Darren Aronofsky is known for directing dark, provocative, divisive films such as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan,” but in “The Whale,” he sees hope, “human connection and a belief in the human spirit.”

In this episode of “The Envelope,” Aronofsky reflects on how “The Whale” interacts with obesity and fatphobia, discusses exploring humanity through science, and describes why the “Brenaissance” — star Brendan Fraser’s triumphant return to acting — caught him by surprise. Listen now wherever you get your podcasts.

Yvonne Villarreal: Welcome to another episode of “The Envelope.” This week we have the Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky. His new film is “The Whale.” The movie stars Brendan Fraser, who has been getting rave reviews, and so has the supporting cast that includes Hong Chau, Samantha Morton and Sadie Sink. Mark, why don’t you give us a snapshot of what the film is about?

Mark Olsen: Well, Brendan Fraser plays a man attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Ellie, as he knows he is nearing the end of his life. In this adaptation of the play by Samuel D. Hunter, who also wrote the screenplay, Fraser wears a prosthetic bodysuit to give him the appearance of weighing some 600 pounds, and the praise for his performance has really revived his career.


Villarreal: It’s been very touching to see how Brendan has been taking in this moment after mostly disappearing from the spotlight for years. I think it was at the Venice Film Festival where he got that standing ovation and got really emotional. It was very sweet to see because so many of us remember him as a leading man of lighter — dare I say, less sophisticated — movies, and “The Whale” is really showing us a new side of him as a performer.

Olsen: It’s funny, in the interview, Aronofsky talks about how he really hadn’t seen those other movies, like “George of the Jungle” or “Encino Man.” And so then we get into how he and Brendan Fraser created this performance. Because you really have to remember that Aronofsky has directed four performers to an Oscar nomination. Natalie Portman, of course, won for “Black Swan.”

Villarreal: But there’s some controversy about this new film, right?

Olsen: Yes. The movie has stirred up no small amount of discussion around its depiction of obesity. But being a lightning rod is really nothing new for Aronofsky, whose dark, challenging films have often been provocative and divisive, right from his debut feature, “Pi,” to movies like “Requiem For A Dream,” “The Wrestler,” “Black Swan,” or “Mother!” But in conversation, it’s surprising, he is actually very thoughtful and reflective and even a little bit sweet.

Villarreal: Sweet? I wasn’t expecting that. I’m intrigued. Let’s get to it.

Darren Aronofsky
Director Darren Aronofsky.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Olsen: For the Los Angeles Times and “The Envelope.” I’m Mark Olsen, and I’m joined today by Darren Aronofsky, director of the new film, “The Whale.” Darren, thank you so much for joining us today.

Darren Aronofsky: Thank you so much for having me, Mark.

Olsen: Looking at your body of work, going all the way back to your first film, “Pi,” up to “The Whale,” you’ve really maintained such a sense of originality as a storyteller. In particular, as Hollywood has changed over the years, has it become more difficult for you to navigate? Especially as things have become geared towards ongoing intellectual properties, sequels, how have you kind of maintained that sort of originality as a storyteller?


Aronofsky: Well, thank you for those nice words. It’s a good question. The business has changed a lot. It’s almost unrecognizable from when I began, having no money, trying to make a film like “Pi” literally 25 years ago. Back then you needed to raise money to buy film, and distribution has completely changed. When “Pi” came out, it was either a theatrical release or nothing, but now there’s so many different ways to tell stories, in so many different lengths of time, that I think it’s an exciting time.

Olsen: Part of what I find so fascinating about your career is that whenever you’ve moved towards more conventional commercial success, you often seem to kind of swerve away from it, and then even your biggest-scaled films like “The Fountain” or “Noah” or “Mother!” — in many ways, those are your weirdest movies. Why do you think that is?

