Tag Archives: Darren Aronofsky

Yeah, Yeah, We Got Spirit: More From the Independent Spirit Awards

With Nicole Holofcener‘s ethics-in-the-city comedy “Please Give” winning the Robert Altman Award for Best Ensemble, Holofcener, Amanda Peet and Catherine Keener met the press. I asked Holofcener if making “Please Give” resolved any of the moral questions she explored in the film, or if it just raised new avenues of confusion for her. Holofcener laughed: “Well put. No, it didn’t resolve anything for me. Now everybody knows my problems.”

Best Supporting Actor winner John Hawkes of “Winter’s Bone” explained the preparation that went into his role as the scary, charismatic criminal and meth cooker Teardrop. “Well, I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town where there were a lot of … characters,” he said. “And people who scared me a lot. So I drew from that.” Considering that Hawkes has been scary in films like “Winter’s Bone” and the upcoming “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and likable in projects like “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and “Deadwood,” I asked him which was more artistically satisfying — and, more importantly, which paid better. Hawkes smiled. “Well, I would have to add it up,” he said. “I’m not sure whether playing mean folks or sweet folks pays more money. I’m always looking for the best people — the best character, the best story — I can find.”

In the end, though, it was “Black Swan”‘s afternoon, with Libatique’s award and taking Best Director for Darren Aronofsky, Best Actress for Natalie Portman and Best Picture honors. Wearing the kind of neckwear that gets you “Best Scarf” honors as well, Aronofsky was loose and funny in the press tent. What was it, he was asked, that America and the world seemed to be responding to? “I’ve got no f—ing idea, and it’s really exciting,” he said. “The word that keeps coming back to me is ‘fun.’ People are having fun. I guess that’s the best compliment you could get as a filmmaker.” The director of “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Wrestler” paused: “I never got that one before.”

Aronofsky also got to sum up the afternoon — what, he was asked, does “independent” film mean in this day and age, anyhow? “I think ‘independence’ is when you’re independent of the financial realities,” he said. “It’s a very hard word to describe, and people have been trying to figure it out for years. Basically when the filmmakers are in control of the movie as opposed to the people paying for them, I think that’s independence.”

And warmed — even if only figuratively — by that happy thought, the Independent Spirit Awards came to a close for 2011.

From my article at The Rundown

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Black Swan cast dance to the edge

HOLLYWOOD—At the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, a deco temple to the arts first opened in 1930, the cast and crew of the new drama Black Swan — opening Friday — somehow seem at ease among the trappings of the stage. After working with some of the most talented ballet dancers in North America, it’s hardly a coincidence.

For star Natalie Portman, playing Nina — a New York dancer whose dream falls apart as playing the lead role in Swan Lake begins to take its toll on her body and psyche — director Darren Aronofsky’s idea for a psychological thriller mixed with a backstage melodrama let her get back in touch with childhood aspirations.

“I danced when I was younger, until I was about 12,” she said. “I guess I always sort of idealized it, as most young girls do, as the most beautiful art, this expression without words. I always wanted to do a film relating to dance, so when Darren had this incredible idea that was not just relating to the dance world but also had this really complicated character to go into, it was just an opportunity, and especially with Darren, who is a director who I would do anything for.”

Mila Kunis — who plays Lily, a new dancer who may be a friend to Portman, or rival, or both — said the rigorous training required to bring dreams of dance to life, “was far from effortless.”

“It was three months of training beforehand,” she said. “I was not a ballet dancer. I think most of the training, you can only fake so much of the physicality. You have to immerse yourself in this world, the way somebody walks and talks and handle themselves. It was three months of training, seven days a week, four to five hours a day before production started, and then during production it was pretty much exactly the same.”

Portman, however, bore the brunt of the dance training — and of the effort required to get in shape.

“It was a great challenge.” She admitted. “We were (training) probably eight hours a day and the physical discipline of it really helped for the emotional side of the character because you get the sense of the monastic lifestyle of only working out that is a ballet dancer’s life. You don’t drink. You don’t go out with your friends. You don’t have much food. You are constantly putting your body through extreme pain, and you get that understanding of the self-flagellation of a ballet dancer.”

French actor Vincent Cassell, playing Thomas, the head of the dance company, was ready to lace up his dancing shoes — until he realized it wasn’t really required.

“They don’t need to dance anymore,” he said of Thomas. “They just show it by the energy. They’ve been there; they don’t train anymore. That scene we have together, with Natalie, where I move around her, that was supposed to be a little more dance-y, and then finally when we realized it’s about seduction more than anything else, the dance was just a secondhand thing, really.”

