Tarsem Singh was talking to his friend David Fincher about casting his new film “Immortals.” “I need a real bad-ass guy,” the helmer said, to play the bloodthirsty, power-mad King Hyperion.
Singh recalls, “I was reading off names. The first was Mickey Rourke. And Fincher said, ‘Don’t read another name. That guy, if you can get him, you can’t get a worse guy. Rourke is the bad guy you want.’ And that was it. I wanted a guy that was larger-than-life. And Mickey’s got it in spades.”
Then Singh met with Rourke. “He is this really bad boy, but in his hands he has the smallest dog that you’ve ever seen. He’s almost saying, ‘I want to be really macho, but I want to wear a pink thong.’ You just know that this guy is sure of everything. I just said, ‘Fuck me, he is it.’ ”
The larger-than-life Rourke closed the deal, and now roars into Relativity Media’s 3-D, visual effects loaded epic as a despot who conducts a murderous rampage to conquer the world.
Rourke, himself, has already conquered the equally tumultuous world of Hollywood. Or maybe that’s reconquered.
“Look, I had a career and I threw it away,” Rourke has said. “I wasn’t accountable for anything, and I didn’t take responsibility. I was unprofessional. There were things I blamed on the system or other people but it was Mickey Rourke who screwed everything up, not Hollywood or any director or producer.”
The actor, who ditched his career in 1991 for a 4 1/2-year stint as a boxer and then resurfaced spectacularly in 2007 with “The Wrestler,” will plant his prizefighting paws in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on, appropriately enough, Halloween Day.
“He’s solidified his comeback,” confirms “Immortals” exec producer Tucker Tooley. “He’ll have projects that are well received and projects that are not well-received. But he’s such a great actor that he’s going to be around for a long time.”
Rourke was what “Immortals” producers Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari needed. “We wanted what Jack Nicholson brought to the Joker, and what Tony Hopkins brought to Hannibal Lecter,” says Canton. “And Mickey was the only place where we knew how to get it.”
Gianni adds, “It’s the way he breathes. The way he moves his face. He brings another dimension to a character. He is a mythological bad king, but he’s also very modern in his desires of conquering. He is a King Hyperion slash Mickey Rourke.”
Rourke may be out of the fight game, but producers contend that their star still likes a good verbal toe-to-toe.
“Mickey is in the ring with everyone,” Canton says with a laugh. “He’s very tough guy. And he’s very clear about his own opinions. He doesn’t back down. He’s tried to kill Gianni and me on several occasions. I’m certain that his life experiences have contributed to his role. I always volunteer the other of us to go see Mickey first.”
Singh points out, “Mickey’s character needs to put everyone on edge. And Mickey does not suffer fools. He knows who he thinks is a jerk and who is not. You don’t know how far he is going to push anything. You give a guy like that a spear and the simplest line, and everybody’s on edge because you have no idea where he’s going.”
The helmer goes on to recall one of many memorable instances on set: “Hyperion’s minions wear masks when they speak to him. So one of the actors asked me, ‘Can I take off my mask for this scene?’ I said, ‘Well, ‘I haven’t told Mickey that. Go ahead. But I don’t know what he’s going to do.’ So the guy took off his mask behind Mickey.”
The director kept the cameras rolling because he didn’t know what was going to happen, and he knew it was only going to happen once.
“Mickey’s eating walnuts,” Singh continues. “He turns around and sees this minion without his mask and moves closer to him. Mickey’s wearing this helmet with sharp things coming out of it. I was hoping that he wouldn’t head-butt the actor because he’d probably kill him with that helmet. The guy got really uncomfortable. And then got really terrified. Mickey moved in even closer. And then Mickey just gave him a walnut and said, ‘Go make yourself useful somewhere else.’ The guy was so relieved to get the fuck out of there. The King just gave him a fucking walnut. That scene really worked. It’s almost like working with an animal or a child. Mickey is from a different planet.”