Aronofsky: Well, “The Fountain” and “Mother!” were very small films, just to be clear as well. “Noah” was definitely my superhero movie. I just think it’s whatever it takes to make a film. Certain films need a big crew with a lot of resources. And then there’s other projects that also move me deeply and have characters that I relate to in a very, very deep way and want to share them with the world and spend a few years of my life thinking about them, studying them, figuring out their worlds, immersing myself into their emotional reality. I don’t think I’m really thinking about size or scope — I wish I was more — but really it’s always just chasing the characters and the stories and trying to figure out how to bring them to life.

Olsen: You often refer to yourself as an independent filmmaker, and you’ve talked a lot about how you find the sort of limitations and challenges of that to be something you enjoy and you’re energized by. How do you turn what other people would see as limitations or roadblocks into something that keeps you going?

Aronofsky: Art doesn’t exist without a frame. You need a boundary. You need to really pay close attention to the edges of your frame. What can I do with this that will surprise people, that will interest people, that will move people, hopefully? That’s the challenge of it is like — look. Everyone’s got limited resources. Well, maybe not everyone. There are certain filmmakers that get a lot of gifts, but even then, there’s certain limits up there as well. But I kind of like it. I like — look, “Mother!” was in a single house, and then “The Whale” is in a single room. But how do you make a single room cinematic? That was, for me, the challenge.

The worst day of every filmmaker’s life — and any filmmakers listening to this will relate — is the day your editor shows you the assemblage. Which is, basically, you’ve been on set, busy working crazy hours, and your editor’s been working really hard to put together the scenes as best as he or she or they can, and then they present to you this kind of assemblage of all the work you did. And it is the most depressing day of your life. But for the first time on “The Whale,” it was actually a great day for me because I watched an extra-long version of “The Whale” that was not my cut, that was very unfinished, but I was like, “Hey, the film is not claustrophobic. There’s still a lot of work to do and it’s gonna take me the next year to get it into shape. But I think audiences will be really moved by the film.”


Olsen: Before we dive a little more into “The Whale,” I want to ask something: There seems to be a through line across your films. There’s this tension between religious faith and scientific reason. What draws you to that as a theme? Is that a question you feel like you’re trying to answer for yourself?

Aronofsky: Where have you seen that in my work before?

Olsen: I think it’s going back to “Pi” and it’s the exploration of math and religion. I think in “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Fountain,” “Noah.” Then it comes through, I think, very much in “The Whale” as well. Is it something you don’t sort of recognize in your work?

Aronofsky: It’s not fully conscious. It’s hard to say what attracts me to a project and what keeps bringing me back. A lot of these projects take a long time. “The Whale” was a 10-year process. “Noah” was something I was interested in making since I was a teenager. “Black Swan” was over a decade. There’s something in there that is very truthful to me, that is interesting to me, and I keep chasing it. But I don’t really ever really break it down.

“The Whale,” I find, has a lot of religion in it, and that comes a lot from Sam Hunter’s upbringing. He came up with a religious upbringing. And so I was honoring that as I was honoring many things in the script that weren’t my story. They came from Sam’s soul and spirit, and I spent a lot of time with Sam talking about it, trying to understand it.

For me, I think religion, the stuff that has always fascinated me about it is religion as myth. I find mythology extremely powerful. I’m less interested in belief. I’m more interested in the power of story. We all know the story of Icarus didn’t happen, that it’s a myth. Yet if I bring up the story of Icarus, we all understand what it means. And that’s kind of the power of these stories, which are these incredibly old stories that everyone knows. Let’s not fight over who the stories belong to or if they really happened. They’re much more powerful when we say, “Wow, what is the meaning behind this story, and why were we telling this story, and how does it relate to us as 21st century humans? And how can we maybe learn from this to move forward?”

Olsen: Because even another way, it seems like you’ve been exploring some of these same themes in the documentaries that you’ve been becoming involved in and producing. The recent National Geographic docu-series “Limitless” deals with these ideas of mortality and acceptance. What have you enjoyed about working in the documentary space?


