Film takes physical, emotional toll on Rourke

NEW YORK — The Mickey Rourke comeback campaign alighted on the New York Film Festival with “The Wrestler” on Wednesday. The thesp choked up at one point during a post-screening news conference as he was asked about the similarities between the down-and-out grappler he plays in the Darren Aronofsky film and his own career.

“If I knew that it would take 15 years to get back into the saddle, I would have done things differently,” Rourke said during the Q&A sesh at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater.

“I’m trying to do things differently this time around, trying to be responsible, trying to be a professional, to be consistent. Those are things that weren’t in my vocabulary back then. I didn’t want to change until I lost everything …”

Rourke trailed off as he began to choke up.

Aronofsky said the pic’s U.S. preem, which will close out the 46th edition of the fest on Oct. 12, marks the start of a whirlwind promo tour as Fox Searchlight looks to sell the film to auds and awards voters before its Dec. 19 release. Pic won the Golden Lion at Venice and was snapped up by Fox Searchlight at Toronto last month.

After the screening, journos and crix noted that the blurring of the lines between Rourke and his character, Randy “the Ram” Robinson, is the key selling point of the film. Aronofsky also emphasized the efforts that he and screenwriter Rob Siegel, former editor of the Onion, made to paint an authentic picture of the wrestling world.

“The whole attitude was to try to stick us in as many real situations as much as possible,” Aronofsky said. “We had real wrestling promotions, real fans. Mickey wrestled a real wrestler, not a stuntman. There was a financial reason for that, but that wasn’t the motivation. It was to try to create as much reality as possible.”

Rourke had plenty of experience as a boxer from his early years, but wrestling is an entirely different animal, he said.

“Wrestling and boxing are like ping pong and rugby. Two totally different sports,” Rourke continued. “I got hurt more in three months of wrestling than 16 years of boxing. I think I had three MRIs in two months. Darren would screech at me, ‘You’re only giving me 50%!’ I’d tell him, ‘I can’t move, brother!’ ”

Rourke fidgeted with an unlit stogie as he recalled the exhaustive prep on the film.

“Darren had a ring put up in his office and every day would make me go to wrestling practice. At first I didn’t get it,” Rourke said. “In boxing you’re taught to hide everything. In wrestling you have to show it.

“I can honestly say this is the best and the hardest movie I ever made,” Rourke said. “I was so goddamn thankful the day we were done.”

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