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Entries in Familiar Faces (3)


Familiar Faces: The Jonathan Demme Players

by Nathaniel R

Dearest reader, as you've probably heard by now the director Jonathan Demme has passed away at 73. He died due to esophageal cancer. I had run into him at a screening of La La Land  this past September and I took the opportunity to tell him how much Rachel Getting Married  meant to me (he joked about being first with interracial weddings for Rosemarie deWitt onscreen). Then we talked Swing Shift for a little bit as we had just discussed it on this very site. I was so saddened by this yesterday that I couldn't do much but tweet my farewells. The words wouldn't come out for a lengthy piece but then, surprise, I remembered I'd written the following piece that was never published (oops) to coincide with the release of Ricki and the Flash (2015). I filled in a few of the blank spots and adjusted some verbs to reflect the past tense but this surprisingly doubles as what I probably wanted to say about Jonathan Demme yesterday and couldn't. It's about his favorite actors but looking back, it's a fitting tribute because what American director was more curious about literally any kind of person he might find with his camera?

Jonathan Demme was one of America's most interesting and surprising directors. Though he's now best remembered for the modern classic The Silence of the Lambs (1991) it was actually something of an oddity in his filmography being the only horror film and, in some ways, the most classically controlled. In other ways though it's a traditional Demme picture. It features actors doing unexpected or suddenly signature electric work, weird musician cameos (what the hell is one of the members of 80s synth pop band Book of Love doing in there?), and diverse casting where most films would go with the default heavily male white cast. In fact, Silence might be his most white/male movie but that's part of its plot...

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Familiar Faces: Woody Allen's Cast Hierarchy

Several Woody Allen's ago we began a very short lived series called "Familiar Faces" in which I surveyed repeat usages of the same actors in a director's ouevre. The series was short lived because my god do you know how long each post took? Nevertheless, I'd love to revive it if I've ever afforded the budget or time and I thought with Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's 43rd complete directorial feature, rocking it at the box office the time was ripe to revisit and republish with a few minor adjustments. If you see a half point trust that it's from Play It Again Sam which Woody wrote and starred in but did not direct or New York Stories which he directed only one segment of. One of the key factors in why I don't think Woody Allen films are as strong as they used to be is his weird shift from loyal employer to fickle star-gazer. Nowadways its rare for an actor to return to his filmography. 

Will Cate follow in other muse footsteps or is Blue Jasmine a one-off?

Take Blue Jasmine for example. The only performers with a previous Woody under his belt are Alec Baldwin who had the "pleasure" of playing an ill-defined role in To Rome With Love and (a long time ago) a small role in Alice and Ginger herself Sally Hawkins who previously appeared in Cassandra's Dream

Herewith my findings... from Mia through the Dian(n)es and on to the Scarletts 

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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?