Talking Mickey Rourke with Director Darren Aronofsky
by Kevin Powers
December 24, 2008
By now we've reported quite a bit on Darren Aronofsky's latest, The Wrestler, and you've probably already read my glowing review of the film. But since The Wrestler finally steps outside of just New York and Los Angeles based theaters come Friday this week, I thought I'd share part of a conversation I had with the director recently, particularly on the topic of Mickey Rourke and how it was working with the 52 year old actor. It would have been fascinating to talk to Rourke personally (next time Fox Searchlight, please!) but Aronofsky offers a lot of great insight into making the film by way of Rourke's involvement.
In early development on the film, Nicolas Cage was slotted to play The Ram (I think we can be thankful that didn't happen). How Rourke, who is perfect in the role, came to Aronofsky's mind is lost, partly because Rourke didn't initially seem like a shoo-in for the weathered wrestler. "The actual lightbulb moment is lost. I know I was circling him in '05. I wanted to meet him. I was curious. But I think… I wasn't sure. He had a reputation, and to be honest, I didn't know if he had the physicality. He's like 190 lbs. in normal life, but he's not a huge guy. He's a boxer. But to be convincing as a pro wrestler is a whole different level of muscle. But he put on 35 lbs of muscle for the role over six months, and was really committed to that."
"So it was a real transformation. So although there are connections between this guy's life and Mickey's life, I think there's a whole end of it that Mickey had to create. But as soon as I met him, I knew. 'Cause I could just see that he had it. He still had all that passion bubbling in him, and there was all this armor. But if you look into his eyes, he was, this soft little guy. That was kind of the spirit I wanted to capture."
Rourke certainly has a storied career. But given his Golden Globe nomination and hopefully an Oscar one, too, The Wrestler is arguably going to wipe away any residual stigma he has. "The guy has been amazing for a long time. He's just hasn't had the chance in 15 years to play anything but tough guys. In Sin City he was sympathetic a bit, but he was underneath all that makeup, so you're not really seeing him act. But no one's really given him that chance." Aronofksy was able to give Rourke that opportunity, but the financing wasn't easy. "No one believed Mickey could be sympathetic. Every single financier in the business said that. Leave it to the French to come through. But we had to redesign it to make it fit the money we had."
On whether Rourke has seen the film and what he thought of his performance, Aronofsky says, "He hasn't seen it. He's seen pieces of it, and I think he's happy. I've seen him watching out of the corner of his eyes… with semi-closed fingers [over his face]. He hated doing the deli scene, yet everyone talks to him about it. I think he was really connecting to the shame of the character and could feel the embarrassment. He hated working with the kid in that Nintendo scene. He hates child actors. And people keep saying, 'oh it's so funny in those scenes.' I think in a year or two he'll probably sit down and watch it. He doesn't like watching it. Cause, I'm sure, he remembers other things… it'll be painful for him, I'm sure."
I want to thank Fox Searchlight and Darren Aronofsky for the time and conversation. The Wrestler continues to expand across the country, and is a tremendous, poetic film that you simply must see.