The highly anticipated companion piece to last year’s indie-hit, The Wrestler hits theaters this weekend. Black Swan, ladies and gents, is Darren Aronofsky’s latest masterpiece starring an Oscar-hungry Natalie Portman. The film chronicles the psychological demise of Nina, an ambitious ballet dancer whose fierce dedication to her role in “Swan Lake” has her slowly slipping off the deep end. We had the privilege of sitting down with Mr. Aronofsky to discuss the picture.
Check out the interview below…
Rumor has it you developed this project for almost a decade, and had your heart set on Natalie for the role of Nina for just as long.
Darren Aronofsky: Yes, I’ve been a fan of Natalie’s since I saw her in The Professional. It turns out that her manager’s an old friend of mine from college. So I had a little inside line. We met in Times Square at the old Howard Johnsons. We had a really bad cup of coffee and we talked about my early ideas about the film, which she says I had the entire film in my head. So 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 can be extremely challenging. Most of the time when you say, “hey, I wanna make a movie about your world” all the doors open up and you can do anything you want. The ballet world wasn’t at all interested in us hanging out. So, it took a long time to get the information to put it together. Over the years Natalie would say, “I’m getting too old to play a dancer, ya better hurry up.” About a year out before the film I finally got a screenplay together.
Is it true that you consider Black Swan a companion piece to The Wrestler?
DA: I don’t think there’s really that much difference- 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 year old wrestler or an ambitious 20 something year old ballet dancer. If they’re truthful to who they are and are expressing something real, then the audience will connect. That’s always been the promise of cinema.
The picture really emphasizes the impact the director has on his company – the dancers really submit to him wholeheartedly and without dispute. Vincent manipulates his artists to get what he wants. As a director, can you relate?
DA: I wish I could be as manipulative as the character in the film, but I think I’m really way way too direct. I think I’ve scared away a lot of A-List actors. Natalie Portman is the first A-List actor I’ve worked with in my career. Everyone else sort of went, “You want to do WHAT? For HOW Long? For HOW little money?” And then walk away. So I’ve lost a lot of movie stars along the way, and I think a more manipulative director would be, like, “Oh, it’s not going to be that hard. Come in and we’ll have fun!” I’m a little bit too direct, straight forwardI think.
So has it been difficult to find actors who are willing to “accommodate” your on-set environment? I imagine a film like this inspired high physical/emotional stress.
DA: They were professional, all these actors were. I’ve dealt with a few method actors, and I don’t know if I 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, you might want to keep that energy 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, all these lights, and all these people moving around you. It’s impossible to fully believe that doesn’t exist. That’s why they’re so good – they’re able to make believe that that’s not there convincingly, but the second it’s “cut” someone is coming over to touch your mic and someone is putting powder on your face. I don’t know. Whatever works – not to scare method actors. Actually, I want to scare away method actors! Because it’s a pain. Like, come on, what are you doing? It’s not real! Oh, you’re really brooding. Go to your trailer. I’ll see you in an hour.
All of your films involve an incredibly unique cinematic approach..
DA: I think it’s all about what the story is that we want to tell. It’s funny because a lot of times you figure it out when you’re doing 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 suspense film that had this kind of hand held camera, and I didn’t know if it would work. We thought, “fuck it, let’s just go for it because it’s never been done” and I really enjoyed the camera moving.
You also tend to skew the lines of genre…
DA: 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 don’t think audiences 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 what I was trying to make, and I think it’s also very different, which I think people who are bombarded by so many different types of media are hungry for. A very, very different experience. So that’s what we’re going for – something that keeps you excited and keeps you going and is hopefully memorable.
Lastly, there’s been some talk that Black Swan could potentially hurt the “dance world” because it exhibits the harsh realities of this seemingly lovely career path?
DA: I saw that report and I thought 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 look at ballet, the ballets themselves are incredibly dark and “Gothic: Sleeping Beauty,” “Romeo And Juliet,” and of course, “Swan Lake”. This movie could’ve been called “Swan Lake,” it’s really just a retelling of it, 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 an the transcendence that’s possible within the art.
Stay tuned for a review of the film, and be sure to get to a theatre December 3rd for this one — you won’t regret it.