shadows features A different way of fighting
Mickey Rourke wrestles his career back into shape...
rourke and aronofsky
the wrestler

with loki
Above: with one of his beloved dogs, the late great Loki
Below: with Bruce Springsteen at the Golden Globes
with the boss

in the day

with Carla Gugino in Sin City
with Kim Basinger in 9 1/2 weeks and in The Pope of Greenwich Village
16.Sep.52, Schenectady, NY
The Wrestler (2008) Stormbreaker (2006)
Domino (2005) Sin City (2005)
Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) Masked and Anonymous (2003)
Spun (2002) The Pledge (2001)

B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
the wrestler No matter how deserving Sean Penn might have been, most people believed that this should have been Mickey Rourke's year at the Oscars in February. But never mind. He still delivered the performance of the year as a "broken down piece of meat", drawing on his own life experiences and letting himself be pushed to the brink by genius filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. It's not as if Rourke was ever a has-been - he has worked consistently throughout his career. But after scene-stealing roles in Body Heat (1981), Diner (1982) and Rumble Fish (1983), he graduated to leading man status with The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), Nine and a Half Weeks (1986) and Angel Heart (1987). Then things went a bit strange, as he seemed to throw his career away through bad choices, a messy personal life and battles with filmmakers and studio heads. He kept working, but didn't quite become, as expected, the Brando of his generation. Enter Aronofsky, who promised to reinvent Rourke as a serious actor again if he'd let him...

How much of a debt do you owe to Aronofsky for casting you in this movie?
I owe him a huge debt. The other day we went to Paris and he said, "Could you imagine what we could have done if you gave me more than 35 per cent?" [laughs] I said, "F**k you!" But that's Darren. That's Darren pushing my buttons. That's the way. I am all about loyalty. Darren fought for me to be in the movie and they couldn't raise the money in my name. They replaced me with a f**king movie star. The other actor didn't work out, and when Darren fought for me I owed it to him to give him every-f**king-thing.

Darren’s smart and he’s got balls, so bring it on

Well, he knew you were perfect for the role...
I knew why Darren wanted me to do this role when I read it. He wanted me to revisit those dark painful moments and the physical aspects. He said to me, "You have got to do everything I tell you. Listen to everything I say and do not disrespect me ever in front of the crew. Oh, and I cannot pay you." I thought, "Okay, well, he's smart and he's got balls, so bring it on." We would do these takes, emotional stuff, the scenes with Randy's daughter and whatever, and I would let it all out, and then he'd say, "Give it to me again. Bring it more!" And I'd do it and I'd do it better. It would be like the guy in the boxing corner saying, "Just give me one more round." I think a lot of people in the acting business run from that but if you use it the way we used it in the movie and you work off each other as a team, that's when it works. I have had actors where they tried to outdo me - that ain't going to happen; I'm going to roll you up and smoke you like a cheap cigarette because that's what I do best.

Did your years as a boxer help you with the wrestling?
Not at all. I always say it's like ping pong and rugby. And it was hard for me because everybody said, "He's a former boxer; he should be able to pick this up." But boxing, the way you move, everything is hidden and quick. In wrestling, everything is slow and obvious and well seen. It was not a sport I had any respect for, because it's predetermined and it's entertainment. But I've got to tell you something: I had three MRI scans in two months. Because when some motherf**ker throws you across the ring, something is going to snap, crackle and pop. And I am no spring chicken. If I were 20 years old it would have hurt.

Did you have to train a lot for this?
I had about four months of wrestling training. I had this Israeli trainer. He was an ex-commando. He was very strict. He was in charge of my nutritional weight programme and he would have to push me back to my apartment. I lived in a three-storey building, a loft, and he'd have to push me up the stairs, because my legs - the added weight and muscle I put on - I couldn't carry myself up there. Plus there were all these old boxing injuries, whiplash, some rotator cuff stuff, everything was popping. It was like I was living in the doctor's office.

How did it feel to get under the skin of someone like Randy?
I am a Method actor and everything I do I personalise. So when I read the material, there is the whole thing: this shame element, this man who has hope but is living in a state of hopelessness. I can only put it this way because that's how my psychiatrist explained it to me when I was trying to get back in the game after 14 years, after I had burnt all my bridges. Before with me I was not accountable, I did not care about repercussions. It was all about respect and honour and, if someone looked at me sideways, because of the issues I had, it was on! I didn't give a f**k about repercussions or how powerful he was in this town. There's still part of me today that will do that, but I think about the repercussions now.

Which of your films make you most proud today?
I like Rumble Fish, Nine and Half Weeks, The Pope of Greenwich Village. I say I haven't made my best movie yet. Although, now I can say the hardest movie I've ever made, and the best movie I have made thus far, is The Wrestler. I got to keep going further. I have just made a movie now. I was very nervous thinking after The Wrestler, what am I going to do now? But a movie came along, a remake of a French movie called Thirteen about all these guys playing Russian Roulette. I'm doing that with Ray Winstone and Jason Statham.

Change came hard for me - it has taken 13 years

Bruce Springsteen wrote the movie's title track. You two know each other through Sean Penn, right?
Right. I've known Bruce for over 20 years and he's seen the worst of me. We lost touch for about 13 of those years, the dark years, and then I decided to write him a letter, asking him to write the song for The Wrestler. In the letter I told Bruce all about the mistakes I'd made and that I was fortunate and blessed enough that I was able to meet a few good men who told me why I had become so hardened, both physically and mentally, even to the point that I didn't realise, until I lost everything - my house, my wife, the lot. I told him about the character, and how I had been fortunate enough to change. And change came hard for me. It has taken 13 years. Randy doesn't have accessibility to that information, and that's what I think Bruce understood. I wasn't expecting to hear much but then, in the middle of the night, I get this phone call. Bruce is on tour but says that he's written us a song. For nothing. And he wrote the most beautiful song, which sums up the heart and the core of the character. When I heard it, it blew my mind. I'm so proud of the fact that he did that. He didn't need no money, he wouldn't do it if some studio called him out of the blue, and you just can't buy that. I took the director, Darren Aronofsky, to the Giants Stadium to see Springsteen play a show and we all met afterwards backstage. Darren says to him, 'Why did you write this beautiful song for us?" And Bruce said, "Simple. I want Mickey to be back where he used to be." He understands that I lost my way. And then I saw that he had his acoustic guitar and he played the song for Darren. It's was like, "F**k, that's magical, man."

Were you annoyed that Sean Penn beat you to the Oscar?
I love Sean, we've remained friends for years, and he's a seriously, seriously talented guy. So I clapped like f**k when he won. As for me, to just be nominated is incredible. I never ever thought I'd be in this position again. So I'll come back and get myself an Oscar next year or the year after, because now I've learned to fight a different way!



© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall