Mickey Rourke Interview THE WRESTLER

     December 23, 2008

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Since the Venice Film Festival, I’ve been hearing the insane buzz regarding director Darren Aronofsky’s new movie “The Wrestler”. People have been raving about not only the film, but Mickey Rourke’s performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. And now that I’ve seen it, I understand why.

Simply put, “The Wrestler” is one of the best films I’ve seen this year and I cannot recommend it enough. Performances from the entire cast are amazing, and as you watch the movie, you feel like you’re watching a documentary rather than something scripted. Go see this movie.

Anyway, I recently was able to participate in roundtable interviews with the cast and the one below is with Mickey Rourke.

During our conversation, Mickey talked about not only making “The Wrestler”, but his last few years and what happened in his life. It’s a great and honest interview with someone who is clearly happy to be back in front of the camera.

As always, you can either read the transcript or listen to the audio by clicking here. Finally, here’s a link to some clips from “The Wrestler” and here’s Matt’s review.

Question: You didn’t bring your dog today.

Mickey Rourke: No. Well, she’s like 16 1/2 now. I’ve got to like pick and choose my time and place with her. She’s resting upstairs.

We had a good time with her last time.

Mickey Rourke: Yeah, she’s an old gal now. She had a stroke and she’s got what’s called old dog syndrome. So I’ve got to be real gentle with her.

How did you approach this character?

Mickey: Well, I think the main thing was what attracted me to the piece was the fact that I had an opportunity to work with a really special director. In the years I’ve been working, I can count them on maybe four or five fingers, and I could put him right there right at the top of the list with Coppola and the rest of them, Cimino, Adrian Lyne. And I think guys like him come around every 30 years, and I think he’s going to have a long, a very distinguished career and break some new ground with the way he shoots films. You know, what I like about him right now is he’s not making movies to become rich. He lets his wife do that. He’s very uncompromising. He has a lot of integrity, and he’s smarter than the rest of us. I knew why he wanted me to do this part. I mean, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. But he really fought for me to do this role when he had a lot of resistance, and he kept fighting for me to do it. And then finally, I lost the part, and I guess even when I lost it, he kept fighting for me to do it. And it worked out. And I think the thing I was afraid of most is when I met him, he’s very much an authority kind of figure. He’s very direct. He’s very uncompromising with everything in his life, I think. He likes to think of himself as this liberal, open-minded kind of person, but he’s really the captain and he runs the ship, and that’s just the way it is. And when he points his finger at you, he doesn’t understand that going like this, that somebody may break it.

And he didn’t meet me 15 years ago, thank God. [laughs] If somebody said to me, “Do you think you could have given the same performance 15 years ago?” and I went, “Fuck yeah.” And then when I thought about it, I went, “No. I would have told him to [fuck off], or kicked him in the ass,” you know? He just was smart enough and instinctive enough that when we had to do really hard scenes, or important scenes, emotional scenes like the one with Evan, he brought the best out of me in a certain kind of way that he spoke to me. And I had already, as an actor, made an inner choice in what I was using, and he didn’t disturb that at all. But he would say little things to me to just raise the bar each take. And he said the right things, and he just surprised me, because I had thought I already delivered two takes that were gold. And then he’d come over, and he’d just talk to me in a way that maybe Vince Lombardi would talk to a player when he just needed like two more yards, “Just give me two more yards,” you know? And I really enjoyed that way. It was competitive in a way. He challenged me in a way. I remember one time I was at a boxing match and I was getting the piss kicked out of me, and I went back to the corner and Freddy Roach said something to me and slapped me in the face, and I was able to go back and take care of business because I had to. And with Darren, it’s the same way. You got to keep moving forward. And you can only do that with a director if you trust him and you respect him. He just earned more and more trust and respect each day. And I think he felt that way about me, and I felt that way about him. And when we were working with Evan, it just rubbed off. And she was already talented enough in her own right. To me, she’s the best actress I ever worked with. Under the circumstances of her and I…Like I said, I didn’t even know her name. We just did it. We introduced ourselves like a week or two later. I couldn’t remember her name anyway. But the hardest part, really, was getting myself physically ready to pull off looking like these…Because these guys are fucking huge. I walk around 192 pounds, and to get up to 235 over a six month period, it took a lot of work. So it started there, you know? I remember when it was, “Oh, we’re going to work.” I just felt like I did three movies in the gym, you know? And like I said, there weren’t even chairs to sit in. The extras were like half of Darren’s family from Brooklyn. It was that kind of shoot. Everybody was sweating and working 17 hours a day. And I remember waking up in the morning getting like a 4 1/2, 5 hour sleep, because we were pushing, doing double turnarounds. I remember getting out of bed. I couldn’t get out of bed until the trainer would pick me up, because everything just didn’t work. The knees and the back. And getting out of bed feeling like I just got into bed. And it was grueling. It was really hard. And it wasn’t hard just for me, it was from the camera operator all the way down to Darren. Nobody really slept, nobody really rested, and everybody just worked their ass off for this guy.

