The rain and fog added an extraordinary touch as we made our way to the set of "Noah" at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Upper Brookville, New York in the middle of the night. Surrounded by trees and the night sky, bright lights were centered on the ark which was built for the film. As we walked closer towards the ark, you can't help but be jolted by the grand scale of the vessel. Constructed from hundreds of ginormous trees, it stands 6 stories high and is covered with bamboo scaffolding. The ark took one month to build and every detail down to the exact dimensions as described in the bible was taken into account. As we feasted our eyes on the amazing construction, one can't help but wonder how 2000 years ago with no sophisticated machinery or advanced technology, one man was able to sculpt and bring his vision to life as time was ticking away for the arrival of the storm.
Many of us are familiar with the story of "Noah" -- one we probably first heard as a child. One of cute animals in pairs and a family sticking together to embrace their father's calling from God. I'm taken back to this incredible tale as our eyes focused on the structure of the ark and the massive ramp where the animals make their way in. I start to think about the difficulty and struggles Noah must have faced from his community and how he endured the overwhelming task of building the ark alone. How his story of seeking redemption and tackling the complications of being God's chosen one is still being shared and told after thousands of years.
The ark is in great company with the cast, crew and 400 extras who are preparing for a shoot. We see Russell Crowe who plays Noah running into the ark as he sees the first signs of the rain and flood. His community in finally realizing that Noah was right all along -- that the end is indeed near and they are all fighting and struggling to get into the ark. In the chaos, Noah realizes that his son Ham hasn't boarded the ark and risks his life by going back outside to ensure that he boards the ark for the journey to come.
As Darren Aronofsky completes shooting this scene, he casually and quietly walks over to us with a smile on his face. He graciously introduces himself and thanks all of us for making the trek out to see the set. For a split moment, calmness in the air took over and we were able to hear him speak about the ark and his vision for "Noah."
Can you tell us more about the ark?
Darren Aronofsky: Well, the bible provides the dimensions of the ark and we tried our best to keep it accurate based on the description and measurements. The ark wasn't about going anywhere. It was built so that they could survive the flood in one stationary place. That was always the misinterpretation. To me, it's basically carrying the living through the death of the world.
We were committed in wanting to build the ark in New York and the state helped out a lot. They helped us find space in this park.
How do you decide when you should stick to certain facts of the story versus adding in your own story or drama to it?
The story is pretty crazy but the truth and the integrity of the story is what always stayed true to me at the core.
Did you use any live animals in filming?
No, there are no live animals. It's all CGI.
How many animals will we see?
We went in with a certain idea but it came down to "we need more!" We're actually still counting. It's a lot. It's every species, every variation that we have to capture.
Did you shoot the film in different stages?
No, it was sequential and you'll see that the story that takes place within the interior of the ark is pretty spectacular. You'll see in the film that there is a focus on what happens as the ark is being built as well as what happens after the storm.
Are you using a model ark to shoot scenes of the ark in the water?
No, that will all be CGI, it will look like "Battleship" (laughter).
We take in a scene where the world is about to come to an end by the flood, Russell Crowe walks towards us with shaved head, beard and dressed in rough leather. He graciously greets each of us with a shake of the hand and asks "so, what do you think?" As we stand in a small circle with Crowe -- one can't help notice how Noah-esque he is.
Did you have any experiences on "Noah" that was new, something you've never done before?
Russell Crowe: I've never gone for a swim in 39.6 degrees on the coast of Iceland before. We found out later that it was the most dangerous place to swim in Iceland.
How did you get the call to be involved with "Noah"?
It's funny, I got a call and they said to me "I want to tell you the name of a project. Once I've told you the name, I don't want you to comment. I just want you to think about it. The name of the project is 'Noah.'" I was quiet and I thought about it. Before responding with a "yes or no" I asked them to make two promises to me. The first promise is I won't have to wear sandals. The second promise is to never have me stand in the midst of giraffes or any other wild animal. They agreed and I responded with an "alright." From there, I spent a couple of days talking about it the project, learning about the vision and realized it was going to be quite spectacular.
It seems this will be a new way to tell the story of Noah.
Yeah, that's what I like about it. Everybody knows this story -- has their own adaptation of "Noah." I've been doing a lot of reading on it and I'm quite enlightened by it all.
Have you researched the story beyond the bible in terms of what theological scholars say about Noah or different interpretations out there?
Yeah, I've talked to people, ministers that really wanted to talk about their own version of Noah. Every single religious text has Noah. Every major religion shares this story -- so, to me -- that is pretty amazing.
You see, if you read the text, there is much more information than the way most people interpret it. There are single lines in the bible which if you were to just take it at face value, it doesn't make any sense in the world we see and live in today. The world that exists pre-flood is not this dusty, sandy, Middle Eastern world. It's much, much more than that.
What kind of dialect is used in the movie?
It's sort of a wild thing to make the assumption and quite arrogant to think you've got something correct. It's impossible to assume one form is the "right" one.
Do you feel Noah was more enlightened than most people based on the fact he spent ten years building the ark?
That's an interesting question. You wonder if he is having daily conversations with the creator. You'll see in the movie he has made certain decisions about how he chooses to live his life. He separates himself from what others may do. I'm trying to avoid the word "pure" -- but he has a simpler understanding of the relationship between man and earth and also man and God.
What's been the most challenging aspect of filming "Noah" thus far?
Well, being naked on the beach in cold weather for a whole entire day and constantly being cold. Iceland is just so beautiful and a magnificent place. We were journeying along in this incredible wildlife on top of volcanoes and glaciers and then we were at the ocean. There was a day I was lying around on these little tiny round stones that cover the beach. These stones would get in places, between cracks (laughing). It amazed me how they would get there and days later as I'm showering I'd find these stones. Iceland was just fascinating and an amazing place to visit.
Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe were both incredibly gracious in welcoming us to this feast of the eyes. The energy of the cast and crew was that of calmness and serenity in filming one of the most chaotic moments in history. This story of redemption, of one man's amazing feat in securing the life of his family and mankind -- is held together by the creative vision Aronovsky had since the age of 13. We will now get to experience his vision and authenticity unfold before our eyes.
"Noah is out in theaters March 28.
Noah didn't look like Russell Crowe, I'm pretty sure. Methuselah may have looked like an old Anthony Hopkins. But that fact that two actors I can stand are playing the parts, you bet I'm going to see it. I'm also sure Noah's wife wasn't a babe like Jennifer C. and his sons were grown/married at the time of the ark being built. I can look past the "dramatization" for the basic story line and the powerful special effects. The ark looks much like I think the real one did. The important thing is there ARE NO SUPERHEROES IN TIGHTS!