Aronofsky: I love the documentary space. When I first started filmmaking, the teachers that I first had, Alfred Guzzetti and Rob Moss, came from that world, and they were very much into cinema verite. And it’s where I started my studies as a student. So I’ve always loved documentary, wanted to be involved in that world for a long time. And of course I really was originally trained as a field biologist and my partner Ari Handel is a neuroscientist. So we’ve always been deep into the sciences. We were super excited about this idea of making a show filled with science and bringing it to the world.

“Limitless” does have a direct connection to my fiction work. I made a film back in 2006 with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz called “The Fountain,” which was about a man searching for eternal life. And back then, longevity science was kind of a joke. There was actually a line in the film that Hugh says, where he goes, “Death is a disease and I will cure it.” And I actually cut it out of the film because I thought it was ridiculous and people would laugh at it. But then before we went out with the movie, I went back to Warner Brothers and I said, “You know what? I really want to put that line in,” and it was a big fight because the film was closed and back then it was hard to make changes, but they let me do it and I got it into the movie. And now there are people that talk about death being a disease and spending billions of dollars trying to solve aging. And so it’s weird how the science fiction of “The Fountain” has become the reality of 21st century America in many ways. I think it’s — there’s a lot of aging Boomers and Gen Xers who are really terrified of death, and so I was like, “It’s time to turn this into a docu-series.”

Olsen: Do you see a strong connection between your science background and your filmmaking?

Aronofsky: Maybe as I approach filmmaking a little bit. I was educated with the scientific method, which I think is just an amazing way to think about the world and ask questions about the world. I think curiosity is so important, and that’s what science is all about, is curiosity of the world around us, of the world inside us.

Olsen: When you first saw “The Whale,” it was on stage, and then you approached playwright Sam Hunter about turning it into a film. Did you go there that night looking for material?

Aronofsky: Well, to be honest, as any storyteller, I’m always looking for material. When I walk down the street and I see people interacting on the subways of New York, I’m taking notes. I was always kind of in high school very much a wallflower, where I just was slightly outside of it and just watching, and probably through life I’m still that way. I love people-watching.

As far as “The Whale,” I remember reading the review in the New York Times and being like, “Wow, what a bizarre, crazy story to try to bring to the stage. What a unique character.” So I was fascinated to go see it. And when it started, it was just characters that I, on the surface, could never understand or relate to, but by the end of the play, my heart was broken and I knew these characters like I knew members of my family.


And that is the great writing of Sam Hunter, who basically slowly peels away layers of an onion. This would embarrass him, but it’s like watching Tolstoy or something, where basically every scene you learn a little bit more about a character and the relationships and it just starts all getting together in your brain and just slowly builds and builds and builds.

I was deeply moved by the play. And so the next day, I reached out to Sam, and we got together. And I knew it would be a challenge to turn this into cinema, but — the amazing thing about movies, what I really love about cinema is that it is this great exercise in empathy and that you can watch a movie about any person in the world, and if it’s an honest, truthful portrayal, you will be brought into their life, into their circumstance. Because we’re all human.

Olsen: As you said, it took you some 10 years to get the movie made, and I would imagine on the one hand that can be a frustrating thing, but also does your relationship to the material change over that time? For you, how does it evolve over those 10 years?

Aronofsky: It’s always evolving, but look, it is unfair to say I was struggling for 10 years to make this film and got it made. That’s not the story, I’ve made other movies in that time. I’ve worked on other shows. I’m always working. But it sometimes just takes the right time and the right place and the right moment to happen. There were many forms of this. At one point George Clooney almost did it, and I was going to be George Clooney’s producer and I was really excited by that. And a few other directors came and went as we developed the script. But there was always something in the back of my head that was like, “I love this project,” and it would be a very hard one to give away. But I wanted also this story to be told because it was a beautiful story of empathy and human connection and a belief in the human spirit and hopeful, and I just thought it was important.

But for me, where it all changed was the Brendan Fraser “aha!” moment. No actor that I ever considered or thought about really was exciting me to get me out of bed every day to bring Charlie to life because Charlie is — the other actors are phenomenal in the film, not to underplay them, and they’re great characters — but Charlie is the heart and soul.