You’ve overcome a lot of personal obstacles in your life. How does it feel to be back on top of your game? You’ve been mentioned for several awards.

Mickey: Yeah. I mean, when shit started to happen for us in Venice, we didn’t even have a distributor. I mean, I knew and felt we had something after like six days, but I didn’t know it would go this far. [laughs] Then we went to Toronto, and people were really receptive. And some reviews came out that were really [positive]…I wasn’t really surprised at that. I think the thing that’s kind of unreal is after like ten years went by and I wasn’t working…You know, I thought, “I really don’t want to be in this business if I’m going to come in and work a day or two.” You know, that kind of career. You know, “If I can’t be the man, then I’d rather just go back to Miami and do whatever the fuck lands on my lap.” And I think after Sin City, that kind of opened the door a little bit, and then this thing kicked the door down. And I’m really lucky to have a second chance, because I really misbehaved for 15 years really fucking badly. And I regret it. I just didn’t have the tools to change at the time, and to really work and change myself outside, and work with somebody, get information on why I misbehaved, and destroyed everything I worked so hard to do, that I worked really hard to be the best actor I could be when I was at the actor studio. And I think early on, with early success, that brought old wounds up, and I questioned my life and what happened in my life. And instead of feeling good about it, I was really angry about it.

Were there moments playing Randy where it felt uncomfortable?

Mickey: Many. Yeah. It was one of the reasons when I was replaced early on where everybody was upset about it but me. Because when I sat across from Darren, I was looking at him and listening, and the monotone voice he has, and the way he looks at you…You can see how smart the guy is just hearing him…I knew he’d want his pound of flesh, you know? And I knew why he wanted me. And I thought, “I’m going to have to revisit some really dark, painful places.” I wasn’t so much worried about the physical stuff as I was that, and then not getting paid to work so hard. And I think I was relieved when I was replaced, because I thought, “Oh, let me just go do some half-ass movie, get paid ten times more than they’re offering me on this.” But there was the other side of my brain that went, “This is a chance to work with somebody really good.” And I think there was a lot of the character in the movie that I kind of didn’t really want to go there, you know? The closeness of it was kind of…The guy’s desperate, sort of hopeless situation that he’s in. And I remember when the movie was over, during my lost years, Springsteen and I were friends for 20 years, and I didn’t even talk to him for like 13 years. I wrote him this letter, this long letter about how I had been lucky because I hit bottom, and then I was able to find someone to give me information why, and why these things happened to me, why I reacted, why the anger and the armor and the toughness and all that macho shit and the craziness and the being unaccountable and not worried about consequences–why all that surfaced again. There were issues I had that weren’t really about those, it was more about shame and I was hiding with the other thing, and I think the success made me just short circuit and hate being…I don’t know, I hated stuff. I think I wanted to be taken care of when I was little, and not when I was an adult.

Would you say you’re lucky to be alive now?

Mickey: Oh, yeah. Due to natural circumstances or my own, fuck yeah. [laughs] I mean, thank God. But when I wrote Bruce’s letter, I said in the letter to him, I’m lucky that I was able to meet a few good men to help me change my ways, and the change took place over a long period of time. And I wrote to him, how Randy doesn’t have this available. And so I think when you hear the song, he got it. He got it all. And I think that’s one of the reasons why he wrote the song for us. And we couldn’t afford to pay him. And we couldn’t afford to pay Axl. And those guys stepped up to the plate for us in a big way.

Was “Sweet Child of Mine”…

Mickey: Yeah, when I used to fight, I used to come out to that song. So there was one day when I was getting ready to come out in front of this live arena. Because we were shooting between live shows. I remember standing backstage, and I started going like this. “Whoa.” It’s not a boxing match. But it’s got…”fucking bring it.” Because in the dressing room, you’re all nervous and scared. But when your music comes on, that’s when you come out and you’re not supposed to be afraid anymore. That’s when the fun stuff starts.

Is acting kind of the ring for you?

Mickey: Sure. Man, you know, I love competition. I used to love playing football in high school. I played with the same guys for 10 years. We played as a team, and it was competitive, you know? I don’t want to lose a game by one touchdown or one point. I don’t want to fucking lose at all, you know? I don’t want to lose when I’m playing sports, and I don’t want to lose when I’m acting. Darren’s going to challenge me to bring it, and to be the best actor I can be. And I’m going to give him every fucking thing. I’m going to give him my fucking blood. I got no problem with that at all, you know? And people go, “Oh, it isn’t competitive.” It is competitive. I worked with actors that can competitively raise you to another level, because they’re working off you. And you can get some son of a bitch in there that wants to do something different, and then I’ll just roll him up and smoke him like a cheap cigarette. So either you can work together and bring each other up to another level, or you can do that other thing, and then I’ll make toast out of your ass. So it’s up to the other person, you know?

Have you spoken to some of the wrestlers who have seen the movie?

