Production Notes THE WRESTLER Directed by Darren Aronofsky Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood Winner – Golden Lion for Best Film – Venice Film Festival 2008 Release date: January 15, 2009 Running time: 109 minutes Rated: TBC For more information contact Jillian Heggie at Hopscotch Films on: 02) 8303 3800 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org THE WRESTLER SHORT SYNOPSIS "The Wrestler" is exhilarating entertainment - dynamic and humane, awesome and poetic - and marks an astounding comeback by actor Mickey Rourke under the masterful direction of Darren Aronofsky. Back in the late 1980s, Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was a champion professional wrestler. Now, 20 years later, he ekes out a living stacking shelves in a supermarket and performing fights for handfuls of diehard wrestling fans in high school gyms around New Jersey. It soon becomes clear though, that amateur wrestling is not just a money-making arrangement for the physically shattered ex-champ - the ring is the only place of comfort to him in a world he finds bewildering. Estranged from his teenage daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and essentially alone in the world, Randy is a battered dreamer who lives for the thrill of the show and the adoration of his fans. However a heart attach forces Randy to evaluate the state of his life - trying to reconnect with his daughter, and striking up a blossoming romance with an aging stripper (Marisa Tomei). Yet all this cannot compare to the allure of the ring and passion for his art, which threatens to pull Randy "The Ram" back into his world of wrestling. A Rocky-style drama, "The Wrestler" delivers just the right amount of raw action and grit balanced with a finely-detailed and affecting story which will stun audiences. Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances. THE WRESTLER CAST Randy MICKEY ROURKE Cassidy MARISA TOMEI Stephanie EVAN RACHEL WOOD Lenny MARK MARGOLIS Wayne TODD BARRY Nick Volpe WASS STEVENS Scott Brumberg JUDAH FRIEDLANDER The Ayatollah ERNEST MILLER Necro Butcher DYLAN SUMMERS CREW DIRECTED BY DARREN ARONOFSKY PRODUCER SCOTT FRANKLIN CO-PRODUCER MARK HEYMAN EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS VINCENT MARAVAL, AGNES MENTRE, JENNIFER ROTH SCREENPLAY ROBERT SIEGEL PRODUCTION DESIGNER TIM GRIMES CINEMATOGRAPHER MARYSE ALBERTI STILLS PHOTOGRAPHER NIKO TAVERNISE CASTING DIRECTOR MARY VERNIEU, SUZANNE SMITH-CROWLEY COSTUME DESIGNER AMY WESTCOTT EDITOR ANDY WEISBLUM ORIGINAL SCORE CLINT MANSELL MUSIC SUPERVISORS JIM BLACK, GABE HILFER SET DECORATOR THEO SENA SOUND RECORDIST KEN ISHII SFX MAKE-UP ARTIST MIKE MARINO STUNT COORDINATOR DOUGLAS CROSBY ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS ARI HANDEL, EVAN GINZBURG FEATURING THE SONG ‘THE WRESTLER’ WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN ACCLAIM FOR “THE WRESTLER” "Talk about comebacks. After many years in the wilderness and being considered MIA professionally, Mickey Rourke, just like the washed-up character he plays, attempts a return to the big show in "The Wrestler." Not only does he pull it off, but Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances. An elemental story simply and brilliantly told, Darren Aronofsky's fourth feature is a winner from every possible angle." "Strongly evokes the gritty working-class atmosphere of numerous '70s dramas. The film has the clarity and simplicity of a great Hemingway short story -- there's nothing extraneous, the characters must face up to their limited options in life, and the dialogue in the superior script is inflected with the poetry of the everyday." "Exhilarating, funny and moving." Todd McCarthy, Variety "Would "Casablanca" be cherished if it had starred Ronald Reagan, as originally intended, and not Humphrey Bogart? Is it possible to conceive of "There Will Be Blood" without Daniel Day-Lewis in the leading role? The miracle and mystery of perfect casting came to mind at the Toronto film festival as I sat alongside 580 enthralled viewers witnessing the resurrection of Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky's gritty, deeply affecting "The Wrestler." To say this is a great comeback for an actor whose talent was exceeded only by his self-destructiveness is obvious. But this was a kind of harmonic convergence of player and part that happens once in a blue moon—the actor vanishing so completely inside a role that our sense of his "real" identity is permanently altered. Rourke is simply a knockout." Newsweek "A deceptively conventional storyline from Darren Aronofsky boasts just the right amount of edge – and, surprisingly, humour – and a performance Mickey Rourke was born for, making The Wrestler a natural awards contender and audience-pleaser without feeling overtly manipulative on the way." "A Rocky-style drama... The Wrestler should take Aronofsky into a more commercial marketplace on an international level. Rourke's international standing as an 80s icon still carries weight in major markets. Exposure and notices should be great: rarely, after all, has a star been so perfectly matched to a role, and the production isn't shy of playing with that." Screen International "Darren Aronosky's "The Wrestler" is his best film. It's tender, finely-detailed and moving - aided in no small part by Aronofsky's feeling for the disorder of ordinary lives, and his elegant visual sense. The final shot is breathtaking." "Rourke is almost unrecognisable as the handsome, mysterious Motorcycle Boy from "Rumble Fish". But here, his tribulations are, finally, triumphantly vindicated. Like The Ram, he's taken a lifetime of hits to reach this moment, and he's won. He owns this movie - which justifiably, took the Gold Lion for Best Film at Venice." Indiewire "The transcendent highlight of the festival was The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky's fierce, tender, altogether remarkable new movie, which gives Mickey Rourke the role of his life. As Randy ''The Ram'' Robinson, a professional-wrestling star of the heavy metal '80s who has become a broken-down relic, Rourke, in long platinum-blond hair, looks like some bloated, freakazoid Sammy Hagar, and he makes you feel every crunched bone. (Just because the wrestling is fake doesn't mean all the pain is.) Randy is no brute: He's a quietly sad and stunted middle-aged man who lives in a New Jersey trailer park and has almost no life apart from the twinges of faded glory he still feels in the ring. The Wrestler mines a gritty excitement — at times, it's like a neorealist Rocky. Where the movie finds a kind of greatness is in beholding the beast that Mickey Rourke has become, and in letting the audience touch his scarred inner beauty." Entertainment Weekly DARREN ARONOFSKY - DIRECTOR Writer, Director, Producer Darren Aronofsky was born and raised in Brooklyn. His previous film The Fountain was called a “psychedelic fairy-tale” (Aint it Cool News) and stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz It premiered at the 2006 Venice Film Festival and won the Sloan prize at the Hamptons Film Festival. Before that, 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, premiered at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival and was named to over 150 Top Ten Lists of 2000. It received many international awards, five Independent Spirit Award nominations, and star Ellen Burstyn received Golden Globe and Academy Award Best Actress nominations. Aronofsky’s debut, , premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival where It won the Director’s Award. It went on to win several international awards including the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. Aronofsky studied filmmaking at Harvard University and the American Film Institute. In 2001, the AFI awarded him the Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal. In 2006, the Stockholm Film Festival awarded him the Golden Horse “Visionary” award. His company Protozoa Pictures presently has a first look deal with Universal Studios. SCOTT FRANKLIN – PRODUCER - FILMOGRAPHY (1998) Associate Producer Director: Darren Aronofsky Cast: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman Awards: Best Director Award Sundance Film Festival, Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay, Open Palm Gotham Award, National Board of Review Special Recognition, Palma Majorca Best Director, Malaga International Screenplay Award,Thessaloniki Fiprsci Secial Mention, Chlotudis Cinematography Award. Requiem For A Dream (2000) Co-Producer Director: Darren Aronofsky Cast: Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, and Ellen Burstyn Awards: Ellen Burstyn Nominated for an Academy and Golden Globe Award, Best Actress and Cinematography Independent Spirit Awards, Boston, Chicago, Southeastern, Phoenix, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Florida Film Critics Best Actress, Chlotrudis Best Film, National Board of Review special recognition, Online film critics awards for best director, actress, score and editing, Satellite Award for Best Actress, Stockholm Film Festival for Best Actress, Valladolid Golden Spike Hounddog (2006) Producer Director: Deborah Kampmeier Cast: Dakota Fanning, Robin Wright-Penn, David Morse, Afemo Omilami Sundance Film Festival 2007 CAST – SELECTED FILM CREDITS MICKEY ROURKE Film Year The Wrestler 2008 Killshot 2007 Stormbreaker 2005 Domino 2004 Sin City 2004 Man On Fire 2004 Once Upon A Time In Mexico 2002 Spun 2001 The Pledge 2000 Get Carter 2000 Buffalo ’66 1998 Point Blank 1997 The Rainmaker 1997 Bullet 1996 White Sands 1992 Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man 1991 Wild Orchid 1990 Desperate Hours 1990 Johnny Handsome 1989 Francesco (aka St. Francis of Assisi) 1989 Homeboy 1988 Angel Heart 1987 Barfly 1987 A Prayer