Today sees the DVD release of Darren Aranofksy’s The Fountain, a critic-dividing opus which the director of Pi and Requiem for a Dream spent many, many years struggling to bring to fruition. A first attempt, in 2002, fell apart mere weeks before filming began, when star Brad Pitt pulled out at the eleventh hour.
The story is set in three time periods – the 16th century, the modern day, and the far future. X-Men’s Hugh Jackman stars, and Rachel Weisz (Aronofsky’s partner) plays his wife, Izzy.
So, can you tell us what The Fountain is all about?
“ Love . It’s a cosmic love story, like Romeo and Juliet, except that there the families hate each other, and here the hurdle is that she’s being torn away from him prematurely. Ultimately what the movie is about is that life is finite, it doesn’t last forever, and therefore we have to take that walk in the snow with our loved ones, because every moment is precious, and every moment should be cherished.”
Is that a philosophy you share with the film?
“As an adult I figured out it’s a pretty good way to be. We’re so worried about what just happened, and what’s about to happen, we often miss what’s happening in the moment.”
How did you feel the first time you read it?
“The very first time I read it, it blew me away. It was so emotional and romantic – like big capital-R Romantic. It broke my heart and made me sob and made me think. I remember where I was when I first read it, it was late at night, and I was just up all night thinking... it made me think about all those big questions that sometimes keep us awake at night - y’know, ‘What’s it all about?’”
Do you think people are going to be surprised by the intensity of Hugh Jackman’s performance?
“Definitely. It’s a tremendous performance. It’s got such depth, so many layers, and he’s so emotionally open. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man be so open on a screen. It’s an extraordinary thing to see. He’s so raw. He has this innocence, this sensitivity and gentleness and great compassion. But he also can bring out the man. When I first saw him as Tomas, the Conquistador, I just said ‘Whoa!’ I mean, his testosterone... he’s got the beard, and he’s in the leather and the boots. And he’s just... He’s an old-fashioned male movie star, and I don’t think there are actually many around anymore.”
What do you think it takes to be a movie star these days?
“You have to have sensitivity and openness and compassion, but also, I think you need a little danger. And some people are really dangerous, but they haven’t got the compassion and the heart, and vice-versa. Hugh has got it all. And he can do contemporary. And he can do 16th century. He’s bloody talented. I’m very impressed.”
Hugh was instrumental in helping to get The Fountain revived after it was shut down in 2002. Why do you think Darren was so determined not to let it die?
“That’s Darren. I can’t think of another example of a person who would keep, y’know... I’m not going to mention the names of the films that he was offered – Hollywood films - and he just said ‘No’ to every single one because this is what he wanted to do. And it’s a testament to his passion and belief as an artist. Everybody said ‘No’ many, many, many, many, many times. He just kept biting. To the point, y’know, I’d have some agents say to me, in Hollywood, ‘What’s he doing? He’s mad! He should work!’ That was their opinion. But he doesn’t really go with the herd. He does his own thing.”
Like many works of art, The Fountain seems to have divided people into those who aren’t sure about it and those who adore it. Why do you think that is?
“Darren makes divisive films, so I thought it was only to be expected that this was going to divide audiences, and especially the press. In Venice, at the world premiere, we had a 10 minute standing ovation. And the [US] premiere, at the Chinese Theatre, was the most incredible night - it just went down so well.”
Why do you think people love it?
“It’s very emotional, dramatic, and romantic. And there’s action and special effects and science fiction… It’s an adventure. It’s just not like anything else. And it’s got conquistadors and fights and Mayans – It’s not a big intellectual movie – y’know, some elitist, didactic treatise on Death and Life.”
Do you pick projects differently now that you have an Oscar?
“No, no differently. I just want to keep challenging myself and trying new things, and sometimes the less comfortable it is at first the more interesting it is.”
Will you ever do another Mummy movie?
“Yeah, why not? Get the family back together again. Go on some adventures. I hear rumblings that Stephen Sommers is writing one, but I don’t know if it’s rumour or true. Right now, it doesn’t exist… at least, no-one’s spoken to me about it, so it’s not on my radar.”
Perhaps you’re too busy being a mummy...
“Yeah, it’s great! I’m really enjoying it, I’ve only been doing it for five months but… what can I tell you, I’m in love!
What things have you worked on since your son Henry was born?
“I took a couple of supporting roles while Henry was still very little. The first thing I went back to work to do was work with Wong Kar-wai on a film called My Blueberry Nights, which is his first English language films, and Norah Jones is the lead. Then I did Definitely, Maybe, a kind of neurotic romantic comedy. I play an American, upper west side Manhattan girl. It was a bit lighter than the Wong Kar-wai, which was quite intense. I like comedy and drama, so I’d like to keep zipping around between the two. Yes, I’m a working mum now! There are millions of them around, and I’ve got great admiration for them. I take my hat off to all the millions of mums out there who’ve been doing it for a long time.”
It seems like you hardly ever stop working. What drives you?
“There are so many stories to tell and I love nothing more than immersing myself in a good story and telling it. It’s an amazing job to have, and often it doesn’t really feel ‘job-like’. It’s so different every day, every minute, every hour… every time you do a take it’s different. It’s such a great gig to have in life.”
The Fountain is available to buy now (RRP £19.99).