Much as Swan Lake depicts a woman torn between the pristine purity of the White Swan and the romantic desires of the Black Swan, Portman’s Nina gets caught between art and desire — a clash that comes to a head when Kunis’ Lily seduces her (Or is it the other way around?)

For Kunis, it was always a natural part of a brilliant script.

“Working with Darren, I trusted him,” Kunis said. “It’s one of those things where, whether you have the same-sex scene or a scene with the opposite sex, it’s a sex scene nonetheless. So it’s always the fear that you’re a little uncomfortable. Doing something like this with Darren was very safe and as comfortable as something like this could be.”

And while some are already suggesting Portman’s work has put her in the running for a Best Actress Oscar, Portman herself dances around the question of possible acting honours with grace and tact.

“The best thing you can hope for when you make a movie — and you put your soul into it like all of us did — is that people respond to it well, and the fact that audiences have come away moved and excited and entertained and stimulated by this film is extraordinarily flattering.”

More immediate than the lure of Oscar gold in March, though, was the simple fact that the end of filming on Black Swan meant that both Kunis and Portman could give up their training regimen’s restrictive eating and the tortuous footwear of professional ballet.

Kunis explained, laughing: “It took me five months to lose 20 pounds, and it took me hours to gain it back. It was magical how quickly it all happened. I think before production ended, the last time that I had to do any sort of dancing, I literally that night went home and had a massive bowl of mac and cheese. I was so excited.”

For Portman, though, it was giving up the pointe shoes — constructed to make it possible to stand in the ballet position on her toes — that told her filming was over:

“I like wearing flat shoes. The thing I was happy to stop wearing was pointe shoes. Pointe shoes are torture devices. Ballerinas get used to it, so it was definitely a case of it being a new experience for me, but they feel very … medieval.”

From my article for The Toronto Star

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Mila Kunis of Black Swan: ‘ … Like Diving in Head-First. …’

Playing Lily, the new friend and rival dancer to Natalie Portman’s prima ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” Mila Kunis is far removed from the light-comedy territory that started her career with TV’s “That ’70s Show.” That’s a good thing. “Black Swan” is undeniably one of the year’s best films: beautiful, bizarre, strange and sensuous, and as strikingly wonderful as it is darkly unique. Speaking with Kunis at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, she explains that entering the world of ballet was a sudden shock for her: “It was quite like swimming around in a new, exciting world. It was like diving in headfirst without having a life vest. I knew nothing about it — not one single thing — but I learned very quickly.”

But dancing duties aside, the film also involved other challenges for Kunis, including a hallucinatory, steamy scene of passion between her and Portman. Kunis had no qualms whatsoever about going into territories of sensuality another filmmaker would have made merely scandalous. “Oh, the whole thing was based on trust,” she says. “Not to speak for Natalie, but I don’t know if either one of us would have done a movie like this if Darren wasn’t directing. There are very few directors who you can completely relinquish everything to and trust them with crazy, bizarre concepts and ideas. There’s not very many directors who can pull it off. It’s a psychological thriller set in the ballet world. It’s crazy, and Darren made it absolutely brilliant.”

Trust is one thing; Kunis didn’t merely look without leaping, but instead trained for months. “I think the biggest challenge I found was way before I put the shoes on and filming every day,” she says. “It was when I started doing all the rehearsal for it, the training. I knew ballet was going to be hard. I didn’t realize how impossible it would be. I got the movie the next day, went into the ballet studio, then seven days a week, five hours a day worth of training. I couldn’t put the pointe shoe on until three months into it. Mind you, I probably should have waited a couple years before putting the pointe shoes on, let alone at the age of 26, but it was excruciatingly hard and incredibly gratifying at the end — at the time, I thought nearly impossible.”

Kunis’ training was exhausting, but the end of filming didn’t just mean going off an incredibly sparse diet. “It was less about eating the carbohydrates and more about actually being able to walk again,” she says. “I was happy to just be in one piece. I was so excited when I never had to do ballet ever again. I was so excited. That’s the truth. I wish I was bitten by the ballet bug, but I wasn’t. I was happy in my little world of ’20 pounds heavier and barely going to the gym.’ It was great.”

From my article at The Rundown

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Darren Aronofsky: Black Swan Takes Flight

If one man is responsible for Black Swan’s wild, wicked fever dream of pure cinematic passion and beautiful madness, it’s director Darren Aronofsky. Following up the acclaimed “The Wrestler,” “Black Swan” fits in with the director’s other portraits of passion, desire and madness, like “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream,” but also has the visual flair of the stunning, expressive “The Fountain” while also having the grit and race of “The Wrestler.” And yet, “Black Swan” posed a challenge to the director unlike any he’d had before.