for the Dying 1987 Nine 1/2 Weeks 1986 Year of the Dragon 1985 The Pope of Greenwich Village 1984 Rumble Fish 1983 Eureka 1982 Diner 1982 Body Heat 1981 Fade to Black 1980 Heaven’s Gate 1980 1941 1979 MARISA TOMEI Film Year The Wrestler 2008 Before the Devil Knows You're Dead 2007 Grace is Gone 2007 Wild Hogs 2007 Factotum 2006 Alfie 2004 Anger Management 2003 The Guru 2003 In the Bedroom 2001 King of the Jungle 2001 Happy Accidents 2001 What Women Want 2000 The Watcher 2000 The Slums of Beverly Hills 1998 Welcome to Sarajevo 1997 Unhook the Stars 1996 Four Rooms 1995 Only You 1994 Untamed Heart 1993 Chaplin 1992 My Cousin Vinny 1992 Playing for Keeps 1986 The Flamingo Kid 1984 EVAN RACHEL WOOD The Wrestler 2008 The Life Before Her Eyes 2007 King of California 2007 Across the Universe 2007 Running with Scissors 2006 Down in the Valley 2005 The Upside of Anger 2005 Pretty Persuasion 2005 The Missing 2003 Thirteen 2003 Practical Magic 1998 LA Weekly Mickey Rourke Returns as The Wrestler Year of the ram By Scott Foundas Published on September 25, 2008 "I hated the ’90s. The ’90s fuckin’ sucked,” says professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson early on in The Wrestler — and he should know. Over the hill and past his prime — his steroidal body a palimpsest of battle scars, his graying hair dyed a Nordic blond — Robinson hasn’t seen the inside of a major arena for the better part of 20 years. Nowadays, he gets top billing by scraping bottom, trading blows with other used-to-be’s and might-have- beens in school gymnasiums and banquet halls, earning a cut of the door that’s barely enough to cover his trailer-park rent. As it happens, the ’90s weren’t much kinder to the actor playing Robinson: Mickey Rourke. By the end of that misbegotten decade, the one-time Hollywood A-lister was living in a $500- a-month studio apartment and subsisting on a meager income generated by the sale of his motorcycle collection plus whatever acting jobs he could scrounge up from the few producers in town who weren’t afraid to hire him. His flirtation with a boxing career had come to an end. His tabloid-catnip marriage to model Carré Otis had hit the skids. There were reports of arrests and of plastic surgeries gone awry. It was said he had walked off the set of one movie after a producer refused to allow Rourke’s pet chihuahua to appear with him in a scene. “The thing is that I am the one to blame for all that,” Rourke says as he lights a cigarette in what I’m pretty sure is a nonsmoking suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, the day after The Wrestler’s North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. His chihuahua, Loki, issues a bark from a nearby cushion. “I used to blame other people, but I’ve got nobody else to blame except for Mickey Rourke.” That’s more or less the same thing Rourke told director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) when they first met to discuss The Wrestler. Or rather, it was what Aronofsky told him. “He sits down and, for the first five minutes, he tells me how I fucked up my whole career for 15 years behaving like this, and I’m agreeing with everything,” Rourke recalls. “Yes, I did. That’s why I haven’t worked for 15 years, and I’ve been working real hard not to make those mistakes.” After that, Aronofsky pointed his finger at the actor — something, Rourke says, that not so long ago would have prompted him to say, “Don’t do that, okay, buddy?” — and laid out the ground rules. “He goes, ‘You have to listen to everything I say. You have to do everything I tell you. You can never disrespect me. And you can’t be hanging out at the clubs all night long. And I can’t pay you.’ And I’m thinking, ‘This fucker must be talented, because he’s got a lot of nerve to say that.’” Then Aronofsky told Rourke that if he did all of those things, he would get the actor an Oscar nomination. “The moment he said that, I believed him,” says Rourke. “The first day of work, I believed him more. The second day of work, I believed him even more.” (As for the finger-pointing, “I’m from New York — we point a lot,” Aronofsky tells me later. “Like any good marriage, you want to be as up-front as possible about what the issues are.”) On set, the actor-director relationship continued in a similar vein — which, for Rourke, who has worked with some of the industry’s most notoriously demanding, perfectionist auteurs (Francis Coppola, Michael Cimino, Tony and Ridley Scott), was par for the course. Aronofsky, says Rourke, “knew how to push my buttons. The way I work, I normally get a scene on the first or second take, and then I can do other things — improvise, whatever. So, I do a take, and I nail it. I look over at Darren and I think, ‘Okay, we’re moving on.’ And he walks over to me and says, ‘Do it again.’ I say, ‘Didn’t we nail it?’ And he says, ‘You nailed it. You can do it better.’” Then Aronofsky points his finger again, this time pressing it right against Rourke’s chest for emphasis: “Do it better.” “And you know what surprised me?” Rourke says. “I did it again and I did it better. That was the way we worked. He knew that if he challenged me, that’s what I wanted. A lot of people don’t like that; me, I need it.” The result, which has already been widely hailed as Rourke’s career- capping/redefining/resuscitating turn, is a characterization of rare intensity and pathos that bristles with the lived-in authority of someone who knows what it means to live with his back against the ropes. “I’ve seen this side of life. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this side of life,” Rourke sighs. As you watch the Ram onscreen — reduced to working the deli counter of a New Jersey supermarket after a heart attack takes him out of the ring, playing the electronic avatar of himself in an ’80s-era Nintendo wrestling game — the line between performer and performance all but disappears. Finally, we’re left with the sense Rourke has always given in his best work, of an actor who so thoroughly immerses himself in a role that he isn’t merely playing the character but living it, moment by moment, from the second he gets up in the morning until he goes to bed at night. Call it a comeback if you must, though Rourke would rather you didn’t. “Please do me a favor,” he says. “Look up what comeback means in the dictionary, because those two words ... I can’t relate to them. I don’t have a hang-up about it, but it’s like saying ‘come back’ from getting a ham sandwich; ‘come back’ from war without your legs. It doesn’t apply to everybody or everything.” However you term it, The Wrestler,at least where Rourke is concerned, almost didn’t happen at all. Although Aronofsky and screenwriter Robert D. Siegel developed the project with Rourke in mind, they found it impossible to secure even the modest financing required for a sometimes explicitly violent wrestling movie starring an actor who hadn’t headlined a major motion picture since the first George Bush was in office. Shortly after Rourke and Aronofsky’s first meeting, “they called me up and said they couldn’t do the movie with me; the investors wanted a $20 million actor to do the part,” Rourke says. (When The Wrestler was first announced in the pages of Variety, Nicolas Cage was attached to star.) Rourke, meanwhile, was secretly relieved, “because I knew that Darren wanted me to revisit these dark places, these painful places. I knew he’d want a pound of flesh. And then there was the physical part — the two months of training — and the not getting paid.” So, Rourke returned home to Miami, only to receive a phone call from his agent a few weeks later saying that the role was once again his. “My reaction,” he says, only half-jokingly, was, “Oh, fuck! Can’t you get me something else?” The opening titles of The Wrestler play over a montage of photos, posters and magazine articles dating from the Ram’s heyday at the top of the pro-wrestling pantheon. The clippings, though, could just as easily be from Rourke’s own ’80s scrapbook, back when it seemed as though he was destined to be the next James Dean, the next Brando, the next big thing. “With luck, Rourke could become a major actor; he has an edge and magnetism and a sweet, pure smile that surprises you,” wrote Pauline Kael in her review of Barry Levinson’s Diner (1982), in which the actor played the compulsively gambling and girl- chasing hairdresser Robert “Boogie” Sheftell. “He seems to be acting to you, and to no one else.” That was a movie that launched the careers of at least a half-dozen actors — Kevin Bacon, Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser and Tim Daly among them. (How curious, looking back at it now, to realize that Steve Guttenberg received top billing.) But Rourke, whose bit part as an arsonist in the previous year’s Body Heat had nearly stolen that movie out from under Kathleen Turner’s smoldering legs, stood apart from the crowd, and won the Best Supporting Actor award from the National Society of Film Critics for his efforts. Rourke’s “edge,” as Kael (and others) termed it, was a welcome trait in a decade that gave us lots of clean-cut, boy-next-door movie stars like Tom Cruise, Matthew Broderick and — yes — Steve Guttenberg. Even among the talented ensemble of Coppola’s Brechtian Rumble Fish, which included the young Matt Dillon and Nicolas Cage, it was Rourke, cast as the doomed, Dean-like Motorcycle Boy, who carried the greatest gravitas. He seemed to have seen things and been places, to bear the marks of experience. And while Rourke went on to be perfectly convincing in white-collar roles like that of the Wall Street power player who cooks three square meals for (and on) Kim Basinger in Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986), he was never better than as a certain breed of sensitive, soft-spoken