“9 1/2 Weeks” director Adrian Lyne is supposed to have said that if Mickey Rourke had died in 1986, his legend might have surpassed James Dean’s. Maybe so. The problem was that, after a series of usually superb but always entertaining performances, Rourke didn’t die. Instead, as the man himself explains, artistic hubris and psychological issues got the better of him. He developed probably the worst reputation of any actor in Hollywood before quitting show business for a time to become a boxer at age 39. Though the resulting injuries and reconstructive surgery permanently altered Rourke’s appearance, years of public fence mending and consistently strong work in small but memorable roles have finally paid off in the afterglow of a sympathetic, engaging, and just plain damn brilliant Oscar nominated performance in Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 indie hit, “The Wrestler.”
A former amateur boxer from Schenectady, New York, the actor first got short-listed for the A-list with his charismatic turn in Barry Levinson’s 1982 ensemble classic about masculine immaturity, “Diner.” That was followed by a series of memorable films that didn’t impress at the box office but live on in home video: “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” Francis Ford Coppola‘s tragically underrated “Rumblefish,” Michael Cimino’s “Year of the Dragon,” Alan Parker’s “Angel Heart,” and Barbet Schroeder’s charming 1987 Charles Bukowski adaptation, “Barfly.” Prior to “The Wrestler,” Rourke was probably best known for 2005’s “Sin City” and 1987’s “9 1/2 Weeks,” which also did a lot to popularize co-star Kim Basinger and the erotic use of ice cubes.
I spoke to Rourke via phone about 24 hours prior to the press junket for “Immortals,” Relativity Media’s hyper-violent mythological fantasy film directed by visual stylist Tarsem Singh (“The Cell,” “The Fall”). When I cheerfully asked the star how he was, his response was a weary, “Oh, that depends.” What else should I have expected from one of acting’s most respected loose cannons?