I needed to find a Charlie. But when the Brendan Fraser “aha!” moment happened, I was like, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” Honestly, I didn’t even know that much of his work. It was more just seeing his eyes and his soul. And then he came by my office and we met and we sat, and I was like, “Wow, what a gentleman, what a sweet guy who clearly, clearly has a lot to tell the world about what he can do and hasn’t been given opportunity.”

For me, that’s the greatest. A hungry actor is so exciting for me because I know the challenges of making a movie, especially a role like Charlie, which is emotionally incredibly difficult. There’s sorrow, there’s joy, there’s despair, there’s hope. It’s a very, very difficult character to play. But also technically, I knew it was going to be hard. It turned out it was five hours in a makeup chair every day for this guy, and he’s in every scene except for one little sequence in the middle. He’s in every scene of the movie. That’s really hard to pull off.


Olsen: There’s been such a wave of acceptance for Brendan as the movie has been coming out, and it seemed to be a genuinely emotional experience for him. What has it been like for you to be alongside him as the movie’s been playing at festivals and coming out?

Aronofsky: I mean, it’s a huge surprise to be — I did not really understand what he meant for so many people. It wasn’t like I was bragging, like, “Oh, I got Brendan Fraser.” And people have been comparing it to the Mickey Rourke story.

Olsen: Mhhm, from your film “The Wrestler.”

Aronofsky: But Mickey I knew, from Sean Penn to every great actor was like, “Mickey’s the man.” I was just like, “OK, that makes sense. And no one’s working with him. Why? He’s still Mickey Rourke, you know?”

But I did not sense that from the Brendan fans. I didn’t know this “Brenaissance” was about to happen, and I am thrilled. I’m so happy for the man, and I’m so happy for the fans that love this guy. And I think it’s great for movies because he’s a great, great movie star who hasn’t worked for a long time. There’s just going to be so many seminal roles in the next 20 years for Brendan to take on, because he’s back. And he’s a guy who can handle it, who, he’s been through it and he is ready to work. I’m just thrilled for him.

Olsen: I don’t want to seem like we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but you have previously directed four actors to Academy Award nominations. Natalie Portman won an Oscar for her role in “Black Swan.” Do you feel a special connection to actors? What is it that you feel like you do with actors that gets them to these performances?

Aronofsky: It’s a collaboration. It’s what I love to do. I’m a terrible musician, but if I could be like playing backup bass for the Rolling Stones, I’d be there in a minute. I just love to jam. And that’s what you get to do with actors. It’s like, we all know the material, we’ve all read the material. Let’s see what you bring. “Oh, that’s interesting. How about this? Oh, I didn’t quite understand it, but, oh! We found this together,” and you kind of just kind of are just playing along.


So I love working with actors because they are musical instruments in that they can do this incredible stuff with their emotions and bring it out. And I love that kind of time. It’s almost a sacred time between “action” and “cut,” when the actor is opening up and the crew is totally focused, and you have these incredible artists in the crew and technicians that are just so focused on capturing and creating this one moment. And when that alchemy is happening, it’s just, you know, it’s church for me.

Olsen: Do you feel like the way that you work with actors, has it evolved over time? Is that interaction different for you now than it was earlier in your career, say on “Requiem for a Dream” or “The Fountain”?

Aronofsky: I’m sure it’s changed a bit. You know, Ellen Burstyn was at the premiere last night. She’s a few days shy of 90 years old, and she showed up to my premiere, which was just a blessed moment to see her and take some photos with her. I can remember the first day I met Ellen Burstyn, and I took her out to Coney Island, where I grew up, and I think I had a camera with me. I’m sure it was pre-cellphones with cameras in them. I remember being terrified of just asking if I could take a picture of her, you know? So I think I’m more relaxed, a little bit.

