Russell Crowe, Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly came out in the frigid cold to celebrate the New York premiere of Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic “Noah” at the Ziegfeld Theater last night.
“Imagine deserts and hot tubs,” was Madison Davenport’s mantra to keep warm when they shot the film in similar freezing temperatures back in November. As for working with Russell Crowe, she told me she was a fan since she was very young and watched “Gladiator” with her father. To work with him was a dream. “He’s nice and hilarious and I can’t believe I get to grace the same screen as him.”
Frostbite was a serious possibility on the red carpet – where rapper 50 Cent sped by to get into the theater – but it didn’t stop Emma Watson, 23, from chatting outside with journalists and photographers. The “Harry Potter” star looked sensational and very grown up in a black, dramatic floor-length gown by Oscar de la Renta with long sleeves, a low back and high boat neck. Her hair was swept back and held in place by a diamond clip.
I asked her, What was unexpected and surprising about her role? “My character has dreadlocks, that’s a little unexpected,” Watson laughed. She plays Noah’s adopted daughter Ila and later, wife to his son Shem (Douglas Booth). “I play a new mother in the story and obviously have never given birth myself. That was challenging.” In between shooting her scenes, she told a reporter she tried to keep up with her schoolwork. She’s soon about to graduate from Brown University.
The dreamy Douglas Booth told me the most challenging part of filming “Noah” was “the physicality and the rain. They released 500 gallons of water on our heads a minute, so that was pretty difficult, being there at 4 -5 in the morning, freezing cold in November – like you – so cold. It wasn’t fun. And there was a whole bunch of water on your head. That was kind of tricky.”
Booth, whose next film, Lone Scherfig’s “Posh,” is set in the calmer environment of Oxford University, said the gargantuan set of “Noah,” especially the ark, was larger than anything he’d seen on a movie set. In the midst of shooting ” Noah,” Hurricane Sandy hit, he told me, and they got pushed back two weeks. Much worse, some of the crew lost their homes, yet they kept working.
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Stephen Baldwin – Alec Baldwin’s younger brother – was enthusiastic about the film even though he hadn’t seen it yet. On the red carpet he told me, “It’s the story of Noah from the Bible, and I think that whenever you get into these type of conversations, it’s interesting.”
Baldwin explained, “I’m a born again Christian and in my understanding of God’s work found in the Bible, which is true. So unless something in the movie completely is in conflict with that, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for this film with these filmmakers to make something unique and special and different.”
Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” co-written and executive produced by Ari Handel, goes to the dark side. It is not the Biblical story we’re familiar with from children’s books and cartoons, about a benevolent man with a white beard who builds an ark to accommodate pairs of animals who live peacefully together until the waters subside. The ark is also not the rounded, gigantic houseboat we normally think of, but a huge, rectangular and boxy structure divided into three levels.
The movie has a strong message and warning about the environment and climate change. Noah and his dutiful wife (Jennifer Connelly), three sons and daughter-in-law (Emma Watson) are peaceful vegetarians who grow their own food and keep quietly to themselves. Meanwhile, savage meat eaters, led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), destroy the countryside and pillage, rape and murder each other.
Noah builds the ark after a visit with his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), who gives him a mystical tea that induces him to have a psychedelic vision in which the “Creator” – the word God is never used in the film – reveals his plan to annihilate the wicked world and that Noah and his family must build a boat large enough for themselves and two of every kind of animal. Upbeat and cheerful the film is not, but it’s full of the fascinating images and deep ideas you’d expect from the visionary director of “The Fountain” and “Black Swan.”
Aronofsky’s longtime cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Oscar nominated for “Black Swan”) shot the stunning images, from montages that feature barren landscapes (filmed in Iceland) to the cataclysmic storm and the gigantic, rectangular ark which was built in Long Island, and which endured its own flood, thanks to Hurricane Sandy.
Before the screening, Aronofsky introduced actors, producers, and his co-writer, Ari Handel. The “Black Swan” director introduced Russell Crowe and said he had a natural dignity and presence, and that “no one else could have handled the role.” Aronofsky reteams with “Requiem for a Dream” star Jennifer Connelly, who he described as “one of the greatest actresses I’ve ever worked with.” He quipped, “After an absence of some ten years, she looks exactly the same. I’ve lost all my hair.”
It turns out Aronofsky’s dream to make “Noah” kicked around for many years, since he was a 13-year-old Brooklyn high school student. The director introduced his English teacher, Vera Fried, who he looked up after some 30 years to credit her with the inspiration for his film. She assigned his class a project to write a poem about peace and he wrote a poem about Noah.
Mrs. Fried, who has a stately walk and a clear voice, came to the front of the theater and read Aronofsky’s poem, dated January 13, 1982. The retired English teacher now has an acting credit in IMDB as the “one-eyed crone” in “Noah.” Her character confronts Noah during a dream sequence where he has a vision of the world’s end. In the midst of the pillaging and raping by the wicked, this old woman points to him and shrieks, “You!” That is Mrs. Fried.
The posh after party was a more bucolic scene and took place near water, of course, at the Boat Basin in Central Park. The champagne was top drawer and the tasty menu all vegetarian – in line with the movie’s theme – although it made me crave a hamburger.
The evening was all about celebrating “Noah” with director Darren Aronofsky, along with stars Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe, who mingled and chatted with guests until late in the evening.
“Noah” opens wide in theaters on Friday, March 28, 2014.