hustler-vagabond-dreamer — the guy more likely to be roughed up in some back alley than to be the one doing the roughing. He was casually mesmerizing as the small-time hood who dreams of opening a restaurant in Stuart Rosenberg’s underrated The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), and then, in a piss- and-vinegar tour de force, as Henry Chinaski, the autobiographical alter ego of Charles Bukowski, in Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly (1987). Already, though, there were stories that Rourke could be difficult to work with and hostile to those in authority. During the production of Nine 1/2 Weeks, a New York Times report described a brass plaque in Rourke’s trailer that warned “all studio executives and producers” to stay away. (“Stay the fuck away,” Rourke corrects me when I mention this.) He was said to have clashed with Basinger, who famously dubbed him “the human ashtray,” and with Robert De Niro on the set of Angel Heart (1987). In Hollywood, Bukowski’s 1989 roman à clef about the making of Barfly, the obvious Rourke surrogate, Jack Bledsoe, is a naturally gifted actor who refuses to read his lines until right before filming a scene and travels with an entourage of sycophantic street urchins and pseudo-gangsters. “I look at these guys like Matt Damon, George Clooney, Sean Penn — they’re all very bright, educated guys who understand that it’s a business and there’s politics involved,” Rourke says. “I wasn’t educated or aware enough. I thought I could get by on my raw talent — I really did. I thought I was so good I didn’t have to play the game. And I was terribly wrong.” So, in 1991, Rourke effectively turned his back on the industry, returned to his childhood home of Miami and resurrected his adolescent dream of becoming a professional boxer. He worked out with famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach and sparred with heavyweight champ James “Lights Out” Toney before fighting a brief (albeit undefeated) series of bouts in the U.S., Spain and Germany. It was during that time, while training for a fight in Kansas City against light heavyweight Tom Bentley, that Rourke’s assistant told him an up-and-coming director named Quentin Tarantino wanted to meet with him about a role in his next movie. “I said, ‘Who else is in it?’ She said, ‘John Travolta.’ I said, ‘How much?’ She said, ‘Scale.’ I took the script and I remember throwing it at her. I didn’t even read it. I went to Kansas City and had a first-round knockout, and that was more important to me.” By the time Rourke retired from boxing in 1994 — the same year Otis filed, and later dropped, spousal-abuse charges against him — it was difficult to determine what had taken the bigger beating: his career or his once smooth, beautiful, boyish face. In person, Rourke now seems more pussycat than mad dog. He speaks warmly of those inside and outside Hollywood who helped him on the road to recovery, and he looks better than he has in years: the cheeks less puffy; the tan less bottled; his chin-length rock-star hair falling chicly over his face. Not bad for a guy nearing 60, if you believe the least flattering of Rourke’s various reported birth years (1950) — a subject on which the actor himself declines to comment. But every once in a while, you can catch a flicker of the deep-set anger and rage that Rourke has grappled with for decades, particularly when the subject turns to his childhood. Rourke, who was born in Schenectady, moved at an early age with his mother, brother and sister to the mostly black inner city of Miami, following his parents’ divorce. He doesn’t reveal much about those years (though he has alluded in past interviews to abuse suffered at the hands of a violent stepfather), but what he does say paints a vivid portrait. “It was horrific, it was shameful,” he says. “Let’s put it this way: I would have been happier living in jail, if I knew the 11 years I’d have to spend where I was living. Or I would have preferred never to have been born. When you have things like that happen, you either go to prison for your whole life or you act out and self-destruct.” The self-destruction would eventually come, but at the time, Rourke threw himself into sports — baseball, football and amateur boxing. He was good in the ring, and a professional career seemed in the offing, until a couple of bad concussions set him back. It was then that Rourke, who had never given any thought to acting, auditioned for a role in a University of Miami production of Jean Genet’s Deathwatch, and got the part. By the time the play closed, he had resolved to go to acting school “and learn how to do this shit. So I got on a plane and went to the Village.” Eventually, Rourke found his way to the Actors Studio, where he learned the method and dedicated himself to his newfound trade with signature obsessiveness. “I wanted to be like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Chris Walken and Harvey Keitel,” he says. “I wanted to be a really great actor. And if I worked really, really fucking hard, maybe one day I could do that. And I worked really, really hard. I had no social life. I lived like a monk. For weeks on end, I slept on the couch at the Actors Studio, working on scenes nonstop.” Yet, at the height of his fame, when younger actors were heading to the Studio wondering if they might have a shot at becoming the next Mickey Rourke, he was never satisfied. “I was waiting for the great picture, and it didn’t happen,” says Rourke, who was offered — and turned down — roles in Beverly Hills Cop, Platoon and Rain Man,among others. “And I was living way above my means. I bought a big house, and because I was always turning shit down — formula stuff, Hollywood stuff — I got in a jam, so I had to do a movie called Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991). They paid me a lot of money, and I went fuckin’ bonkers because I sold out and I hated myself for it. Some kind of anger kicked off, about the fact that I’d put myself in a position to have to do that movie. The demons took over.” And they reigned for most of the next decade, during which you needed an active Blockbuster membership to keep track of Rourke’s erratic movie résumé, until the actor slowly but steadily began to re-emerge from his personal and professional inferno. Vincent Gallo took a chance on Rourke, giving him a role as a bookie in the offbeat Buffalo ‘66 (1998). Another actor-director, Steve Buscemi, followed suit, casting Rourke way against type as a transvestite inmate in the underseen prison drama Animal Factory (2000). Then Rourke’s friend Sean Penn put him opposite Jack Nicholson in a three-minute scene in The Pledge (2000), and he was brilliant. As word got around about his new professionalism, bigger roles in bigger movies came Rourke’s way (Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Man on Fire, Domino), until there he was, handily stealing the show as the disfigured, partly CGI vigilante Marv — the only recognizably human element amid all the blood-splattered black- and-white stylishness — in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City. But The Wrestler is something else entirely — a movie in which Rourke appears in almost every frame of every scene, and where, as German filmmaker Wim Wenders commented upon awarding the film the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival, he more than once breaks your heart. “Let’s look at it this way,” Rourke says, couching things in the same metaphorical terms he uses with his therapist of more than a decade. “There’s a window, and it’s dark. We just need a little bit of sunlight here. We’ve got to do the work. We’re going to lift up the window. Then we’re going to go outside the window. Then there’s a stadium, and they’re not going to let you in to play the game, but you’re going to be out there buying a ticket to get in. Four years later, you’re watching the game from inside the stadium. Three more years go by and now you’re on the bench. Two more years go by and you’re on the field, but they’re not kicking you the ball yet. It’s been a game of inches.” Come February, that game of inches may well land Rourke in the end zone of the Kodak Theatre. But no matter what happens, Rourke says there’s no danger that he’ll ever revert to his hell-raising ways. “Look, a little time bomb’s always gonna be in Mickey Rourke, okay?” he says. “I didn’t even want to change, but I needed to. I used to have bad people around me. Now I’ve got people around me who have my best interest at heart. But I’m always going to be a volatile cat. If someone disrespects me, it’s always going to be on, so I try not to put myself in positions where that’s going to happen. I do everything I can to avoid that, because let me tell you ... to live in a state of shame for so many years, to be a has-been ... it hurts ... it really did hurt.” Rourke chokes on those last few words, then takes a deep breath and asks his assistant to relight his cigarette. “I’m so amazed that I’m getting a second chance,” he says. “I said this to somebody recently: God’s got a plan for us all. I sure as hell wish I would have looked at his instead of mine.” New York Magazine By Will Leitch Ten Things You Need to Know About ‘The Wrestler’ The first wave of stories about Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, which closes the New York film Festival in two weeks, mostly ask: "What in the hell happened to Mickey’s face?" But once everyone sees the movie — which is like The Champ if Jon Voight listened to Mötley Crüe, had his own action figure, and occasionally let another man in tights shoot him in the chest with a staple gun (it is to the movie’s endless credit that this scene is actually moving) — that’ll change fast. We have a sneaking suspicion that, come December, everyone’s going to be talking about this movie. But who wants to wait that long? Here is your guide to the Ten Things You Need to Know About The Wrestler, so you can be ahead of the curve. And don’t worry — no spoilers! 