So, yeah, things have changed, but I think the process is still the same. It’s about just being present. It really is. When you’re on set, it’s just remaining present and just trying to make the best work you can within that limited amount of time that you have. We all have a limited amount of time, not just in life, but definitely on set. It’s very limited, and you’re just trying to do your best work in every moment, and then you try to surround yourself with people who treat the work in the same way.

Olsen: Can you talk a little about working with Brendan, specifically as he’s in that body suit? How does that come to impact his performance, what he’s capable of, how you’re interacting with him? What was that like?

Aronofsky: I think it’s extremely difficult to work with that. If you can imagine just trying to cry or laugh in front of a camera and act natural, but then you suddenly have a couple of hundred pounds of appliances hanging off of you, glue on your face. It’s very, very difficult to ignore that and to not be annoyed by that. So really it was about how do we keep Brendan as relaxed, as cool — cool meaning temperature-wise — as possible? Underneath that whole suit he’s actually wearing the same thing the F1 drivers wear to keep their bodies cool in those burning engines. Basically we had cold water tubes flowing through his body.


It’s just about trying to keep your actor as relaxed as possible so that when the cameras roll, they can really have the energy to do it, because it was a marathon. I sent Brendan a weight vest and arm weights and leg weights. And I was like, “Look, you’re about to run a marathon. You need to be in shape.” Not that he wasn’t in shape, but a different type of shape.

There were so many things to that performance that are hard to really relate. But if you think about someone who actually weighs 600 pounds, every time they stand up, they are pressing 600 pounds. They’re incredibly strong people to do that. Brendan had to create that and create that illusion of that.

So we had this woman, Beth Lewis, who’s this incredible movement coach, a great former dancer, who worked with me. We studied all these tapes and basically had to kind of teach Brendan how to create that illusion. So every time he’s moving, it would have been very easy for him to move. But we realize, no, you have to actually countermove. You have to actually leverage yourself to move a certain way. So it’s not just an emotional performance, it’s not just a technical performance, it’s also a physical dance to create that character and bring the illusion to life.

Olsen: As the movie’s been coming out, there’s been some criticism of the casting of Brendan and the use of the body suit and simply for the film’s depiction of obesity, and I’m just wondering if that was a conversation you were prepared for. Did that surprise you at all that that criticism has come up?

Aronofsky: The film is from the heart of Sam Hunter, who lived his experience and brought his personal experience to the screen, and I had Sam with me the entire journey, from writing the screenplay, adapting his own work, to being with me every day on set, to watching cuts and being with me, and has become a great friend and someone who I was able to ask anything of, and so was Brendan.

It comes down to the question of: Should certain stories be told? This is an exercise in empathy. What I love about Sam’s writing is, through all of his characters in all of his plays that have incredible challenges, there is this incredible hope for the world. And what I love about Charlie is there’s not an ounce of cynicism in Charlie. There is such a beautiful creature inside of him that is trying to do good in the world, to love in the world. But he’s a very flawed character. He’s selfish. He’s made lots of mistakes in his life. But he really, really, really wants to give something back. And I felt that this was a story that should be told. And it comes down to the question of: Should we tell stories that allow audiences to get into the hearts and souls of characters that most of us judge the second we see them?


The first time you see Charlie in this movie, it is very difficult for a lot of people. But within five, 10 minutes of the film, you start to understand him. And I promise you, if you go see this movie, it will break your heart.

And the feedback we’ve been getting from the OAC, the Obesity Action Coalition, which also was with us the entire way, and they really feel this is going to open up people’s eyes. You gotta remember, people in this community, they get judged by doctors when they go to get medical help. They get judged everywhere they go on the planet, by most people. This film shows that, like everyone, we are all human and that we are all good and bad and flawed and hopeful and joyful and sorrowful, and there’s all different colors inside of us.

I think if it does that, if it changes one doctor to look and say, “Oh, I know someone like that. I’ve met Charlie, and there’s a human here, and not this creature that isn’t human” — which is crazy that we even have to say that, that there is that type of prejudice in the world. I just hope people come with an open heart and pay attention and connect with Charlie and that this film will change people. I really think it can help the conversation.

