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Darren Aronofsky's Familiar Faces: Acting Hierarchy

Black Swan is the fifth feature to come from the lunatic vision of Darren Aronofsky and with his first Oscar nomination pending, let's look back on his career. While Natalie Portman is front and center for the entire hit movie and Mickey Rourke had a similarly feature-length closeup in The Wrestler, Aronofsky is the star of all five pictures. If not, he has to be considered the co-lead. He's not invisible as a director is the point even though he's not onscreen. But which faces has he used the most to sell his masterpieces and/or follies (depending on your point of view)? 

Left: Aronofsky; Right: His parents (I believe) in The Wrestler

Let's investigate.

The Darren Aronofsky Acting Hierarchy
(Quantitatively Speaking)

5 Films

One character actor has appeared in every Darren Aronofsky feature (and so has Aronofsky's dad, no joke). Will they both appear in The WolverineHugh Jackman's 5th go at the adamantium clawed Canadian supermutant? I suspect they will, though one has to wonder when Margolis is getting a bigger part. He's got such a great character face.

  • Mark Margolis -(left) pontificated about in Pi (1998) which was Aronofsky's debut feature. He also ran the sad pawn shop in Requiem for a Dream (2000) where Sara Goldfarb's TV traded hands so many times. He played Father Avila in The Fountain (2006), Lenny in The Wrestler (2008) and he appears in Black Swan (2010) briefly as a patron of the ballet.
  • Abraham Aronofsky - the director's papa delivers a suitcase in Pi, rides the subway in Requiem, works in Ellen Burstyn's lab in The Fountain, is pissed at The Wrestler at the Deli counter, and is also a patron in Swan.


the infamous "ass to ass" scene with "Uncle Hank"

3+ Films

  • Stanley Herman is Aronofsky's go-to perv.  He's played "Uncle Hank" twice. Who is Uncle Hank you ask? That's the lech who demands "ass to ass" in Requiem (y'all know what I'm talking about even if you'll forever be trying to block it out). He reprises the role to rattle prim Nina Sayers with obscene gestures on the subway in Black Swan. He also appears in Pi (1998) and in Aronofsky's short film Fortune Cookie. 

3 Films

  • Charlotte Aronofsky is Darren's mother. She appears in Requiem, Swan and she's totally annoyed with Mickey Rourke at the deli counter in The Wrestler.
  • Marcia Jean Kurtz you'll immediately recognize as one of the Mrs. Goldfarb's sidewalk hens in Requiem. She also works the admissions desk in The Wrestler and in the costume department of Swan, onscreen I mean. Amy Westcott and Rodarte did the actual costumes (though only Westcott will be Oscar-nominated, long story.)
  • Ajay Naidu is a medic in The Wrestler, the tortured mailman in Requiem (seriously Mrs. Goldfarb... patience! Look into it.) and Farroukh in Pi.

2+ Films

The first of them...

  • Sean Gullette is the unethical shrink basically paying for the privilege of screwing his patient Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream as she's always short on funds. Since Requiem is a hall of such compromised horrors, you may have forgotten him. Perhaps this will jog your memory: Connelly stabs him with a fork... in her daydreams. Gullette was  also the first, but certainly not the last, of Aronofsky's pool of protagonists-who-are-completely-losing-their-shit (Pi). He also appears in Aronofsky's short film Supermarket Sweep so they knew each other from way back.

2 Films

Will any of them increase their presence in The Wolverine?

  • Gregg Bello is an ER doctor in Requiem and a promoter in The Wrestler.
  • Ellen Burstyn was a legendary actress bereft of challenging material in the 1990s. Aronofsky to the rescue! Her performance in Requiem polished her star again, winning her a new generation of young fans and her sixth Oscar nomination. They reteamed for The Fountain. We're hoping against all hope that Aronofsky gives her another juicy role at some point. Though perhaps it's difficult to picture her in Japan with Wolverine. 
  • Peter Cheyenne is, we assume, Aronofsky's friend since his only two credits are in PiRequiem.
  • Joanne Gordon has a recurring role. She plays "Mrs. Octavia" in both Pi Requiem.
  • Shaun O'Hagan is currently stage managing Nina Sayer's big show in Black Swan --those ballerinas sure are a handful -- but he's no stranger to people hanging by their last threads. He was previously a ward attendant in Requiem.
  • Ben Shenkman, is a familiar face in television and film. You'll recognize from Damages or Angels in America or Blue Valentine among many others. He appears in both Pi and Requiem.
  • Samia Shoaib is a nurse in Requiem and "Devi" in Pi.

What's next?