1. They get the wrestling right. The movie isn’t really about wrestling (so don’t be scared), but it’s not like one of those awful baseball movies in which Anthony Perkins pretends to know how to throw a baseball. The movie is populated with real wrestlers, and it makes sure to nail all the little details. As in real life, when someone does a particularly dangerous move, the crowd all yells, “Holy shit! Holy shit!” and “You’re so dead! You’re so dead!” This will seem strange to non–wrestling fans, but this is really what they do at WWE matches. The hard-core fans will notice, and appreciate. 2. Kurt Cobain is a pussy. Rourke’s Randy “the Ram” Robinson was a star wrestler in the eighties, which means the whole movie is soundtracked by glorious, awesome hair metal, his preferred genre. Haven’t heard Accept’s “Balls to the Wall” in a long time? You’re in luck: The Ram rocks out, HARD. One particularly amusing exchange between the Ram and Marisa Tomei’s stripper, Cassidy, features the line, “The eighties fuckin’ ruled, man, till that pussy Cobain came and fucked it all up.” Expect to hear the soundtrack played ironically at Christmas parties on the Lower East Side. 3. Marisa Tomei is lookin’ good. You know how, in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Marisa Tomei is naked, like, four times? She was clearly preparing for this film, in which she plays a stripper with a heart of talc and is topless and grinding pretty much the whole time. One shot, filmed from her point of view while she’s working, will make you never, ever want to enter a strip club again. 4. Nintendo! The Ram lives alone in a New Jersey trailer and, to pass the time, occasionally invites teenagers to play a wrestling game (as his character) on the ancient, original console, while the condescending teen talks about his PS3. This scene is even more heartbreaking than it sounds. 5. Wrestlers can act. Anyone who knows anything about professional wrestling knows that it’s about as “fake” as a razor blade to the head. (Which we see.) But who knew these guys were so natural on film? Ernest “the Cat” Miller is a former WWF wrestler who, in this movie, plays “the Ayatollah,” a faux-Arab wrestler from the eighties. The character now sells used cars and is fat and happy in retirement. Miller has three scenes, two of which involve no wrestling at all, and he’s funny, quiet, and dead-on perfect. We had no idea he was a wrestler in real life until we checked IMDb. 6. BRUUUUUUCE. Expect to see the Boss on Oscar night. Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Wrestler,” written exclusively for the film, plays over the closing credits, and it’s straight from The Ghost of Tom Joad — aching, sad, gorgeous. The song’s so good, you almost expect Sean Penn to write another movie based off it, like with The Indian Runner and Bruce’s “Highway Patrolman.” 7. Don’t worry: There are no orgies. We all know people who were scarred by the artsy intensity of Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and are too terrified to go see another of his movies. (Others had the same reaction to The Fountain, for different reasons altogether.) Worry not: Aronofsky’s in back-to-basics mode, telling a straight story simply and plainly. It’s still expertly put together, but, for the first time, Aronofsky moves out of the way and lets the story tell itself. It’s a daring decision, actually. 8. God, Nicolas Cage would have been terrible. When Rourke shows up for the Oscars, imagine, for a moment, what would have happened if Nicolas Cage had taken the role, as was originally planned. One shudders to think of the wig he would have worn for this. It’s a career capper for Rourke, and it’s virtually impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part. 9. You'll never believe who the movie is dedicated to. Well, maybe not “dedicated to,” but the last line of the credits? “The producers and filmmakers would like to extend their sincerest thanks to Axl Rose.” 10. Seriously, you're totally going to cry. You’ve been warned. FILM JOURNAL MAGAZINE Rourke mania Darren Aronofsky directs portrait of aging wrestler on the ropes Nov 3, 2008 -By Harry Haun Fame and acclaim have been in such an advanced state of hibernation for Mickey Rourke these last two decades that their abrupt re- emergence over his new picture, The Wrestler, has left him a mite misty-eyed, reeling from the predicted probability of an Academy Award nomination for his unsparingly real title portrayal. The situation first presented itself at this year’s Venice Film Festival, where The Wrestler was screened only two days after its completion and walked off with the Golden Lion award for Best Picture. Rourke would also have walked off as Best Actor if the Venice jury chairman, director Wim Wenders, had had his way—but Wenders’ vigorous campaigning could not topple a longstanding festival rule which insists that one film is not allowed to win both awards. Rourke happily contented himself with finally being the star of a prize-winning picture. The extravagant hosannas went into a second chorus when the Fox Searchlight picture was unspooled for the New York Film Festival, and, at the press conference which followed the screening, Rourke seemed visibly moved by the enthusiastic reception. “If I knew 15 years ago that it was going to take 15 years to get back in the saddle and work again because of the way I handled things, I really would have handled things differently,” he confessed, choking back emotion. “Doing things differently this time around, understanding what it is to be a professional, be responsible, be consistent—those are things that weren’t in my vocabulary back then. Change didn’t come easy for me—until I lost everything, and then I realized, ‘You better change, or you’re gonna blow your fucking brains out. Either you change, or you’re just a piece of shit. I thought it was a weakness to change because of the armor I’d put on my whole life. I’m okay with it now—yeah, it took me 15, 16, 17 years out of the game—but it’s really nice because I get to come back and work with these people here.” And, with that, festival honcho Richard Peña put the proper button on the press conference by declaring, “Everyone who loves film is very grateful that you are back.” In 1991, at the height of his Hollywood power, Rourke blithely surrendered stardom for boxing, feeling that he “was self- destructing…[and] had no respect for myself being an actor.” True, as a pro boxer he won all his fights against minor opponents (and had one fight end in a draw), but his age kept him away from top- level fighters and national prominence. All he had to show for four years in the ring were a broken nose, toe, ribs, a split tongue and a compressed cheekbone. Acting started looking good to him circa 1995, but age (and, now, looks) kept him out of the upper echelon. Coming at this point in time, The Wrestler—a.k.a. Randy “The Ram” Robinson (born, though he denies it, Robin Robinson)—has proved to be a real gift to the 54-year-old Rourke from Darren Aronofsky, a nearly-40 director with four films to his credit. It’s hard to overlook the fact that both the role and the actor have remarkable, genuine synchronicity, both going for a redemptive, 11th-hour comeback in the same vehicle. In the case of the banged-up title character, it’s about talking himself out of a meager, hand-to-mouth retirement for one last “anniversary” showdown with his arch-nemesis in the ring. Recognizing the bright light at the end of the tunnel, he tries to right things in his clumsy fashion with the two important women in his life—reconciling with his long-estranged, lesbian daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and suggesting settling down with his pole-dancing pop- tart girlfriend (Marisa Tomei). Given where the actor is coming from and where the character is going to, director Aronofsky is teasingly slow at the outset in showing the audience what the ravages of time and an onslaught of fists have done to the face of Mickey Rourke—in much the way Clarence Brown milked the moment when “Garbo Talks!” in Anna Christie. “I didn’t go into making the movie with that idea of hiding his face,” Aronofsky admits, “but I think, as I was shooting, it sort of emerged. I was, like, ‘Oh, something good’s happening here, and I could really prevent the audience from getting a good look at him for a while. I realized that would be a little fun thing to do. You’re going to spend a lot of time with this guy—in fact, you could spend the full 110 minutes of the movie with him—so you gotta pace yourself. You gotta pace it. “People are curious about Mickey—what he looks like, who he is. He’s such a unique personality out there. There’s nobody like him, and I think that’s very exciting.” The die was cast the moment it occurred to Aronofsky to cast Rourke. He just can’t pinpoint it. “I’ve always been a fan of his—a crazy fan—but I don’t know where the initial idea of Mickey came from. It just emerged, and I got real excited about it because I love working with actors who are unexpected. I did it with Ellen Burstyn [Requiem for a Dream]. I did it with Hugh Jackman [The Fountain]. It’s very fulfilling when you have actors on the set who really want to be there—for the right reasons.” Rourke, for several reasons, wasn’t the first choice for the role— and, for those same reasons, he wasn’t the easiest person to stay first choice. Aronofsky now says that the story that Nicolas Cage was the original choice and bowed out in deference to Rourke “is a bit overblown,” but he concedes that Sylvester Stallone