The Wrestler interviews

The Torch had the opportunity to sit down with those responsible for The Wrestler. The following are excerpts from speaking with director Darren Aronofsky and writer Robert Siegel.

On acquiring Mickey Rourke:

Aronofsky: From the beginning I always knew that there would be very, very little money, because the way the films get financed in today’s world is you go to the international market and you raise the money based on the movie star and the role. Because where Mickey’s career was before we started this, I wasn’t sure what that was going to be but I knew it wasn’t going to be generous. Then when we started to do this it turned out it was less generous; it was negative. And pretty much every financier on the planet said no to this movie at least once and the reason was because of Mickey. And their reason was that Mickey Rourke is not sympathetic. And for me the great victory of this film is that they were wrong.

Siegel: We had him in mind from the start, even before we ever approached him. In one of my first meetings with Darren we kind of, just for fun, threw out names of who would be good for the part and once Mickey Rourke’s name came up… I mean he brings so much, besides the physicality, he brings this kind of vulnerable side. He can be this real brute but there’s something about him people just really like. I didn’t even know we were going to get him, I just decided I was going to write this part for him and use that in shaping the character. It just helps when you’re writing.

On the film’s music:

Aronofsky: Well I didn’t bring that to the table. The writer, Rob Siegel, brought it and so that was just one of the great things Rob had to bring. He had a huge knowledge of hair metal and he’s just amazing with music. When he wrote the script and started to put those songs in, it was hilarious. I actually didn’t know how funny it was because I didn’t know any of the music. I really had to go through an education to learn all the music. All the songs we put in originally turned out to be songs we couldn’t afford because they were even bigger hits that we had. But I kind of like the level of hits we got because they were very well known songs except they’re on that next tier, which makes it, you have to be a fan to know what they are. So it kind of worked very well.

Siegel: 80’s hair metal. That’s the music that he loved and that’s the music that was around when he was at his peak. His glory years, I would imagine, would be ’85-’89 or so in terms of his wrestling career, which were also the glory years of Motley Crue and the like. It was good time party music, and he was having a good time and partying and suddenly he kind of found himself, suddenly the ’90s came around and he was kind of on the outs and that music was also on the outs. That Kurt Cobain line in the movie, it was also this moapy self-loathing grunge rock hit all over the airwaves. You know, where did Skid Row go? What happened to Winger? We were having such a good time there. And just kind of overnight, that music was passé, just as he was kind of overnight passé. And I also think there’s that kind of parallel between hair metal and wrestling. They’re kind of not all that respected, but some hair I think is pretty awesome. I’ll take Guns N’ Roses over Nirvana any day. I definitely listen to it more than Kurt Cobain.

On the wrestling world:

Aronofsky: I think thing besides the close-up that people go to the movies is to go to places they’ve never been before. It’s definitely a universe that’s never been on film before. It’s got a lot of humor in it, a lot of fraternity and a lot of surprise. It’s an old culture. I think it comes out of carnival culture. I don’t know for sure. I don’t think anyone’s done the research but they actually still speak with their own language. They call the event “the show,” and they call the audience “the mark.” The good guys are baby faces, the bad guys are heels. It’s a culture unto itself. I think originally it was ‘fight the strong man and if you beat the strong man you get a dollar.’ Then they’d have two strong men fighting each other and eventually it evolved into modern professional wrestling, or however you want to call it. But it is, it’s a circus atmosphere and it’s a part of the circus you haven’t seen before.
On how wrestling fans might react to the film and its truthfulness:

Siegel: We were hoping they would like it. Anytime you write, and you adapt the beloved book, the people who love that book are going to have their knives out and are going to be ready for you and just waiting, bracing for the betrayal. The ruining of their beloved book. It would have been really disappointing if after this came out, wrestling fans felt we stabbed them in the back or we were untruthful. We wanted to be as realistic as possible. And to that end we really tried to involve them in the movie. And so far all the wrestlers who have seen it, and everybody in that world, have said “you really captured it.” We didn’t want this to be no disrespect, of course, but we didn’t want this to be Ready 2 Rumble. Most wrestling movies, I don’t even know if I could come up with 3 wrestling movies, but you know the sport is treated as a joke or comedy fodder. There are jokes in there, there’s funny stuff, but we wanted to be laughing with them, not at them. Wrestlers know that it’s theater and it’s kind of absurd. All the wrestlers understand that this is an absurd thing, a kind of ridiculous thing but it’s also something that is a craft, like I said. And they wanted to be treated with respect. And so far everybody we’ve heard from, that we’ve screened for, and they all seem to really give it the thumbs up.

On wrestlers shaping the film:

Siegel: You talk to enough of them and this kind of pattern emerges. Very quickly this composite picture of this guy emerged pretty quickly. Talking to these guys, they would all talk about their money troubles; they would all talk about their physical ailments. Most of them are on their fifth hip and they have no health insurance. But they would also all talk about how much they love wrestling and they are really passionate about wrestling as a craft and they see it as a real art. Which, you know, I have come to see it as too. Even though the sport is fake, is dancing fake? I guess technically it’s fake; you go to the ballet and its choreographed but it’s still a form of creative expression.

On getting non-wrestling fans to see the film:

Siegel: I’ve been at screenings where little old ladies come out of the movie, and they’re clearly not wrestling fans, and I’ve spoken to a lot of people who say “I hate wrestling and I hate violence, but this, I really like this.” Hopefully it transcends wrestling. I mean the subject matter is wrestling but it’s not about wrestling. I think it’s something a lot of people can relate to. You reach a certain age and you can no longer do what you once did and what do you do with your life when you have to figure out act 2 in your life. It seems to me, to the people who have seen it, people seem to be really responding to the movie and it’s not just wrestling fans. My mom really liked it. She might be bias because I wrote it. But people like my mom, who are not my mom, seem to really be liking it. It must have some good themes in there that speak to them, that are not related to folding chairs and figure four leg locks.