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A Requiem for Mickey Rourke — Battling His Way Back To Stardom and the Oscar Nom Through The Wrestle

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Mickey Rourke at the New York press day for "The Wrestler."

Mickey Rourke at the New York press day for “The Wrestler.”

Mickey Rourke

A Requiem for Rourke — Battling His Way Back To Stardom and the Oscar Nom Through The Wrestler

by Brad Balfour

You got to hand it to roughhouse actor Mickey Rourke. When he makes a comeback, he makes a helluva comeback. For thirteen years, the now-aging actor — once the superstar who had made 9 1/2 WeeksAngel Heart and Barfly — had abused his body and mind, and, in turn, abused nearly everyone in the industry. He had become so washed up; he once felt a return to boxing was a better course of action rather than acting.

So when director Darren Aronofsky [The FountainRequiem For A Dream] asked Rourke to play the part of battered, aging wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a darling of pro-wrestling’s ascension during the ’80s, he promised to keep his nose clean — yet all the studios wanted anyone else other than Rourke. Nonetheless, Aronofsky believed that only Rourke could portray “The Ram” as he goes through his ramshackle routine, tries to recover ties with a long-lost daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), survive a medical emergency, and connect with a stripper he’s fallen for (Marisa Tomei).

Rourke had been sufficiently ground down through his decline of the last dozen or so years to respect the situation and not squander this opportunity. Somehow, he pulled it together for Aronofsky — famous for making a film, Requiem For A Dream, that detailed its characters’ total decay through drugs — so that the director wouldn’t make the film without him. This mutual understanding led to such a sympatico that Rourke, and Tomei for that matter, have been rewarded with Oscar nominations and various award wins along the way.

Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler."

Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.”

What do you think about making this comeback?

It’s funny, because everybody talks about that. But when you’ve been out of work for certain amount of time — for a decade or so — you’re kind of wary of it all. I’m at a point where I behaved so terribly when I had a chance. I wasn’t accountable. I wasn’t responsible. I wasn’t professional. It wasn’t that I was misunderstood. I behaved terribly because I had a fuse burning inside of me that I couldn’t put out. I didn’t have the knowledge of how to do that; until I went and got information to understand why I behave the way I do with authority figures. Only until you do that can you make a change. I thought it’d take a year, a year and a half. I didn’t realize it was going to take ten years. Before, I didn’t care about repercussions. There were no rules. I wrote [Bruce] Springsteen a letter. He knows my deal. I wrote how I was fortunate enough to have access to some advice and to change. [Springsteen provided the film with its signature title song.] Randy doesn’t have the capabilities or the access or the information or the know-how or the brains to change. So he’s just going to live in misery in that trailer, and serve coleslaw and potato salad and pick up dishes.

How close was the scene in which The Ram was reduced to working in a deli to your own life? Are there parallels between your life and The Ram’s?

It was right there. I remember back in LA… I think I ran out of motorcycles, and I called up a friend to see if I could get a construction job. I thought, “If I could work in the Valley somewhere, nobody will recognize me.” I call up my friend in the construction business and I said, “Listen, I need a construction job.” He said, “Mickey, I’m really busy. I don’t have time for your shit right now.” I was sitting there and I remember thinking, “Jesus Christ. I can’t even get a fucking construction job.” So it was that close.

How did you learn how to wrestle?

I owe everything I do to the guys that Darren surrounded me with. He picked Afa, who brought in these other pro wrestlers, these young guys. We worked together, because it’s all teamwork. We had choreographed the wrestling matches pretty basically [with moves] that any half-assed athlete could do. Then what started to happen after about like two and a half months was one of the guys was very gymnastically inclined. He, like, got bored and started doing these fucking moves. I thought, “Wow. Man, I want to do that.” So I’d go in on Sundays with him alone and do it and not tell Darren. So what I said was, “I want to nail three or four fucking moves that nobody could do.” And I got so hurt. I had three MRI’s in two months. I’ve never flipped over in my life — like done a back flip and a scissors into the ring. I couldn’t do it. Weeks would go by and I couldn’t do it. Then finally… if you work hard enough at anything in your life, you’re going to fucking do it.

Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler."

Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.”

What wrestlers did you become close with while making the movie?

Mainly, Afa, Dwayne Johnson’s uncle. He was one of the Wild Samoans back in the ’80s. And I talked to The Rock the other day. I told him, “We’re sending you [the movie] and we want to hear what you have to say, too.” I didn’t know it was his uncle. All the Samoans say they’re related to each other. I thought when Afa’s going on about his ‘nephew,’ “Yeah, every Samoan is related to Dwayne Johnson.” And they are related. And when he spoke very fondly of him, it was like, “Wow.”

What did you do to get into shape to play “The Ram?”