was on his short list early on. “I was thinking it’d be interesting to see him go back to the ring in some way because he’s so good in the ring. Then he did Rocky Balboa, the latest Rocky, and it kinda ruled it out for me because it was about an older guy going back to the ring. There were enough connections there that I didn’t want to go near it.” Aronofsky’s instincts about the rightness of Rourke were confirmed at their first huddle. “We met in an Italian restaurant in the meat- packing district,” the director recalls, “and he was very upfront that he’d been in therapy for 12 to 15 years. I think the result of that was that he was aware of what he had done to himself. He was very, very thoughtful about what he wanted: He wanted a chance to get back. I felt he was ready to undertake the workload that was ahead of him—you know, it’s a lot of work—and he just knew where he was. He had a self-awareness of what he had done to himself and to his career, and he wanted to do what it takes to come back. I think there were a lot of reasons he took the turns he did. I’ve heard him talk about it abstractly, and I’ve heard the press talk about it in different ways. I just don’t think he understood. I think he had a tough time dealing with success.” Once the notion of Rourke was intrinsically set in Aronofsky’s noggin, the real battle began—to find funding for the star he’d anointed. “When we started to raise money for the film, we went all over the world, and there was literally only one financier willing to take a risk—Wild Bunch. They didn’t give us enough money to make it, but they gave us something, which was a million, and we figured out how to make the movie with that amount of money. It was a tough thing to do. We had to do it for no money. No one made any money off of it. It was purely an artistic endeavor.” Pulling Rourke back into the world spotlight by his bootstraps could be construed as a profile in courage for Aronofsky. “Or stupidity,” the director suggests with a half-laugh. “For an independent filmmaker, there’s a lot of lessons here, and one was it reminded me how important it is to just stick to your guns and your vision. No one thought Mickey could be sympathetic. He hadn’t had a chance to be sympathetic in 20 years. They didn’t want to finance this movie with him. They liked the script, but they didn’t want to do it with him, and I just couldn’t see another way of doing it.” Despite the history and the resonance that Rourke brings to the role, there was one unusual way in which he was completely miscast—the sport itself: Wrestling is the direct antithesis of boxing—and a poor relation, at that. Not only did he have to unlearn years of ring training, he was more vulnerable to injury. “What I didn’t know, and what I wasn’t prepared for, is that you really do get hurt,” Rourke told the New York scribes. “I got hurt more in the three months doing the wrestling than in 16 years in boxing. I think I had three MRI’s in two months doing this movie.” Aronofsky backs up the actor: “In boxing, you want to hide where your punch is coming from, and in wrestling you want people in the nosebleed seats to see it coming from three miles away. So it was actually twice as hard for Mickey because he had to learn how he moved. When he’s in the ring, he moves totally different than wrestlers. And also, he had to get over his prejudices against wrestling. The first place we were going to train him was a wrestling school that took place in Gleason’s Gym over in Brooklyn, and he wouldn’t do it. He was, like, ‘I’m not training in a boxing gym.’ He was embarrassed to be in front of all the boxers, wrestling.” To find a suitable place to train Rourke, the director took the fall and sacrificed his own space: “I had a little office in Brooklyn, and it was barely big enough to fit a ring in it. We moved all the desks out of the way, and basically that turned into his gym.” Aronofsky is hard-pressed to name three wrestling pictures, let alone his three favorites. “There have been a couple of good documentaries on the wrestling world, but most films that deal with wrestling make fun of it—like what Barton Fink was writing in that Coen Brothers movie. Barton Fink was hired to write a wrestling movie. Remember? ‘What’s so difficult, Fink? There’s a bad guy. There’s a good guy.’” The director believes that heretofore there have been no serious wrestling movies simply because the sport isn’t taken seriously. “I think people basically roll it off saying, ‘Oh, it’s fake,’ and they forget all about it. But what was interesting to me was that whole line between real and fake. What is real? What is fake? The film is very clear that wrestling is staged, but is it fake when you’re a 260-pound guy jumping 10 feet onto a concrete floor? Even if you’re trying to protect yourself and your opponent, damage is happening to you. “Then, you meet these guys who’ve been wrestling 10 or 20 years ago, and they’re just riddled with injury. They are true athletes. It’s just they’re almost more like stunt men, so there’s that line of real and fake. The other line of real and fake is ‘The Ram’ doesn’t know what’s real and what’s fake. When he’s in the ring, for him that’s real life, and so that kind of real and fake comments on the whole wrestling thing.” One perk of keeping Rourke in the picture is the title tune by Bruce Springsteen, says Aronofsky. “The reason he did it—I can’t take any credit for it—was Mickey Rourke. He loves Mickey. He’s a fan, and he was excited that Mickey had an opportunity to do this film. He wanted to help in any way he could, so he wrote this beautiful song.” Yes, there’s a grassroots groundswell for Mickey Rourke, of all people and at long last. “I think he’s kinda humbled by it—but thrilled,” assesses Aronofsky. “He called me up a week after Venice and said, ‘What did you do to me? There’s paparazzi outside my door right now, and five weeks ago I couldn’t get a ham sandwich!’ THE LOS ANGELES TIMES The Big Picture by Patrick Goldstein Mickey Rourke is the Comeback Kid: Part 1 Sep 9 2008 FROM THE TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: Rourke's time has finally come. More than a quarter of a century after he catapulted to stardom in Barry Levinson's "Diner" and Francis Ford Coppola's "Rumble Fish," the man who never won an Oscar but pretty much retired the trophy for America's Craziest Living Actor, may get that second act that few artists who self-destruct at an early age ever live to see. When I had dinner with Rourke in L.A. a few years ago, he spent two hours at a crowded Sunset Strip eatery, virtually unnoticed. Here in Toronto, after getting raves for his tough-but-tender performance in Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," Rourke is the center of attention again. The film was the big sale of the festival, going to Fox Searchlight for roughly $4 million after winning the Golden Lion in Venice last week. And wherever Rourke has gone here, he's drawn a crowd of photographers. Nearly back to his regular 190-pound fighting weight after gaining 35 pounds to play the part, wearing a blue pinstripe jacket with little blond ringlets in his hair, he's hard to miss. As we sipped coffee in an upstairs lobby at the Four Season Hotel here, actors, producers, agents and wannabe screenwriters all stopped by, eager to offer hugs, congratulations or pass along hand-written notes, hoping to interest him in one new project or another. Maybe this time Rourke can handle the spotlight. Earlier in his career, he fumbled the ball, taking horrible parts, partying all night, spending years fruitlessly trying to revive his schoolboy boxing career and telling anyone who would listen how much disdain he had for the art of acting. Although he's still as eccentric as ever--taking his favorite Chihuahua, Loki, whom he also calls "No. 1," with him nearly everywhere he goes--he says he's been in therapy for 13 years and can finally control the anger he'd carried around after surviving a turbulent and violent childhood. In "The Wrestler," Rourke plays Randy (The Ram) Robinson, a beaten- down wrestler 20 years past his prime, his body scarred and gone to seed, unable to sustain any real relationships, least of all with his daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, who wants nothing to do with him. The part hit home. "Let's put it this way, Randy the Ram was somebody 20 years ago and so was Mickey Rourke," he told me. "When you used to be somebody and you aren't anybody anymore, you live in what my doctor calls a state of shame. You don't want to go out of the house. You hate just going to the store and having to stand in line, because inevitably someone will stare at you and say, 'Hey, didn't you used to be someone in the movies?' " Rourke doesn't mince words: "I lost everything. My house, my wife, my credibility, my career." He shrugs. "I even lost my entourage, which is when you know things are really bad. I just all had all this anger from my childhood, which was really shame, not anger, and used it as armor and machismo to cover up my wounds. Unfortunately, the way I acted really frightened people, although it was really just me who was scared. But I was like this person who was short- circuited and I didn't know how to fix myself." So how did Rourke turn his life around? Rourke finally found a therapist in Los Angeles--he simply refers to him as Steve--who helped him deal with his issues. "I started going to see him all the time, at first three times a week. He was great. Even when I didn't have the money, he kept seeing me. It was like he believed in me. I wouldn't be in the business if it wasn't for him and my agent, David Unger at ICM. I was done. Everyone but them thought I was too difficult, too crazy." Rourke says he finally figured out how to let go of his