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    Mon, 29 Dec 2008 10:15:19

    Feature: The Wrestler - Mickey Rourke talks about the film being touted as his comeback vehicle

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    Mickey Rourke, not known in the past for being the most even-tempered of actors, admits he couldn't have given The Wrestler director Darren Aronofsky the same performance 15 years ago. "I would have kicked him in the ass," Rourke says. "He would say little things to me to just raise the bar each take. And he said the right things. And he surprised me, because I already thought I had delivered two takes that were gold. Then he would 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 two more yards."

    Rourke, who has boxed professionally, compares Aronofsky's approach to that of a corner-man who once slapped him in the face when he was losing a match. "I was able to go back and take care of business, because I had to," Rourke remembers. "With Darren, it's the same way. You've got to keep moving forward. You can only do that with a director if you trust him and if you respect him. And he just earned more and more trust and respect each day."

    Bulking up to portray the over-the-hill but still heavily muscled Randy "The Ram" Robinson was tough, Rourke says. "I walk around [at]192 pounds, and to get up to 235 over a six-month period took a lot of work," he notes. He adds that the low-budget shoot was grueling on everyone involved. "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."

    Rourke remembers a lot of lean years following his early roles as a leading man. Even his part in The Wrestler nearly slipped away, when it was briefly given to another actor. Rourke says the idea of losing the part was almost a relief, because he knew he would have to "revisit some really dark, painful places" to play the role properly. "But there was the other side of my brain that went, 'Man, this is a chance to work with somebody really good.'"

    His appearance as the tough guy Marv in 2005's Sin City opened the door a little for his comeback, and "then this thing kicked the door down," he says. The Wrestler won the top prize at this year's Venice Film Festival, with other awards and nominations expected to follow.

    Rourke dismisses those who claim that acting itself isn't a form of competition. "I've worked with actors that can competitively raise you to another level, because they're working off you," he says. "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."

    The wrestler's female counterpart in the movie is Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a hardened 40-something stripper. "An aging stripper and an aging wrestler have a lot of similarities," Aronofsky explains. "They're both on stage using their bodies, they both have stage names, they both create a fantasy for the audience, they're both endangered by time." Noting that Tomei often is underused as an actress and portrayed as very sweet, Aronofsky says he liked the idea of surprising audiences by having her play against that type.

    "I went to a bunch of different (strip) clubs and watched a lot of different styles, the ways different girls dance," Tomei says. "And I had a friend who teaches pole-dancing and yoga, so she showed me some of the pole-dance stuff."

    One thing neither she nor Rourke wanted to rehearse was the way their characters interact. "It can be counterproductive," she says. "We just showed up and crashed into each other, kind of. Just let it go."

    Evan Rachel Wood, who play's "The Ram"'s estranged daughter, says she never even spoke to Rourke until they did their first scene on camera. "I didn't go in the hair and makeup trailer when he was there, didn't see him out of character, didn't talk between takes," she says, noting that this distance helped the two convey the awkwardness that exists between their characters.

    Aronofsky says he didn't have a shot list for the documentary-style film, and instead waited for the actors to create what they were going to do on set. "Every wrestler you see in the movie (besides Rourke) is a real wrestler," he adds. "All the fans are real fans. We put on real, live wrestling promotions…and then when the match was over, me, Mickey, and the camerawoman would run out into the ring, shoot a piece of the match, and we'd leave. My co-producer became a wrestling promoter to get it done. So they're all real moments."

    —James Dawson

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    Tags: Mickey Rourke, Darren Aronofsky, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Requiem for a Dream

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