Darren Aronofsky On 'The Wrestler'

Director Darren Aronofsky is known for his intense, psychological films — including 1998's Pi and 2000's Requiem for a Dream. His 2008 film The Wrestler stars Mickey Rourke as Randy The Ram, a WWE-style professional wrestler who is well past his prime. Isolated from his family and living in poverty, The Ram is forced to wrestle in small matches held at rec centers and veteran's halls. The film was nominated for two Oscars — Best Actor, Mickey Rourke, and Best Supporting Actress, Marisa Tomei.

This interview was originally broadcast Jan. 26, 2009.

'The Wrestler' Director: Fake Sport, Real Pathos

Darren Aronofsky i i

Director Darren Aronofsky says he almost made a documentary instead of The Wrestler, and that affected his approach to the film. "I just sort of wanted to get back to grounding myself in reality," he says. Scott Gries/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Gries/Getty Images
Darren Aronofsky

Director Darren Aronofsky says he almost made a documentary instead of The Wrestler, and that affected his approach to the film. "I just sort of wanted to get back to grounding myself in reality," he says.

Scott Gries/Getty Images
Mickey Rourke in 'The Wrestler' i i

Mickey Rourke hired a former Israeli commando and cage fighter to be his trainer for the film. Aronofsky says that every day, Rourke lifted weights twice and consumed about 7,000 calories. Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight hide caption

itoggle caption Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight
Mickey Rourke in 'The Wrestler'

Mickey Rourke hired a former Israeli commando and cage fighter to be his trainer for the film. Aronofsky says that every day, Rourke lifted weights twice and consumed about 7,000 calories.

Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight

How do you make a realistic film about a notoriously "fake" sport? That was the question Darren Aronofsky faced when he agreed to direct The Wrestler, a movie starring Mickey Rourke as a gnarled professional wrestler whose glory days are gone.

"No one's ever made a serious film about wrestling," Aronofsky says, "and I think that is because most people perceive wrestling as a joke, and because it's fake, and they sort of write it off."

There's nothing fake about the action scenes in The Wrestler, though. Aronofsky says all the wrestling scenes were shot with real wrestlers in front of live wrestling audiences.

"They're as much athletes as they are actors," Aronofsky says of the real-life wrestlers depicted in the film. Being backstage with them is "like being backstage at a theater more than it is being backstage at a sporting event. ... They were very natural in front of the camera and very realistic."

As for Rourke, the tragic star of the film, Aronofsky says Rourke is "blessed with more talent in his pinky than most of us have in a lifetime" — which, it turns out, can be both a blessing and a curse.

"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," Aronofsky says. "My biggest job was just to push, pull, encourage, inspire, challenge ... for him to really, really dig deep."

Still, Aronofsky did not waver in his conviction that Rourke was the right actor for the job, and the director says it wasn't just because Rourke had been an athlete:

"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 ... there's so much there."

Aronofsky says that if he has one great accomplishment in the film, it's that there isn't a single scene with Mickey Rourke in sunglasses.

Both Rourke and supporting actress Marisa Tomei have received Oscar nominations for their work in the film. Aronofsky's previous directorial credits include Pi (1998) and Requiem For A Dream (2000).

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