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 Weeks, Angel 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 Fountain, Requiem 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
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
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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.