[Clip from “The Whale”: CHARLIE: Do you ever get the feeling that people are incapable of not caring? People are amazing.]

Olsen: I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit just about the title of the film, “The Whale.” I think people assume initially that it’s simply a reference to the main character of Charlie, but in the story it becomes that it’s also a nod to Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” For you, what is that double meaning?

Aronofsky: There’s many, many meanings to it, and that’s Sam’s writing. Someone last night was like, “Oh, Sadie’s character is the whale!” And it was very interesting. We got into a whole conversation about that. I think the title is provocative for sure. It’s offensive for some, but I think as soon as you watch the movie and you see how it’s being used, it really raises a lot of questions and makes you think.


Olsen: For all the attention that’s being paid to Brendan’s performance, there’s such strong supporting performances in the film. You just mentioned Sadie’s character — as you know, Charlie’s daughter — and that he’s trying to get his relationship back with her, but then also Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton. What was it like, knowing that this was a story that was so built around this central performance, what was it like to be casting those supporting roles, too?

Aronofsky: Well, Sadie was the first one to join on. The second she showed up, I was like, “Who is that? She is super talented.” Besides being a great actor, by the way, she is a great human being, and her career can be anything she wants it to be. She’s so gifted, so talented, so special, so unique. If we’re all going 55 miles an hour, she’s at 143 miles an hour.

[Clip from “The Whale”: ELLIE: OK, you know what? You can’t throw me away like a piece of garbage and then suddenly just want to be my dad eight years later. You left me for your boyfriend. It’s that simple. And if you’ve been telling yourself anything different, then you’re lying to yourself.]

Aronofsky: Her performance is so quick. You’ve seen the film a couple of times. I promise you, if you watch the film another time, there are things she’s doing that are so quick and so subtle. I’ve seen the film so many times, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I never even saw that color from Sadie before.”

She’s just moving at such a fast speed, and to take that character of teenage angst and to turn it into such a complicated character and to allow herself the mixture of the vulnerability and hatred, really, it was so much fun to work with her. So prepared. She’s just great. And I don’t know why I’m sharing this because other filmmakers might be listening and they’ll want to work with her, and that might make her a little bit less available to me. Please don’t work with her. Just let her work with me.

Hong Chao. Well! I’ve been a fan since I saw her in [Thomas] Payne’s “Downsizing.” I was like, “Wow. She’s awesome.” And I actually asked Mary Vernieu, my casting director, “Get Hong Chao, please, to read. I think she could be perfect for it.” And it was during COVID, so it was all casting through Zoom, which sucks, but she used the Zoom camera to block the scene. So the way she moved, she blocked it how I had imagined it. So I was like, all right! One day, if she wants, she is a director. She’ll be a director.


But what’s amazing about Hong is every, every single take she did was different — and worked. Brendan tells a funny story, I forgot this, he said it last night and reminded me, I’d be like, at the end of, after we do takes, I’d be like, “Hong, let’s do one more, just entertain us. Do something different.” Just because it was just amazing. She is so gifted, beyond, it was just really amazing to have that type of gift as a director because that’s what it’s about. It’s about interpretation of text, and she is so able to channel so many different versions. It’s just so much fun to work with.

Ty Simpkins playing a very difficult role, which is basically, he has to be innocent. He has to be innocent to believe so deeply, deeply, deeply in his faith. But he’s also a liar, and I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s actually lying the whole time that he is a true believer. Very difficult to find.

And then Samantha Morton, freaking legend. I’ve been in awe of her talent forever. I needed someone like that who could come into a scene two-thirds of the way through a movie and just bring the film up to another level. And what’s great about her is, everything has to be truthful and honest. She’s really feeling it. She’s really feeling it.

Olsen: And now, I can’t get this idea out of my mind that you mentioned that Sadie’s character, like, is the whale. I like that someone brought this to you as an interpretation. What do you make of that? Like do…

Aronofsky: I haven’t really broken it down.