anger and shame. "You just can't go through life holding on to all that stuff. I just couldn't live with that boulder on my shoulder." He points toward his heart. "There's still a little man inside of me with a big ax who watches everything. If someone tried to kick my girlfriend's ass or started messing with one of my friends right here, that little man would come out and show himself. But I've learned to keep him inside of me." Even though it seemed at the time to be the most ruinous escapade of a career filled with ruinous escapades, Rourke firmly believes that, by going back to boxing in the middle of his career, he actually regained his equilibrium. He worked with Freddie Roach, Oscar De La Hoya's fight trainer, who wouldn't put up with the antics Rourke had gotten away with on film sets. "Freddie was no-nonsense," Rourke recalls. "When I started staying out all night, fooling around, he quit. He said, 'I'm going back to Vegas. I don't train fighters to lose.' I had to beg him to stay. I cried like a baby before I could convince him I was serious." Rourke ended up losing most of his fights, but he found a focus he'd never had. "I started training the way I should and I demanded a discipline of myself that I'd never had. And I've been able to use that ability to concentrate in my acting. It's almost like a kind of self-survival. I was Little Mickey, angry, screaming and yelling, punching at ghosts that weren't even there, saying things I now regret. But I shaped up and look at the great part I got to play in this movie. It really makes a difference having a second chance to do something I once loved but told everyone that I hated." Rourke said when he walked down the red carpet last week at the Venice Film Festival, he never felt happier. "It's really a nice feeling to be proud of the work you've done. Second chances are a great thing." Mickey Rourke, Part 2: Actor vs. director Sep 10 2008 When "The Wrestler" director Darren Aronofsky decided he wanted to go ahead with the film, he remembers having a casting epiphany: The actor who'd be absolutely perfect for the part of an over-the-hill wrestler would be ... Mickey Rourke. Most directors would've immediately run to their shrink and confessed that they had a career death wish. Mickey Rourke? The famously unruly, unreliable, uncontrollable motorcycle-riding madman? Aronofsky knew what he was getting himself into. "All my friends said, 'No way, you can't do this. You can't make a movie where the whole film depends on Mickey,' " Aronofsky told me yesterday. But the hard-headed director set up a meeting with the actor anyway. "I was very honest with him, like you'd be in a marriage. We looked each other in the eye and I said, 'This is a purely artistic venture. There's no money.' But if he would show up, if he really, really wanted the chance to be a lead in a film again, I wanted to do it with him." Of course, Rourke remembers the encounter a bit differently. "I was sitting in a restaurant in the West Village that my friend Julian Schnabel turned me on to and this guy shows up, riding a bicycle, with this green helmet and an unbelievably dorky outfit. And I go, 'That must be him. Darren Aronofsky--smart Jewish boy from Brooklyn." Rourke unleashes a derisive snort. "Darren has got to be the worst dresser on the planet. That outfit! He told me it was Prada, but all I could think was--he looks like a UPS delivery guy." Rourke says Aronofsky didn't waste any time getting to the point. "There were no formalities. He said 'You've been difficult.' I nodded my head. He said, 'You've thrown your career away.' I nodded my head. Whatever he said, I agreed. He tried to make me feel 2 inches tall. He raised his voice and he pointed his finger at me and said, 'You can never disrespect me. You can never [mess] around with girls at night. You can't go to Miami over the holidays because I know you'll be out partying every night. And by the way, I can't pay you because we have no money.' " Rourke laughs. "That's how bad my career had gotten. I had to listen to all that crap and take it. I kept thinking, 'This guy must really be talented'--I'm leaving out a few choice profanities that Rourke used for emphasis--'to get away with talking to me that way.' But it was OK. I like a guy that's honest from the start. We never had a problem." But why didn't Rourke butt heads with Aronofsky, the way he did with so many other directors? Rourke says Aronofsky's self-confidence won him over. "That very first day we met, he said, 'I'll take you to the show. I'll get you a nomination for this part.' And after the first week of work, I believed him. He walked the walk and that got my respect. Darren is like a really demanding football coach, like Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry. He said, 'Give Rourke the ball' and I ran with it." If Aronofsky thought Rourke needed a little extra motivation, he was not afraid to offer it. When Rourke was doing his scenes with Evan Rachel Wood, the young actress who plays his daughter in the film, Aronofsky would heap praise on her performance. "Then he'd come over to me and say, 'You really sucked. She's totally smoking you. You better bring your A-game to this scene or she's gonna wipe the floor with you,' " Rourke says. "But let me tell you, I loved working with her. She's a real pro and she's going places. She's like Rita Hayworth. I wouldn't have a problem doing a scene with her on Mars." Rourke had to undergo a grueling training regime to play the part-- he says he did all of his wrestling stunts in the film. Even though he's a boxing fan, he now has renewed respect for the physical pounding wrestlers take every night in the ring. "The first time a 260-pound guy threw me across the ring, I knew I was in for it-- every tooth in my mouth, the real and the fake ones, ached for days. I went to the chiropractor twice a week. I had three MRIs in two months. That stuff is not fake." Rourke says his trainer was a former Israeli commando and ex-cage fighter. "He never let up on me. Under no circumstances could I say, 'I don't feel like training today.' He had a key to my hotel room. So even if I had three girls in my bed, it didn't matter. I had to work out. Luckily, he's very religious, so he always took the Sabbath off. That was the only time I got a break." The critics will be swooning over Rourke's performance in "The Wrestler" for months to come. But I couldn't help but wonder--is this that once-in-a-lifetime performance? Or can Rourke keep his act together long enough to string together enough parts to put his career back on track? If anything could possibly explain the strange sensitivity of his psyche, it's his love for his Chihuahuas. He has six of them, but the one that seems to be a dog of truly Rourkian proportions is Jaws, also known as Little Mickey. Rourke saved the dog from being put to sleep at an animal shelter. It had been badly abused and was totally uncontrollable, always foaming at the mouth and growling at anyone that tried to come near him. So of course, Rourke tried to give him a kiss. Jaws instantly bit Rourke in the mouth. "There was blood everywhere. It looked like I'd been hit by a car. I had to go get stitches. But I kept him. He just needed to trust someone. For the first few months, he had nightmares every night. When I'd be watching football, he'd jump on my bed and walk up and down my stomach, baring his teeth like he was Predator or something." And then suddenly one day the dog calmed down and put his head on Rourke's shoulder. Mickey acts it out, reaching out and resting his head on my shoulder in the middle of the Four Seasons lobby. "I'm not saying he was totally normal," Rourke says. "In the winter, you still couldn't put a hoodie on him. And after he growled at everyone on the set, the PAs put a nice little sign up, saying 'Be Careful of White Dog in Mickey's Trailer.' But he wasn't so crazy anymore." One day Rourke took the dog to meet his therapist. "My therapist said, in his very soft voice, 'Well, Mickey, why do you think you took to Jaws so well?' " Rourke laughs. "I think I've finally figured out what he means." Entertainment Weekly Mickey Roars Mickey Rourke's comeback -- The once-promising ''Body Heat'' actor talks about his downfall and his new film, ''The Wrestler''. By Chris Nashawaty Before he blew it, before he threw his career away, Mickey Rourke was one of the most promising actors of his generation. Go back and watch his early movies. Body Heat, Rumble Fish, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Barfly. Young actors like Sean Penn, Matt Dillon, and Nicolas Cage would visit the sets of his movies just to watch him work. They worshipped him. And so did the critics. In her review of 1982's Diner, Pauline Kael singled out Rourke, writing, ''He has a sweet, pure smile that surprises you. He seems to be acting to you, and to no one else.'' As 9 1/2 Weeksdirector Adrian Lyne put it, ''If Mickey had died after Angel Heart, he would have been remembered as James Dean or Marlon Brando.'' But Mickey Rourke didn't die. He just destroyed himself. In the mid-'80s, as his career was starting to soar, Rourke got a reputation for fighting with producers. He would show up late to sets. He wouldn't bother to learn his lines. Acting came so easily to him that he didn't take it seriously — he didn't respect it. And when all that didn't kill his leading-man prospects, he went one step further, taking a break from acting to become a professional boxer. It was a bizarre decision, one that would eventually lay waste to his once-handsome face. Four years later, when he retired from the ring because he'd been so battered that his health was in danger, Rourke returned to making movies. But he rarely seemed invested. He'd take crappy parts just for the money — money that he'd turn around and blow on $5 million houses, a fleet of custom- made motorcycles, and an entourage of hair-trigger bodyguards and yes-men who would just as often get him into trouble as keep it away. By the time he walked off the set of 2001's straight-to-video Luck of the Draw because the producers wouldn't let his pet Chihuahua appear with him in a scene, it was official: Hollywood was done with Mickey Rourke. That's where his story should have ended. A career death wish followed by a fade to black. The next round of articles should have been his obituaries. But his story didn't end there. Because just when it seemed like he was finally down for the count, a director came along who chose to ignore Rourke's crazy past. He promised the actor that if he humbled himself and worked like he hadn't worked in 20 years, he could get back on top again. And this is where another Mickey Rourke story begins. On the coffee table in Rourke's apartment in New York City's West Village, there's a messy tableau of hunting knives, candles, Zippo lighters, a framed photo of one of his four Chihuahuas, an antique pistol (his publicist made him put away the others), a plastic bottle of honey in the shape of a bear, several bottles of prescription medication, and a syringe full of vitamin B12. For the past year, the actor has received monthly house calls from a doctor, who, after testing his blood for mineral deficiencies, administers an IV drip replenishing whatever the actor's immune system is short on. The procedure lasts about an hour, during which time Rourke slumps on the sofa with a catheter in his arm while he and the doctor watch TV. He finds the ritual comforting. Nevertheless, on this cold October night, Rourke is battling a nasty throat infection. His voice is a whispery croak, which may only get worse now that he's starting to talk up his latest movie. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler is a low-budget indie about a past-his-prime brawler itching for one last shot in the ring. He can't pay the rent on his trailer, the daughter he abandoned years ago wants nothing to do with him, and his poor health is taking away the last thing he has left: wrestling. What makes the film rise above Rocky Balboa cliché, though, is the haunting parallel between the character of Randy ''The Ram'' Robinson and the actor portraying him. When The Wrestler won the top prize at this year's Venice Film Festival, instantly there was talk about a Mickey Rourke comeback. Now, on the eve of its release in the States on Dec. 17, buzz is building that Rourke might even win Best Actor. Suddenly, after 15 grim years in starring-role exile, Rourke is someone people want to hear from again. They want to know what happened. Have him recount his flameout. Make him walk the comeback stations of the cross. He gets this, and actually craves the opportunity, because deep down he knows it's what it takes to get back to where he once was. Tonight, he's dressed in skintight black jeans, a pair of handmade denim cowboy boots that look like they cost a fortune, and a black vest with nothing on underneath. His chest is tanned and muscular and hairless. There's a tattoo of a fleur-de-lis right below his pecs. Between drags from a Marlboro Red and sips of an herbal aloe vera drink for his throat, Rourke recounts his unlikely biography. ''This movie is the hardest film I ever made and the best film I ever made,'' he says. ''If I knew it would take me 15 years to come back, I would have done things differently. People say, 'Hey, this is your comeback.' But comeback from where? Fifteen years of holding on to hope. Because living in hopelessness, you'd rather be dead.'' Asked if he dislikes talking about the past and the potentially brilliant career he squandered, Rourke shakes his head. ''No, because I f---ed up real bad. I knew nothing about business or politics. I didn't even know they were in the equation! But it's a game, and we all have to kiss a-- in life. I didn't know it then. A lot of the actors who are successful, you look around, these guys are college boys — Ben Affleck, Matt Damon. Me, I just thought you're either great or you suck! I'm not saying I was great, but I knew I was on my way to being great.'' Rourke is 52. His face is a relief map of scars. Despite rumors that plastic surgery is partly responsible for his altered features, Rourke denies that he's ever had work done. ''Somebody said to me the other day, 'You don't look like you used to.''' He laughs. ''But who does? I mean, when I was boxing I had six nose operations, I had cartilage taken from behind my ear, I had short-term memory loss, I've got an equilibrium problem, I don't have as many teeth in my head as I used to.'' No, Rourke is not the man he once was. But if he were, then The Wrestler wouldn't be nearly as poignant as it is. Talking about the similarities between Rourke and Randy ''The Ram,'' Aronofsky says, ''There were scenes that I think were extremely painful for Mickey. He felt the shame of the character very deeply. Very deeply. Mickey knows what it's like to fall from a great height.'' Rourke came up in the late '70s through the Actors Studio in New York, where he immersed himself in Method acting, a technique that famously taps into the pain of one's past. He was working as a bouncer at an L.A. transvestite club when he auditioned for his first big film, 1981's Body Heat. The sultry noir, starring Kathleen Turner and William Hurt, showcased Rourke in a small, knockout role as an arsonist who advises Hurt's character on how to get away with murder. ''I was looking for a young De Niro,'' remembers the film's director, Lawrence Kasdan. ''Every young actor says they want to be the heir to Brando or De Niro, but when Mickey read for the part, he genuinely had that quality.'' Next came Diner, followed quickly by Rumble Fish, The Pope of Greenwich Village, and Year of the Dragon. It was a dazzling early run. Rourke managed to be sexy, dangerous, and slightly damaged — a combustible combination for many women in the audience. ''There was something about him where you couldn't take your eyes off of him,'' says Diner director Barry Levinson. ''He was this flashy guy, tough, but audiences responded to the sensitivity under it all. I think that's the side Mickey would like to hide. And his trying to hide it makes it even more fascinating.'' By the time the steamy erotic thriller 9 1/2 Weeks came out, Rourke was bristling at all of the attention being paid to his looks. He hated the idea of being seen as a heartthrob. ''That was when that whole pretty, sexy thing came about,'' says Rourke. ''Which I resented. I never saw myself that way, and I ran from it like wildfire. I don't know why.'' Rourke shakes his head. ''I don't...know...why.'' Rourke wanted to be known for his acting, period. When he got the chance to share the screen with De Niro in 1987's Angel Heart, Rourke psyched himself up, training like a contender getting ready to enter the ring with the best. Director Alan Parker says that in his climactic confrontation with De Niro, Rourke inexplicably clutched an ice cube in his fist the whole time. ''It was electric to watch,'' says Parker. When the director yelled ''Cut!'' there was a puddle next to where Rourke was standing. He looked like he'd just gone 12 rounds. ''The best thing about acting was the competition,'' says Rourke. On the wall of his apartment, there's a photo of him with De Niro on the set. Rourke's beaming like a kid. But when that kind of challenge wasn't there, Rourke admits he was just as likely to act up as act. He thought his talent was enough, diplomacy be damned. In 1987, Barbet Schroeder directed Rourke in Barfly, in which he played a character based on wino poet Charles Bukowski. It's a harrowing performance, skid-row Shakespeare. Two decades later, Schroeder has nothing but praise for Rourke's talent: ''He was magical, the greatest of his generation.'' But he also recalls Rourke as being self-destructive and petty, citing a follow- up project that he worked on with the actor for two years before Rourke dropped out without explanation. ''I remember I put a note on his front door saying that I would never speak to him again,'' says Schroeder, ''and I haven't.'' Rourke sinks back into the black leather sofa in his living room as Loki, his favorite of his four pet Chihuahuas, settles on his lap. He says that hearing old stories like this is tough. His eyes begin to well up. Rourke insists he's spent the past decade in therapy trying to make sure these things never happen again. When he started, he was going four days a week. Now he's down to two. He attends church, prays every day, and says the rosary several times a week. But it's only when he's asked about his childhood that a deeper source of Rourke's pain comes gushing out. At first, he refuses to talk about his father. But over the course of two hours, he gradually reveals that the man who walked out when he was 6 physically abused him. ''That's where it all went wrong,'' he says, starting to get choked up. ''I lived in an area [Liberty City, a poor neighborhood of Miami] where you could get away with murder with what you did to your kids. I don't like talking about this because I don't want to put myself in the victim category, but when you're 5, 6, 7, you can't fight back. And I never got over what happened.'' Rourke is crying now. He seems like he wants to talk about it, but he's sobbing too hard to get the words out. He gets up and walks around the room, deeply breathing in and out, dabbing at his eyes. ''I thought I knew what pain was when my mother and father split up,'' he continues. ''That's why I've never been able to have a birthday party since I was 6. Because my father never came. I never saw him again... Well, I saw