It was a process over six months of putting on the weight. I had to put on muscle and not fat and I had never done that before. I’ve had to lose weight — 20 pounds over 12 weeks — and I thought that was murder. So, I thought, “Oh great, I get to eat.” You can’t just eat anything or you’re going to put fat on. But you’re going to put fat on anyway, because you’re eating six or seven meals a day. You have to make sure you’re doing the weight lifting and the cardio, so it’s like never ending in the gymnasium for me. I have to admit, since I’ve done the movie, I haven’t walked into a gym. I’ve just done weights at home. I just can’t go to a gym yet, because it was hell…

How many months did you train?

It was six months. It was three times a day, under this Israeli ex-army commando guy, who was a martial arts champion. They met him in Miami and I thought, “Wow. This guy won’t take any shit.” I wanted someone who was very disciplined, because I didn’t want to control this. I wanted somebody who wasn’t going to kiss my ass. I didn’t want a trainer where I could go, “Well, I don’t feel like working out today.” This guy took it personally if I didn’t show up. Actually, I was staying at a hotel. I had a late night and I wasn’t answering my phone. He actually came up to the room, knocked on the door. I tried to roll up in a little ball and get the covers over me and hope that he’d go away. The prick went down and got the key… He was like, “You were out till five in the morning. I heard. I got the report.” He would know where I was and [that] I was out until five AM. So after me doing that a couple of times, he pulled me aside and he says, “You see the pictures that we looked at that we want to look like.” I say, “Yes.” He said, “When this movie goes, do you want to look like that or do you want to look like this the first time you see yourself up there?” I go, “I want to look like that.” So he really put the wood to me… Even when I was out late, I managed to get my tired ass to the gym and just do endless hours, putting on weight. Every time my hands were empty, he’d stick a shake in my hand about this big, and say “Drink.”

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler."

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.”

Were you trying to go for a certain wrestler’s look?

Yeah, like Lex Luger. And then when we Googled him, we were surprised to see how he ended up.

Did you see similarities between Luger and The Ram? Did Luger end up a lot like The Ram; and how common was your character’s story to that of the real life of a wrestler?

Well, from what we Googled, yeah. We stopped at a certain point. You know, we’ve showed this movie around a bit and we had a screening out in LA about three weeks ago. And during the question and answer period, Darren says, “I hear that Roddy Piper is in the audience.” Darren tells me who Piper is and how he’s a great wrestler and icon from the ’80s. And then he says, “Are you here in the audience?” Then we hear, “Yeah, I’m here.” It was the first time I heard [Darren] stutter. He says, “Www-well what did you think of the movie? Did you like it? Did you hate it? Do you have anything to say?” Then there was a silence again. Then we hear, “Yeah, I’ve got a lot to say.” We’re both looking at each other like, “Oh fuck. This is the real deal. This isn’t somebody from our camp.” He went on to pay us the highest compliments that we could wish for. And actually he got a little emotional about it. And it was hard holding this guy and hearing him and talking back to him. [We] got an understanding where he’s been — the journey that he’s been on and all the others that were like him. Because when your time has come and gone and that’s the only thing you know, you can’t go and be a goddamn bus boy somewhere. You just can’t do it. And the options aren’t a lot. And it’s not very pretty.

Marisa Tomei and Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler."

Marisa Tomei and Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.”

What do you think about your newfound success? 

It’s painfully nice. You know, I was on the bench for thirteen years. And, you know, after like ten years go by, you really kind of start thinking that all you have is hope. Time goes by; you start thinking, “Is it really fucking over with like everybody says it is?” When you’re in a town like LA, you’re reminded every fucking day. You’ll be buying a pack of cigarettes at two in the morning on line with five or six people, and some jerk will say, “Hey, didn’t you use to be in…?” It’s like, “Fuck. Just give me my cigarettes so I can get the fuck out of here.” And you hear, “Why don’t you work anymore?” You have to hear it 24/7. Or someone will come up and mention 9 ½ Weeks or fucking Angel Heart. And it’s like, “Yeah. That was a fucking long time ago.” It’s like a fighter talking about an old fight in a gym. You see it all the time.

Did you get any fulfillment during your lean years from your cult following and fan sites?

No, because that’s what you did. [Pounds hand on table.] It’s the same as Randy. He did it twenty years ago, fucking fifteen years ago. You can’t pay your rent on that. You can’t get laid on that. You can’t go have a drink on that. You’re yesterday’s fucking news. You get treated differently… After ten fucking years, you go, “The party’s over.” There were small things along the way. Sean Penn went out of his way to get me a day on The Pledge. [Sylvester] Stallone saw me eating at a restaurant one night when I could hardly pay for my fucking spaghetti, and he put me in Get Carter. [Director] Tony Scott put me in Domino. [Director] Robert Rodriguez gave me a bit in [Once Upon a Time in Mexico]. It’s been a slow journey back… You do whatever you can to survive. I sold all my motorcycles. I used to have nine motorcycles.

Copyright ©2009  All rights reserved.  Posted: February 8, 2009.

Photo Credits:#1 © 2008 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.#2 © 2008. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.#3 © 2008. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.#4 © 2008. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.#5 © 2008. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.


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