Interview: Talking The Wrestler with Actress Marisa Tomei
by Kevin Powers
December 16, 2008
You know what they say about hindsight. That adage immediately came to mind when it was announced that Marisa Tomei had been nominated for a Golden Globe for her supporting role in The Wrestler, considering a conversation I had with the actress last month. In talking about her role as the stripper Cassidy, Tomei wasn't exactly sold when Darren Aronofsky first approached her. "He didn't really have a script to show me, but he talked to me about it a bit. It was really vague. I'm a stripper… There's a wrestler… Low budget… I'm going to push you… It's going to be crazy. He sent [the script] to me a couple of weeks later and it appealed to me, but I was still nervous about it. I knew it was going to be a hard shoot."
I reflexively thought Tomei took most issue with the degree of nudity in the film. But when asked what she was most worried about, she replied (laughing), "The worst thing was not the hours or the nudity or anything like that. It's that it's going to be freezing. And I try to avoid that at all costs. [Aronofsky] said upfront that this is going to be really, really hard. So I was kind of hemming and hawing if I was going to do it. He said, just text me, if you wanna do it, 'rock and roll babe'. And that set the tone. He just had such passion, and his work speaks for itself. He's an incredible filmmaker. So I said yes."
Tomei's fears proved to be well-founded as The Wrestler was not only brisk in temperature, but brisk in pacing as well, shooting in just 35 days. "It was rough. Just because, you know, I was naked, it was cold, and everyone else had coats on. And it was mostly because it was very long hours, and Darren likes a lot of takes. He's very generous and he has an incredible vision, and he's totally there for you. I think he wants to explore all aspects of a scene. So you'll do it 20, 30, 40 times and that's just one angle. So, that can make you kookoo. And wanting to shoot that much, and to get all that stuff in - it was packed."
Co-star Mickey Rourke certainly has a storied past and a questionable reputation, so if he can scare off investors - Aronofsky stated Rourke's involvement was a primary difficulty in getting financing - could he influence Tomei's decision to join the project? Turns out, he wasn't even around. While Tomei was making her decision, Nicolas Cage was in conversations to star as The Ram. But of Rourke, Tomei said, "I had heard some good things, and some not so good things. But certainly, Pope of Greenwich Village is one of my favorite movies. So… I wasn't really sure. I just tried to not have any expectations and just go in and do the film. And he's a very sensitive person. He's very charming. And it's a great combination."
As you'll see in The Wrestler, Tomei does an outstanding job with her character, despite Cassidy being a far cry from Tomei in real life. "She couldn't be farther from me. But I will say that I think in an actor's life there are transition times and moments of a reinvention. And so, in a way, I thought about that… getting older. But I didn't really identify too much." Cassidy is in a large way a parallel to Rourke's character. Both rely on their physical attributes for their livelihood, and both are at a crossroads.
And before you start thinking Tomei is a hair-band fanatic pining away for the '80s as she does in the film, the actress had this to say, "I can't stand the '80s. I really hated living through the '80s. I felt they were so full snobbery and fakery and glamorizing bullshit. And I was not into that. I felt it was very uptight time in the country… it's just a vibe, and I thought it was a very greedy, greedy vibe." For as distant from her real self as Cassidy was and as reluctant as she might have been to don the stripper heals, Tomei does an incredible job in the role, and I hope she wins her Golden Globe and gets nominated for the chance at another Oscar. The Wrestler is due out in limited release this coming Wednesday, December 17th.