“We had so little money to make the film, so every day was really, really a big challenge,” Aronofsky said. “Normally you get the call sheet in the morning, you go, ‘Oh, yeah, I can get that done.’ Some days you go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a lot to do.’ But every single day was like, ‘Uh-oh. We got to do all of this today?’ So there was not that much time, and we were really hustling through the film, which was hard because I was asking the actors to not only emote in a tremendous way, but to perform athletically, which was very difficult because they have to warm up and put on pointe shoes, they have to costume up, and then there’s all this fake sweat and all different types of details that are hopefully invisible to the audience but technically really, really challenging to maintain.

“It’s always unfortunate when you don’t have enough time and resources to get everything right, but you make do with the best. Having limitations and boundaries has always helped me. All my films have always been forced into a very tight financial box. This one was way beyond it. It was a constant battle to get the film done. I think I had very professional actors. They were extremely responsible and extremely responsive to the needs we had. There was one point when the producer, without telling me and Natalie, had got rid of the nurse, which on a set like Black Swan — where we were losing toenails every day — was extremely bad judgment, unfortunately. But we were out of money, and Natalie was like, ‘OK, how can you get rid of the nurse? Just get rid of my trailer.’ Then, sure enough, the trailer was gone the next day, but we got the nurse back.”

With its loopy, fervid atmosphere of sex and madness, festival audiences have been talking about “Black Swan” as a buzzed-about film. I asked Aronofsky if a nickel’s worth of notoriety is worth a million dollars of publicity. He waved the suggestion off with a smile. “I’m just happy people are having a good time watching it. That’s been the most interesting thing. We always knew we were doing something different, putting a piece of entertainment out there that would be unique. Like ‘The Wrestler,’ no one expected anything about it. They were like, ‘Wrestling?’ But then they realized when you pull the curtain aside, ‘Wow, there’s a whole world there.’ So that’s exciting, but the really cool thing for me in these early screenings is people are actually having fun. As a filmmaker and entertainer, you want to entertain people, you want people to have a great time. The fact that people are having a good time and then leaving the theater and then talking about it, it’s staying with people overnight, and they’re talking about it over breakfast — that’s really rewarding.”

From my article at The Rundown

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Natalie Portman of Black Swan: ‘I did everything …’

Pushed to the limits as a performer — physically, emotionally, artistically — Natalie Portman has the role of her career in “Black Swan.” As Nina, Portman goes to the edge of sanity — dancing each step of the way — in an unforgettable, frenzied yet restrained performance. And Portman was hardly unprepared: She first met with Darren Aronofsky almost a decade ago to talk about his ideas for “Black Swan,” as she explained to me. “Well, there was no script when he’d first talked to me about the film nine years ago. He had a super-specific idea in his mind, but it wasn’t on paper in any way. So it’s remarkably close to what actually exists now, which just shows how amazing he is at being able to visualize and actually create what he visualizes. But there was no specific script, so you didn’t really see how it unfolded, but the outline of the film was fully there.”

So, I asked, did the passage of time give both you and him a chance to learn things you could apply to the film when the right time came to make “Black Swan?” “Absolutely,” she said. “I was really stressing about how long it was taking, because I was getting older and it’s harder to do. This ballet stuff is meant for young kids to be learning and honing their skills. To start learning it when you’re 27 is kind of crazy, which is what I did for the film, but I think emotionally, it was really helpful to go through my 20s before doing this, because I got such a better sense of who I was, how I like to prepare for roles, understanding of artistry. Obviously I’ll never completely understand it — I’ll always have more to learn — but I think that decade really, really helped it marinate in a way that made work better for the film.”

And the atmosphere of the film — its go-for-broke intensity, its delirious air of tension — helped in the shooting, according to Portman. “There was no scene that wasn’t an important scene,” she said. “Every scene was so crucial to the film and so dramatic. There’s something crazy going on all the time, so you never let your focus down; you’re always like, ‘OK, what’s next, what’s next?’”

Of course, there’s one final question everyone wants to know the answer to: How much of the dancing in the film did Portman actually do? According to her — as she explained with a clear note of pride in her voice — nearly all of it. “I did everything, and the dance double — Sarah Lane, who’s a really wonderful dancer — they shot us both doing everything, but because most of the film is in close-up, they’re able to use me. The parts I couldn’t do were because it’s doing very complicated turns on pointe. They would shoot me doing it in flat shoes and Sarah doing it in pointe shoes and find a way to make that work.” “Black Swan” opens in limited release this week.

From my article at The Rundown

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Toronto Notebook: Natalie Portman Flick "F–king Great" (or So Says the Director)

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