and want to throw up. This movie wasn’t a problem though, because Hugh’s a friend and I know I have a better chest than Hugh (there is a broad smile on Aronofsky’s face). When they were making out, I knew there was nothing she hadn’t felt. I was comfortable with my manhood.
Bayer: How does the budget affect your job? Aronofsky: I would love to do a small film. I like doing smaller movies. It’s harder to get people to work for me for free. Really it’s the same job. There wasn’t much difference making a $60,000 movie with seven people on the crew than doing a $35 million movie with 350 people on the crew. I’m doing the same thing; working with the actors, paying attention to detail, I’m trying to think of everything that could go wrong and how to fix it.
Bayer: With “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream” and now “The Fountain,” you don’t over explain, and I think that’s rare thing. What do you say to the friend or critic that says to you, “I don’t get it”? Aronofsky: I tell them to watch it again. ... Usually I say, “Well, I think you do. What is it about?” When you ask them, it’s not that they don’t get what it’s about, they do get it. They understand it perfectly well. I think what they don’t get is the uncomfortable feeling of having a different type of film experience. I think that is what it is. People are really led on a very specific narrative trip in most movies. I think the way video games are and media is now, you can leave things open to a wider interpretation and people can have a good experience doing that.
Bayer: With Ethan Suplee (Randy from “My name is Earl”), most people probably wouldn’t think “research assistant,” yet you cast him as that in “The Fountain.” Aronofsky: It was pre-”My Name is Earl.” We made the film a year and a half ago. Ethan became a big star after this. He did generally play less dim characters in his other roles. He was completely not what I pictured when I wrote it, but he came in and read and it was really interesting and a good actor. He won it purely on his talent.
Bayer: Jackman plays a conquistador, scientist and a man in space. What was your favorite to create? Aronofsky: They all had different challenges. The conquistador sequences were hard because of the battle scenes and scope of the sets. The present day was hard because of all the acting and the emotional blood on the screen. And the future was hard because of all the metaphysical, psychedelic imagery.
Bayer: You were set to direct an episode of “Lost.” What happened? Aronofsky: I was too close to my baby being born. ... I had called them. I was the one who started the whole thing. While shooting “The Fountain,” the first season was on and I would watch the episodes to distract me because it was such good TV. When “The Fountain” was coming to an end, I thought it would be cool to spend a couple weeks in Hawaii directing my favorite TV show. So I called them up and they got excited, and I got excited and Rachel got pregnant and it kind of fell apart. It is probably something that has passed.
Bayer: Did you know you were a reference on “Entourage”? Ari throws away a script which is like “Dead Poets’ Society” in space written by Aronofsky. Aronofsky: I went to school with the guy who created it. I thought it was very funny. Doug Ellin, I haven’t seen him in a few years, but he was a good friend.
Bayer: With “Requiem,” you’re the only director who showed Marlon Wayans can be a dramatic actor. Any thoughts? Aronofsky: When he came in the room and wanted the role, I was like, “No way, this guy?” But you know what, he worked really hard and he really wanted to do it. The more I watched the more I realized he knew how to act, he had dramatic chops. He’s done well for himself through the comedy stuff.
Bayer: I read that both your parents were teachers. What were summers like for you? Aronofsky: I have an older sister. When we were young kids my dad used to get these grants for NSF (National Science Foundation) where they would give you a grant to study out west and improve your knowledge base. Instead of taking the airplane, we would drive out. We spent a lot of summers driving across America, which was great. When I got older I spent a lot of time in summer camp up state (New York).
Bayer: Do you have your next project lined up? Aronofsky: Yes, but it’s too early to talk about my friend.
Quick Questions Breakfast this morning? Protein shake
Last CD you bought? The new Johnny Cash
Favorite piece of fruit? Banana
Worst job? Fronting the milk in the diary section
Favorite recent movie? “Brick”
Who would you be for 24hrs? Jenna Jameson, but only do lesbian scenes
Something you can’t wait to do? Skydiving
Last vacation? Jamaica