VENICE (Reuters) - Mickey Rourke seals his comeback with a critically acclaimed performance as a lonely, washed out wrestler whose life painfully echoes that of the troubled Hollywood outsider.
“The Wrestler” is directed by Darren Aronofsky and is the last of 21 films in the main competition to premiere at the 2008 Venice film festival.
Although a latecomer, the moving story of a man’s personal isolation and professional decline was immediately singled out as a favorite for the Golden Lion award for best film and the best actor prize for Rourke.
Rourke, who spent much of the last 15 years in the acting wilderness with a reputation for being difficult and volatile on set, named his physically and emotionally challenging performance in “The Wrestler” as his best yet.
“People for the last 15, 20 years would say, ‘What’s the favorite movie you’ve ever done, what’s your best work?'” Rourke told Reuters in an interview in Venice.
“And I would say: ‘I haven’t made it yet.’ And I can honestly say right now, the best fucking movie I’ve ever made is this,” added the actor, who online biographies say is 51.
“Three of the hardest movies I ever made -- ‘9-1/2 Weeks’, ‘Angel Heart’ and ‘Year of the Dragon’ -- and you could take all three of those movies and roll them into one and it wouldn’t have been as hard as this.”
Rourke trained hard in a Miami gym to put on the bulk required for the part. He also worked with professional wrestlers for scenes in the ring, a task complicated by the fact that he is a trained boxer.
The parallels between Rourke’s troubled private life and checkered professional past and the trials of his character Randy “The Ram” Robinson will not be lost on audiences.
“Because of the way I work, I go to those places, go into places where I have to tap into some painful shit about my father, my wife, my brother,” said Rourke, his face marked by the surgery he has had for various fighting injuries.
“I’ll be a basket case when I‘m done with the movie, which is actually exactly what happened.”
He explained how at one stage he was replaced in the lead role by a major Hollywood star, only to be recalled when the unnamed actor withdrew.
“There was a part of me that went, ‘You know what? If I want to reclaim my career, and really have a chance to show what I should have shown 15 years ago, this (Aronofsky) is the man to do it.'”
He explained how the character of Randy, who lives alone and struggles to survive in a young man’s world, reflected the rejection he often faced as an actor.
“You get to a certain place and they want to put you out to pasture, you know? But there’s some men that just aren’t ready to go. When they said to me, ‘You career’s over,’ I said, ‘Oh yeah? God will tell me when my fucking career’s over, not you.'”
For Aronofsky, Venice was a brave choice as launching pad for “The Wrestler” after his previous picture “The Fountain” received a cool reaction in the canal city in 2006.
He need have no worries in 2008, however, with early reviews raving about the new movie.
“Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances,” wrote Todd McCarthy in Variety.
Editing by Matthew Jones