Darren Aronofsky on How to Get the Key Element for a Successful Collaboration with Actors

Darren Aronofsky on How to Get the Key Element for a Successful Collaboration with Actors

I’m exploring further directors talking about how they work with actors and after Xavier Dolan, Ken Loach, Quentin Tarantino or Joe Swanberg, it’s Aronofsky’s turn.

Important side note:I’d love to have women filmmaker in the list, but a) lenghty interviews with women filmmakers outside of a specific film promotion are very hard to find, and b) questions are rarely technical. Besides brilliant keynotes with Ava DuVernay or BAFTA specials on Emma Thompson, Abi Morgan, Lone Scherfig, Susannah Grant, I do not have any masterclass per so, and this is scandalous.

In his excellent Odessa Masterclass, Aronofsky was asked how he handled working with actors to get great performance out of them. Actor Chris Gartin, who played “Sexy Waiter” in Black Swan happened to be in the audience and here is what he said about it:

“Darren is a very particular kind of director, he is an auteur, so he has an incredibly strong vision going in and, as an actor, he knows exactly what he wants and you’re there to serve his vision. (…) He’ll let the camera roll and he’ll be talking to you during the takes sometimes, which is really interesting. he works a little bit differently than maybe the average director with actors. And you really have to be the kind of actor where you trust that.”

To which Darren Aronofsky replied:

The most important thing between actors and a director is trust. I’m lucky now because of the work I’ve done I get a certain amount of trust from an actor you know, just starting, but you still have to get that trust.

Because you know, when actors start all they want to do is to cry and to emote and to scream and to have big passionate Streetcar Named Desire scenes but then, as they do more and more projects, every once in a while they’ll run into a filmmaker who embarrasses them because they put their emotions out there, and they’re open like a big flower, and then they see the final product and they’re scared by it, because the rest of the film doesn’t support what they are doing emotionally.

So actors sometimes unfortunately start to close, and get very afraid to share that emotion, and they’ll only share it if it’s trustworthy. So it’s not about confidence alone, it’s about having a comfortable relationship with an actor where you both realise that you’re just trying to do the best possible work and be honest that “Hey, we’re all taking a risk here, but I’m going to do my best not to use  you as a crutch, to rely on you, but I’m actually gonna make you part of the fabric of this film so when you give me everything you’ve got it’s not wasted, and there’s a movie around it that is supporting it with other great actors, and music and beautiful light or really ugly light if you want, but that it’s on purpose.”

Even though Aronofsky mentions that gaining an actor’s trust gets easier now that he has a solid filmmography (with Oscar nominations) to support his working style, he still needs to prove himself, especially to seasoned actors.

I enjoyed this anecdote about his collaboration with Russell Crowe, who decided not to make it too easy for Aronofsky:

“When I worked with Russell Crowe on Noah, before we started -we were starting in August, and we were finishing at the end of November- we were kind of getting into a deep conversation about some stuff and he was really questioning things and I was like: “Man, you’re gonna have to trust me on this” is what I said to him, and he was quiet.

And I said: “You trust me, right?” And he was quiet. And I said: “Well, when are you going to to trust me? Because it’s important you trust me.” And he said: “Probably about mid-November I’ll trust you.” Which was hilarious because he knew exactly how to get at me, because he knew I was trying to forge trust but he is a smart man so he knew he wasn’t going to give me that because he wanted me to keep working hard to earn his trust. So that was his strategy. So that was some good sophisticated Jedi-mind trick he was doing on me.”

For more about Darren Aronofksy’s work and collaborations: