'Mickey was going to kill me': director Darren Aronofsky on star Mickey Rourke

Darren Aronofsky.
Darren Aronofsky.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Film-maker Darren Aronofsky had to direct famously unstable actor Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler and the actor had his own ideas about the character

Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky spoke on a wide range of topics at a talk at the Marina Bay Sands last Friday, including his desire to step on the roof of the ArtScience Museum.

The film-maker, best known for the psychological horror work Black Swan (2010) and the bible epic Noah (2014), talked about how, before he became a father, films featuring children in danger left him cold.

"In my 20s, when I would see a child in jeopardy, I wouldn't give a s***. 'Why are people crying here? This is bull, it's manipulative.'"

He has a 10-year-old son with his ex-wife, actress Rachel Weisz. 

In the double Oscar-nominated drama The Wrestler (2008), the 47-year-old had to direct the famously unstable actor Mickey Rourke, who had his own ideas about the character of the washed-up wrestler. 

The most popular costume was Black Swan... I wish I had the costumes made and sold.

DIRECTOR DARREN ARONOFSKY, on his first inkling that Black Swan, a 2010 movie about a ballerina racked by disturbing visions, would be a hit. The movie trailer had been released before Halloween

"I was convinced Mickey was going to kill me, that it was only a matter of time," Aronofsky said. But good sense prevailed because "if he killed me, his career wouldn't be fixed, so he bit his tongue".

He did, however, accept at least one of Rourke's suggestions: The word "dude" - a West Coast term of endearment - was changed to "bro", which fit the wrestler's East Coast origins better. 

After he made Black Swan, no one involved in it thought it would be a commercial success.

The drama about a ballerina (Nina, played by Natalie Portman) plagued by disturbing visions was made for a modest US$13 million and has earned more than US$320 million worldwide.

The first inkling that it had become a cultural phenomenon came at Halloween, after the release of the trailer and before the film had opened. "The most popular costume was Black Swan... I wish I had the costumes made and sold," he said.

Aronofsky was speaking at the ArtScience Museum and responding to questions from the host, Singapore film-maker Ken Kwek (Unlucky Plaza, 2014), and the audience. He was invited here by the Singapore International Film Festival, which opened last week.

His second feature, the drug addiction story Requiem For A Dream (2000), earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for veteran actress Ellen Burstyn, but he said she was not his first choice for the part of Sara Goldfarb, a woman driven insane by weight-loss pills.

"She was the fifth or sixth choice, but a lot of great actresses turned down the role because they were scared. It's difficult to expose yourself emotionally. And there was no money in it. It was a low-budget movie," he said.

At one point, responding to someone who identified herself as an employee of the museum, he asked her if she could take him up one of the "fingers" of the iconic building, a request which was later granted.

Speaking to The Straits Times after the talk, the environmental activist expressed disquiet over the election of Mr Donald Trump, who - during his bid for the United States presidency - won widespread support for saying that global warming was a hoax created by China to curb American competitiveness.

But he believed that American film-makers will be galvanised, as much as they were during the time of the civil rights battles, when films such as Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967) addressed racism.

"People are speaking out already. You will see the beauty of America," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline ''Mickey was going to kill me''. Print Edition | Subscribe