Hugh Jackman, who gave the best performance of his career in The Fountain, will soon join the ranks of the two-time collaborators in The Wolverine (2012). While it's the sequel to a movie we'd rather not talk about, and will be Jackman's fifth run at the abrasive Canadian mutant superhero, we figure this pairing will reenergize him. At the very least Aronofsky knows from berzerker rages and if a Wolvie movie is ever going to be memorable it's got to sell those better than they've been previously sold.

Gullette, Libatique and Aronofsky

on the set of Pi (1998)

One final thing...

Though these posts are about the colors on the director's pallete (i.e. faces in movies), Aronofsky also reuses crew. His most famous collaborator is the composer Clint Mansell who has written the scores for his entire filmography. Clint also appears onscreen in Pi as a photographer. The twice production designer James Chinlund (Requiem and The Fountain) is another collaborator used onscreen (Requiem's "space oddity") and then of course there's Matthew Libatique, the cinematographer, who lensed all of the films except The Wrestler. He's currently earning multiple critics awards for Black Swan so he may finally turn his Oscar luck around; incredibly he's never been nominated by his peers in the Academy.


If you were to appear in an Aronofsky picture, what kind or role would you want to have? Which actor would you love to see him work with again?


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Reader Comments (21)

i want to act an "ass to ass" with Jennifer Connelly because it's the first scene what i think when i think Darren Aronofsky

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpomme

I went to high school w/Aronofsky and I'm almost positive Shaun O'Hagan is someone who was in his class and acted in all the school plays. So funny.

You all know, of course, that Marisa Tomei also went to the same high school but she was four or five years ahead.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAR

I'd want something totally psychotic. Hee.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

he certainly keeps it jewish.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermark

really inteersting piece. really hope burstyn gets into a good role, fast. she is sooo very talented. Burstyn FTW!

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCandice Frederick

Omg, that's so funny about herman. I had no idea, lol.

And yes, another aronofsky-burstyn reteam would be delicious but id also love to see him direct marisa tomei in a juicy lead role

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Me as Wolverine love (or whatever) interest.

And definitely, more Burstyn.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I'd be afraid to be cast as anything major in an Aronofsky film. He's like a more violent Lars von Trier--it just never ends well for the main characters. I could see myself in a part like the rehearsal pianist in Black Swan. A line or two, some decent background shots of me doing something I'm good at in a realistic context, and out before everything falls apart.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOtherRobert

Ryan -- YES. on Tomei. but i'm usually yes on directors reteaming with actors who did wonders for them.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I want him to work with Burstyn, Portman, and Rourke again. And give some of those cameo actors a bigger role!

(Specifically Joanne Gordon, just because I like the name of her character, which you got wrong. It's Mrs Ovadia, not Octavia. The fact that she has a role in both Pi and Requiem...maybe she likes math/drug junkies...)

I can actually see the Wolverine movie as being good, because Aronofsky is obsessed with Obsession. Wolverine has many obsessions.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew R.

Great article, Nathaniel! Aronofsky is my favourite director, and I'm so happy to see him getting so much recognition this year.

One minor correction to your post: Joanne Gordon plays Mrs. Ovadia, not Mrs. Octavia...

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicolas Mancuso

Oh my - I want to be a venomous gay man who takes advantage of Wolverine when he's unconscious and who then gets lacerated by the beast when he awakes! (But, of course, after killing me, he's sort of sorry...)

Definitely Burstyn - definitely Jackman again after Wolverine - but also Ajay Naidu because I like his presence on screen, Sean Gullette because they were together in the beginning and now I'd like to see what Aronofsky would do with him now, and Ben Shenkman cause he needs more work.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbillybil

Is he really directing Wolverine? I can't think of anything less exhilarating...

PS Sad news. Theoni V. Aldredge died today.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

He seemed to enjoy working with Evan Rachel Wood, so I'd love it if he could resurrect her career!

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Haha, I echo Burstyn, Tomei, Rourke, and Portman. For fun though I'm going to suggest Marlon Wayans. Hate almost his entire career, but it's always exciting to see a favorite director summon a good performance from an unexpected source.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrady

I would obvs want a lead opposite his latest star Natalie Portman

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Meyers

Ay ay ay, there're certain characters I don't want to know of again.:( PSH in Happiness, I eventually had to start seeing another dentist, because mine was too creepily close to PSH, physically and in creepiness. Same thing happened to Marnie Edgar for completely different reasons. I can't see that movie without connecting it with someone else.

Not sure if I want to see Black Swan.

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

I want him to do something with Cate Blanchett


get involved into The Dark Phoenix Saga (X-Men)

OR both

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Am I the only one who wants to see him give Jared Leto something exciting to do again?

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Def wanna see him work with Gregg Bello again... Guy has a good face and is overdue for a meatier role in another Aronofsky classic..

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMax

More Bello! More Margolis!

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfilmfan
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