him once. He drank himself to death at 47. The year after I met him again. I introduced myself. It was like a big boulder off my shoulder. He was a former bodybuilder. But he didn't look like that no more.'' Rourke begins pacing the room, ''My psychiatrist says you live in a state of shame, so it's almost like you want to be invisible. I wasn't educated enough to understand that the stuff that happened to me when I was little affected me. And when I got older I put on this armor that was so scary and so self-destructive, and I wore that armor like a badge of courage because of the smallness I still felt.'' As he sits down again and reaches for a tissue, a tattoo on Rourke's left shoulder reading ''Carré forever'' comes into view. Carré is, of course, Carré Otis, the fashion model who became his wife after they met on the set of 1990's Wild Orchid. When her name is brought up, Rourke stands and says he'll be back in a minute. He returns with an arty black-and-white photo of a beautiful brunette in a white T-shirt. ''Thirteen years ago, this was the most important thing in my life,'' he says, holding the picture of Otis. The marriage lasted six years — six years of wild ups and downs, including Rourke's arrest for spousal assault in 1994 (the charges were later dropped) and Otis' subsequent spiral into heroin addiction, which she has openly discussed. ''Carré was thunder and lightning,'' he says. ''We both came from very damaged backgrounds. We had some of the greatest times in the world and some of the most painful times in the world.'' The two are no longer in touch. Rourke laughs recalling the honeymoon they took, driving out West in his '69 Road Runner convertible, sitting on the curb outside a motel in Utah and drinking beer. But his smile vanishes when he talks about how the relationship unraveled. ''I lost my wife, my house, my career,'' he says, again choking back tears. ''I spent a long time dealing with getting my wife off heavy drugs. And I got myself into some s---, putting some people in the hospital who were giving her drugs. So I lost movies over that. But it was my wife! If you're going to give somebody in my family bad drugs, you're gonna deal with me. I'm not going to say, 'No, I'm an actor.' I could have dealt with it differently, but I didn't.'' In the early years of his marriage to Otis, Rourke's wild living and free spending began to catch up with him. He started taking jobs for the paychecks, such as the $2.6 million he got for 1991's critically reviled action comedy Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. The list of cinematic lows during that period also includes Desperate Hours, White Sands, and the TV movie The Last Outlaw. ''I'd do some piece of s--- for the money and then show up late and f--- everything up,'' he says. ''More than half the movies I've made I didn't want to do. I bought a house that was way too expensive, cars, entourage, women, jewelry. If you ain't ever had it, once you get it, you spend it as quick as you can. Simple as that. I ain't never seen no Brinks truck at a funeral and there ain't gonna be one at mine.'' Disillusioned with the dismal movies he was sleepwalking through, in the early '90s Rourke made that decision to semiretire from acting and take up boxing — his passion as a teenager. He thought he might finally find peace — or at least oblivion — in the ring. ''I liked the discipline of it,'' he says. ''The technique and the science of it, to me it was therapeutic.'' Over the next five years, Rourke won eight professional fights. ''I'm not the kind that's going to go down real easy,'' he says. ''There ain't no quit in me. I could whack guys out with either hand. I was three fights away from a world title fight and then I failed my neuro [neurological test] so bad they went, 'Mickey, you have to stop now!''' Rourke had taken a beating in the ring, breaking his nose and hands and shattering his cheekbone. When asked if boxing was perhaps a subconscious attempt to destroy the good looks that had made him famous, he pauses to consider the question. Finally, he says, ''There may be some validity to that.'' When Rourke chose to give up boxing in 1995 rather than run the risk of suffering permanent brain damage, he found himself back at the bottom. His pricey house had been repossessed, his marriage was in ashes, and his movie prospects were bleaker than ever. He'd gone from costarring with De Niro to sharing the screen with the likes of Dennis Rodman and Jean-Claude Van Damme. By the end of the '90s, Rourke even had to sell off his motorcycles, one by one. ''Every time I would go broke, I would sell another motorcycle to get me by for about six months,'' he says. ''And then I got down to one motorcycle, and I called a friend at a construction company and I said, 'Can you get me a job out in the Valley where people won't know me?' He thought I was kidding and hung up the phone. I couldn't even get that!'' For the past few years, Rourke says that he even relied on handouts from friends, including one who gave him $200 a week so he could eat. ''Two hundred bucks will last you at McDonald's,'' he says. But just then, a younger generation of filmmakers showed up, such as Sean Penn (The Pledge), Steve Buscemi (Animal Factory), and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City). They'd been early idolizers and longtime fans of Rourke's, and now they found themselves in a position to give him another chance. ''Mickey is at least an intermittent reminder that truth and talent are the most stubborn of gifts,'' says Penn. ''Mickey's taken baseball bats to them, blowtorches, blackjacks, and bullwhips, and he just can't get rid of them. There's a beautiful heart inside that guy.'' So thought Aronofsky, when he decided to offer Rourke the lead in The Wrestler. On a cold March evening six months ago, Rourke was standing backstage at the Baker Theater in Dover, N.J., in a pair of lime green spandex tights. His hair was long and blond. He was freakishly pumped up with muscles, like 10 pounds of sausage in a five-pound casing. It was day 35 of The Wrestler and Rourke was getting ready to shoot the climactic sequence in the film, in which his character, The Ram, enters the ring before his final fight, grabs the microphone, and gives a farewell speech to a sea of hollering fans. ''I got a few words I'd like to say to all of ya,'' he begins. The Ram, tearing up, describes to the hushed audience how much he's given the sport and how much the sport has taken from him in return. How people said he was all washed up, how he wasn't pretty anymore, how they treated him like garbage. It's a hard scene to watch, and harder still to draw the line between where The Ram begins and the man playing him ends. Back in his living room six months later, Rourke's eyes well up again when he says that he wrote that speech himself. ''I can't watch it,'' he says of the scene. ''I haven't watched it. Maybe three or four years down the road.'' At first, Rourke wasn't eager to put himself through the emotional wringer that he knew would be required for The Wrestler. ''I knew Darren would want his pound of flesh,'' he says. In fact, Rourke says he was ''relieved'' when, at one point during the development process, Aronofsky said he'd have to find another star for his film. Every financier Aronofsky approached told him the same thing: that Mickey Rourke was too risky, too unsympathetic to carry The Wrestler. He had no choice but to offer Rourke's part to a more bankable actor. That's when Nicolas Cage came aboard. ''They said they needed a $20 million man,'' says Rourke, ''and I understood the politics. I have nobody to blame but myself. And Nicolas did a very gentlemanly thing. He called me up and said, 'I don't know what happened, but I just want your blessing.' I said, 'You got it, brother.' He didn't have to make that call.'' But Aronofsky didn't give up on Rourke. Eventually, he worked out a way to make the film on a smaller budget with Rourke as his star. And now, with more than just money on the line, but also his reputation and faith in his instincts, Aronofsky sat Rourke down and told him flat-out that he would not put up with any crap. Looking back, Rourke says, ''I like somebody who's going to tell me 'This is what it is, you're going to do it my way or let's not make the f--- ing movie.' I thought, Damn, this motherf---er must be talented. So I'll break my a-- for him.'' Rourke trained with an Israeli cage fighter for three months. During the shoot, he tore a ligament in his shoulder and injured his elbow and knee. He needed three MRIs. And for one scene, he slashed a razor across his forehead in the ring to get the crowd riled up by the sight of blood. ''Wrestlers call it gigging,'' says Rourke, pulling his hair back to show off the scar. It's then that Rourke hints at another conversation he had with Aronofsky before they started shooting, in which the director promised that if he worked harder than he ever had, he'd get nominated for an Oscar. ''That's a made-up story,'' laughs Aronofsky. ''I told Mickey if he did his work, then people would recognize it. I think Mickey interpreted it however he interpreted it.'' Back in his apartment, Rourke is still thinking about that conversation. He knows that even after he's gotten his story out, the Academy may not be ready to embrace a guy who had so much potential and threw it away. But Rourke has always been a fighter. And he won't go down easily. ''Listen, winning an Oscar ain't about performance,'' he says. ''There's a lot of politics involved. So if it's about politics and all that other stuff, that's one thing. But if it's about acting...'' Rourke doesn't finish the sentence. He doesn't have to. The smile on his face says it all.
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