20 Darren Aronofsky Quotes on Filmmaking, Storytelling, and Channeling a Character’s Emotional World


Friday marks the release of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple whose relationship is tested when Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s characters show up to their home. Our own Jason Bailey called it “formally impressive and deeply disturbing.” While we wait to see the movie, we’re revising some of Aronofsky’s best quotes about filmmaking, screenwriting, taking creative chances, and working closely with characters as they tackle the director’s twisted thrillers and obsessive roles.

“There’s nothing wrong with a cliché, it’s just how you execute it.”

“You hear stories about directors using manipulation to get actors to do certain things, but I think when you’re working with professional actors, it’s all about trust. They can do anything you want, it’s just a matter of them understanding what you’re looking for, and the reason why.”

“I think it’s important as a filmmaker, as any person working in the arts, that you’ve got to try new stuff and challenge yourself and take chances.”

“I’d like to do a lot of different stuff. I think it’s important as a creative person to keep challenging yourself and keep doing new stuff. If you end up trying to repeat yourself it’s death. It just becomes boring and takes the passion out of it. You gotta find stories and characters that you really want to hang out with.”

“I think it’s important to keep trying new things.”

“Filmmaking is barely an art. 99% of my job is bureaucracy.”

“To me, watching a movie is like going to an amusement park. My worst fear is making a film that people don’t think is a good ride.”

“I’m Godless. I’ve had to make my God, and my God is narrative filmmaking.”

“My approach [to writing] is to discuss and think about the project for a long time, in order to have a structure before I start writing. I often have these big, crazy ideas, like Max using the drill in Pi. I then try to write towards these moments.”

“It’s very hard to make movies so you’ve gotta throw a lot of things out there and see what sticks. I think my development is always a marathon with projects, you know? They all line up and they all get going and the ones that cross the finish line, often we’ve gone back to them many times to revisit a scene or a story or something about them that grabs our fancy and allows us to keep pushing that one closer to the finish line.”

“I think you have to as a director [identify with all your characters]. That’s your job – to be able to put yourself into each character’s shoes, point shoes, whatever they may be wearing, and channel their emotion. It’s kinda like if you’re playing a chess game, you have to play both sides of the table honestly and truthfully and forget which side you’re on because each character needs to be played from a truthful and positive place. I’m clearly very interested in performance – my last two movies were about performance – and that’s probably because my biggest collaboration, or the one I enjoy the most, is with my actors. That work fascinates me – how they do it – so I think that’s me thinking about acting and actors.”

“One of my mentors told me, ‘Never watch your films when you’re done,’ and I’ve kinda subscribed to that.”

“The pain of filmmaking – it’s really hard because it’s a grind. It’s long days, very intense days. I mean, they’re fun and you get to do a lot of great stuff but there’s just a lot of challenges and a lot of pressures and that’s just in the creative work. Then there’s all the pressures of not enough money, not enough time, what are we going to do, how do we fix this? It’s a real hustle.”

“My job is first and foremost as an entertainer. I entertain people, and I try to make films that are exciting, and fun, and emotional, and moving, and filled with action, and that’s all I care about.”

“What I love about rules, is they make you save money.”

“Unfortunately, when you’re working in film, it’s this huge machine, and you’ve got to get everyone right there, so you get kind of locked into things. I’m not sure where the artistry in filmmaking is. It’s usually that moment when you’re on set and you’re working with the actors. That’s the time to play around, the moment of theater. And then you can shape things. But a lot of it is just managing stuff. It’s upsetting because you get away from the core.”

“When you make a film, everybody is saying no to you for two years, and you’ve got to somehow get out of bed and be like, ‘You know what? Fuck everyone. This is what we’re doing, we’re going to keep going forward and doing it.'”

“To allow yourself to change is important, to allow yourself to grow. I think that’s what I’m trying to do is not hold on to past successes and past failures but to just live it and see what’s fascinating about the present and try to do something in the present.”

“I think a lot of independent films fail because of bad sound. Finally, that’s getting around. Because if you don’t spend the money on sound, even if it’s a great movie, there’s something missing, there’s this weird claustrophobia and I don’t think the audience knows what it is, but there’s something wrong.”

“I have a really clear sense of the gist of what I’m going for, but then — things change. When you’re on set things change. When you’re in the editing room things change. So, it’s a matter of really dealing with the best options, at the moment, and making the right choices.”