Mickey: Yes.

What was their reaction?

Mickey: Well, that was one of the big hoorahs we got. We went up to do one of them BAFTA Q&As…And Darren with his big mouth goes, “I hear Rowdy Randy Piper’s in the audience. Are you there?” And we hear a few seconds later, “Yeah, I’m here.” And he looks at me and he goes…So then he goes, “We’d like to know…This is your world, and we hope we made a movie that depicts you in a way that you could…Did you like it or did you hate it? Do you have anything to say?” And there was a long pause. Darren looks over at me and he did that thing with his eyebrows. “Darren’s nervous.” It’s like when I took him to see Springsteen and he shit himself. You know, there’s 85,000 people in Giants Stadium, and we go backstage to meet him, Darren goes, “I’m nervous, I never get nervous.” And I go, “Shut up and come with me.” And then Rowdy Piper went on to give us the highest compliments that anybody could give. I mean, man, it was like we made this movie and these are the guys we wanted to pay homage to, other than make a respectable movie. So Rowdy Piper and I and Darren, we met backstage, and he was very emotional about it, and he said some things about being at the other end of your career. You know, he’s not in Madison Square Garden right now, and it’s a really hard thing to hear.

Did you base your character on a specific wrestler?

Mickey: Only the hearing aid thing was from a wrestler that I knew that my brother was friends with. We’d be in Gold’s Gym pumping iron–we’re talking 15, 16 years ago–and I’d say, “Magic…” (His name was Magic.) And I would joke, and my brother would go, “Bro, he ain’t got his fucking hearing aids.” [laughs] So I’d say something to him and I’d walk over, and I’d see Magic go…But he did it in both ears. He had one in each ear.

Are there any projects on the horizon that you’re looking at taking on?

Mickey: I’ve got one more day’s work on this movie called 13 with Ray Winstone. Great actor. One of the reasons I’m doing it is the ensemble of actors who are in it. It’s a remake of a French movie called 13 Tzameti. About all these guys playing Russian roulette. Jason Statham, who’s a fucking great actor. I mean, he does The Transporters, you know, but if you see him in Snatch and these other movies, London, he’s incredible. The ensemble’s great. Curtis Jackson, who’s 50 Cent. Ben Gazzara. There is a really interesting young actor, Sam Riley.

Who do you play in this film?

Mickey: It’s not a character that’s in the original movie. It’s a character that he wanted to develop and we added. It’s an added character. It’s a guy who is from Texas who they end up smuggling out of a jail in Mexico because all the guys are in this ring, this circle who play Russian roulette. Ray Winstone’s from an insane asylum, the other guy’s from a jail, the other guys, two busboys they capture. And then you’ve got all these guys in there, 17 guys playing Russian roulette. And it’s based on like the kid #13, Sam Riley’s role, who’s there by accident. And it’s a very interesting director, Gela Babluani. And it’s like I’m not always going to be able to work with Darren Aronofsky, so I said to myself, “So things don’t go wrong again, I’ve got to work with people who have integrity and are very interesting, and smart, and want to cast the best people they can, and then I’m going to feel good about myself.” I’m not going to go off and make Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man because they’re paying me a whole bunch of money. I’d rather take a whole lot less money and work with really good people, or just not work at all.

Can you talk about when you first went into the ring in front of a crowd? Because you did it between…

Mickey:…in between real wrestling matches, yeah. I was shitting myself. I was 234 pounds of muscle, and I had to do this one scene where I flip over and do the scissors. And I hadn’t nailed it in rehearsals. We got real close. And I wanted to do it because it was hard to do. And I remember because my hands are pretty busted up from boxing, and they lock on me. So I remember for that scene, I put extra tape on my hands and I took my kneepads out so I’d be a little lighter. Because I thought, “If I nail it, I’m going to nail it on the first take. Or, in front of all these people, I’m going to be falling down worse and worse and worse.” And I hit in on the first. And it’s a real hard maneuver. Especially being 30 pounds heavier. And I remember going, “I’ve got to press down, I’ve got to jump.” And I did it. And I’m more proud of that than anything in the fucking movie, really. [laughs] I looked over at Darren and I had a big smile on my face, so did he, and I go, “That’s it, one take. Let’s go. Move. I can’t do that again.”

Have you reached a place of peace with yourself now?

Mickey: I’m getting there. I’m almost…I’m pretty much there, kind of, sort of. As much as probably I’ll ever be. If that’s the question, that’s the answer: as much as I’ll ever be. There’s always going to be a war going on inside of me. That’s just, I think, my make-up. It just gives me the fire to burn to keep moving forward. But a lot comes with the territory. I’ve just got to keep a lid on it.

What’s the status of Sin City 2?

Mickey: I have no idea about that. You’ll have to talk to them confused people.

Did you watch the De La Hoya fight?

Mickey: I absolutely did, and the right guy…The best trainer was in Manny Pacquiao’s corner, and the best fighter kicked his [De La Hoya’s] ass.

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