You don’t cast Mickey Rourke in a wrestling picture thinking about awards.”
That’s what Darren Aronofsky says about hiring the actor to play retired professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson in “The Wrestler.” Yet since the film’s debut in September at the Venice Film Festival, everyone seems to be talking about Rourke’s triumphant bigscreen comeback and possible kudo attention.
Although he admired Aronofsky’s work, Rourke initially didn’t want the part. “I had no respect for wrestling coming from my boxing background,” he explains.
The script also hit a little too close to home.
“After I read it, I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is what I’ve lived,’ ” Rourke recalls. “This is a guy who is living in a state of shame, who was once somebody and is now a has-been. I didn’t know if I wanted to revisit those really dark places and get in touch with those emotions.”
Eventually Aronofsky persuaded him to take the part, but then replaced him with Nicolas Cage.
“I was kind of relieved, but everyone on my team was devastated,” Rourke laughs.
Although he was replaced, thesp had “a terrifying instinct” that he would get the role back. So he started working out with an Israeli cage-fighting champion to help him pack on 46 pounds of muscle over a six-month period.
Rourke was eventually rehired, but despite his training he found wrestling “difficult.”
“It took awhile for it to click in and for me to realize that it’s entertainment,” he says. “And even though it’s entertaining, you still get really hurt.”
At one point, after injuring his back, Rourke wasn’t sure he could go on filming. “I called my agent and said, ‘I don’t know if I can do the movie,’ ” Rourke remembers.
But after a visit to the doctor’s office and an anti-inflammatory prescription, Rourke was back on the set.
Injuries aside, Rourke says the most taxing scenes weren’t in the ring but instead the emotionally wrenching ones with co-star Evan Rachel Wood, who plays his daughter. The two have a very contentious relationship, with Robinson having left her alone when she was a child.
“I would do a few takes with her and go, ‘I got it,’ but then Darren would tell me to do it again. I’d turn to him and say, ‘Didn’t we just get it, brother?’ His response was always, ‘Do it better.’ He really knew how to get it out of me.”
Favorite film this year
“I haven’t gone to the movies.”
“You have to be accountable.”
“I’ve always wanted to be an actor like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Harvey Keitel.”