Olsen: Do you think Sadie is the whale?

Aronofsky: I think the whale is — I don’t, I’m... this is the first time I’m saying this out loud, so Sam might go, “You’re an idiot.” Not that he ever would, but. I think the whale, it’s very much like the metaphor in “Moby Dick.” They’re chasing the whale, but that’s not really what they’re chasing. There’s a hole inside those characters, and I think that’s what Sam is playing with. I think there’s this hole in these characters that, actually the only ones that can fill it is each other. And I think that’s what the film’s about, maybe. But I don’t know. I mean, look, it’s very complicated material. I’ve worked with this material for years now, and I’m still learning stuff. There’s so many meta levels in his writing, and I’m still learning from it. I still learn from the text.

Olsen: I’m so struck to hear the way that you talk about the movie. I feel like you have kind of a reputation as somebody who makes these dark, difficult films, and in this film, one of the last lines in the movie is, “People are amazing.” Do you see this as your most hopeful movie? There’s something just so positive about the film and, and the way you seem to be approaching it.


Aronofsky: I think in the tragedy of the films I’ve made earlier, there is a lot of positivity. I think Hubert Selby Jr., “Requiem for a Dream,” is all about love and what goes wrong. And so I do think that’s in the work.

This was the best writer I’ve had to work with, Sam Hunter. The MacArthur genius. Sam Hunter is a MacArthur genius for a reason. He really is a great writer, and I was blessed that he trusted me with this material. Sam believes that — and, and it’s in all of his plays — there’s these characters that are always struggling with life, but he really, really hopes that that connection, that “People are amazing,” is out there.

I think what the lessons of COVID that pulled us all apart — there was also all the political stuff that was ripping us all apart — it is paramount that human connection — it’s crazy that those two words are put together. I mean, humanity is connected, right, and humanity means we’re all one, right, you just use that one word, humanity, right? We’re all the same species. We are connected, but the fact that we’re so disconnected in so many different ways, just trying to remind each other that with all of those gulfs, there is a way back. That with all of Ellie’s pain and distrust and sadness and anger, that she can find love — hopefully can inspire us. It’s definitely inspired me.

Olsen: Just as you were, 10 years ago, you went to that theater to first see the play. Now that you’ve finished “The Whale,” are you back on the hunt? Do you know what you’re doing next? Are you looking for new material now?

Aronofsky: There’s other things that have been sitting around. There’s one thing that’s been sitting around for 22 years we’re trying to make now. But there are a few things we’re trying to make and get going. “Limitless” is now all over the world. “The Territory,” if you haven’t seen it, my documentary I produced that’s on Disney+, is out, and it’s an incredible film by a young filmmaker named Alexander Pritz. That’s out. So, helping young filmmakers get their films out, we’re really trying to do a lot of that, a lot more documentaries about our love of science and, yeah, trying to figure out my next movie. That’s on the docket too.

Olsen: And you also published a children’s book, “Monster Club.”

Aronofsky: Yeah, “Monster Club.”

Olsen: Which I think is a surprise for a lot of people.

Aronofsky: Yeah, “Monster Club” is out on HarperCollins. Some of my favorite feedback this year has been from 10- and 11-year-olds who have been really moved by Eric Doodles and his story with Brickman.


Olsen: Well, Darren, thank you so much for taking so much time to talk with us today. The new movie is “The Whale.” Best of luck with everything!

Aronofsky: Thank you, Mark.

The Team

The Envelope is a Los Angeles Times production. It is hosted by Mark Olsen and Yvonne Villarreal, produced by Téa Francesca Price and Rachel Cohn, edited by Mitra Kaboli and Lauren Raab and mixed and mastered by Mike Heflin. The executive producer is Heba Elorbany. Theme music by Mike Heflin. Special thanks to Matt Brennan, Jazmín Aguilera, Shani Hilton, Elena Howe, Kayla Bell, Patricia Gardiner, Dylan Harris, Brandon Sides, David Viramontes and Vanessa Franko.