Return of the King, Mickey Rourke

By Michele Manelis

Mickey Rourke's career was saved after his performance in The Wrestler and now he can be a bit more choosy in his roles, the latest of which is King Hyperion in Immortals. Photo / Supplied
Mickey Rourke's career was saved after his performance in The Wrestler and now he can be a bit more choosy in his roles, the latest of which is King Hyperion in Immortals. Photo / Supplied

He's outspoken, quite often offensive, and mighty entertaining, that Mickey Rourke. Though he's mellowed a little these days, compared to his rabble-rousing years during the 80s and 90s, you can still rely on the 59-year-old actor to let rip with some colourful language, brutal honesty, and snorts of disgust during an interview.

This is Rourke reflecting on his criteria for picking acting roles: "Sometimes you take jobs for money. Sometimes for the glory. This one," he says, referring to his latest swords-and-sandals epic Immortals, "was just for fun. You don't always get the perfect piece of ass."

Aware that he might have stepped into the same kind of trouble that put him in career exile a few years back, he qualifies himself. "Well, Immortals is entertainment, and it looks great," he shrugs. "It isn't really my kind of movie but I liked [director Tarsem Singh's] commercial reel, especially what he did with Nike, and thought he would make this material respectable and transcend it," he says.

Rourke is right. Singh, whose previous film credits include The Fall and The Cell, is a visually oriented director and Immortals is another highly stylised canvas.

Also from the producers of blockbuster 300, which grossed US$450 million ($608 million) worldwide, Immortals is a fictional story set against a backdrop of Greek mythology. It's full of lush costumes, toned and naked torsos, and state-of-the-art special effects. To its credit, the US$75 million budget has been spent on the screen and not lining the pockets of its stars.

British up-and-comer, Henry Cavill (The Tudors) stars in the leading role as a heroic villager who rises against Rourke's character Hyperion, the megalomaniac king who tries to destroy mankind. Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) plays the pivotal role of the all-knowing Oracle, and the cast is rounded out by Australia's Isabel Lucas (Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen) and the critically acclaimed John Hurt.

Rourke is perfectly cast as the larger-than-life King Hyperion, whose headgear could rival any of Lady Gaga's attention-grabbing paraphernalia.

"The costumes were really heavy to wear, but that's not the most difficult part. I find it hard to watch myself on screen. I get agitated, and getting older makes it worse because I'm watching myself fall apart."

Rourke has had a spectacular rise and fall - and rise again in Hollywood. The infamous New York-born actor was one of the most successful leading men of the 80s when he starred in such movies as Rumble Fish, 9 & a 1/2 Weeks, and Barfly. The 90s were not kind to him. Due to his self-destructive tendencies he was labelled "difficult" by top-tier Hollywood directors and producers. He certainly sounds like he was, er, difficult back in those days. "Someone would knock on my trailer and say, 'Five minutes, Mr Rourke,' I'd yell, 'Yeah, f*** you'. Then I'd show up two hours later." Consequently, he was deemed unemployable.

The unravelling of Rourke was not restricted to his professional life. It included an arrest in 1994 for spousal abuse concerning then-wife, actress Carre Otis (who he co-starred with in 1989's Wild Orchid), and another arrest in 1997 on drink-driving charges.

During his hiatus from acting, he reconnected with his first passion, boxing, an activity in which he found peace of mind. From 1991 until 1995 he fought internationally and was undefeated in eight fights. During that time he suffered a bout of injuries including a broken nose, toe, ribs, cheekbone and trouble with short-term memory loss. Boxing promoters suggested he was a little long-in-the-tooth to continue. The former pretty boy, now almost unrecognisable from blows to the face, underwent reconstructive surgery in the hopes of returning to the big screen. (He has since described his face as "a mess" and has said of the plastic surgeon's work, "I went to the wrong guy".).

But today at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, the redeemed actor reflects on his journey back to gainful employment.

"I've made an attempt to change my old ways and I've mended some fences a little bit. I've taken the blame for my fall from grace. Sometimes you have to do that. When you look in the mirror, you can't say, 'I blame it on everybody else'. I take all the blame for the devastation of my career in the 90s."

But Hollywood loves a comeback story. And since his 2008 Oscar-nominated turn in The Wrestler, Rourke has portrayed a litany of riotous and memorable villains in movies such as Iron Man 2, Killshot, and The Expendables.

Now he's sitting at the top of the heap, or nearing it, does he worry about pushing the self-destruct button again?

"I'm always worried because I know what's inside of me. I could lose it in an hour and my career will be over again. I could do something and in 10 minutes I'd be right back where I was," he says.

"It's not my nature to hold myself back, but the thing is, when I talk to my head doctor, I realise that there are repercussions. These days people are afraid in this business of confrontation and everything is so f***ing political that you have to think about everything. They're so afraid they're not going to work tomorrow that they spend their life kissing ass," Rourke snorts.

These days he says he keeps himself in check. "I have to, or else they've won. It's like the old saying, 'Only a fool trips over the same rock twice'. But also, I've learned to count to 10 a little better." He pauses. "For 13 years I sat in a rented room. The phone didn't ring. That's a humbling, lonely, exhausting, disgusting, terrible place to be. I thought the dance was over, but I wasn't going to give it up. I went to the psychiatrist, I kept going to the gym, I kept thinking, 'Okay, tomorrow I'm going to turn it around'.

"Then a little bit of luck showed up when I met an agent, David Unger, who put his career on the line and believed that I could have a second chance again. Then I landed the role in The Wrestler."

Four years later, he's immortalised on Hollywood's Walk of Fame where his hands and feet will remain forever imprinted. "Before I was working I'd walk down there and look at George Raft or John Wayne. It's like a bone-yard there.

"During the ceremony I'm thinking, 'Why are they making me go there now while I'm still standing in my boots?'," he says with characteristic irreverence.

How does he feel thinking back on his Oscar-nominated evening in 2008 when many believe Sean Penn, who won Best Actor for Milk robbed Rourke of his well-deserved award for The Wrestler?

"Oh, I do have the Oscar," he deadpans. "Technically speaking, Sean is holding it as his house. Sean's mother even said that to me and that's the way I look at it," he says with a laugh.

Lowdown
Who:
Mickey Rourke

What: Immortals, in cinemas now

Past films: Rumble Fish (1983); 9 1/2 Weeks (1986); Angel Heart (1987) Barfly (1987); Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991); The Wrestler (2008)

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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