Mickey Rourke says The Wrestler is his best movie – ever. And Rourke, who readily admits he worked on some pretty crappy films over the last two decades, had some advice for fans who've stuck by him over the years. "Forget all the other things I was in. This is the movie that defines everything because it’s like people say to me, 'What's your best movie you've ever made?' And some people will go Barfly, Angel Heart,' you know, this one, that one. This is the best f--king movie I've ever made and it's the hardest movie I've ever made, and it’s the movie I'm most proud of. And I mean Sin City, okay, or Once Upon a Time, yeah, fine, but it isn’t good enough, you know? Not when you've wasted 15 f--king years, good isn’t good enough."
Director Darren Aronofsky was fully aware of Rourke's reputation before considering him for the part of an aging wrestler who's unwilling to give up performing despite his health problems. Aronofsky had trouble getting funding for his film after bringing Rourke onboard, yet the filmmaker stuck by the troubled actor. At the Los Angeles press junket for The Wrestler, Rourke paid enormous compliments to Aronofsky, a filmmaker he believes is one of the best in the business. "I think Darren is the main reason that this thing, this had the success, and I think the integrity and everything else that came with it is what he brought to the table on his genius and his relentless strive for perfection and hard work," said Rourke. "He’s a director that takes chances and he's very innovative. He reminds me of Francis Ford Coppola when he was young and just kind of did things his own way."
In his first meetings with Aronofsky, the director laid it all on the line. In no uncertain terms, Aronofsky let Rourke know that he had to listen to his direction. "He’s very straight-forward, it's not like some cat who's selling you a used car. He didn’t have to sell himself to me, nor did he. And he was very firm. He was very direct, which I appreciated. There's no gray with him; it’s black and white. He’s the boss. He’s going to be the boss," recalled Rourke.
"Somebody said to me, 'Do you think you could have given the same performance that you gave 15 years ago?' And I said yes real quick. And then the more I thought about it I went, 'Hmm, 15 years ago I would have maybe thrown Darren Aronofsky out of the window or told him to go f--k himself.' You know what I mean?"
Rourke added, "So I can say I’m grateful for the changes that I've had to make because in order for me to have changed, I'm able to tolerate him being the authority figure that he is in a way where he is in command. But I didn’t just like lay down on the table like a fish. He showed me respect and I gave him… I went, 'I've got to respect this guy,' and I gave him back the same thing. He didn’t have to do that but because he wanted, he wanted something out of me, he wanted everything from me, so he was gracious enough that he in return respected me as much as a son of a bitch like him can."
Rourke trained for months in order to convincingly play a wrestler, and the training paid off big-time. "[Darren] decided to shoot the movie in a sort of objective documentary-style way hand-held the whole movie and he said, 'You have to do your own stunts.' And so, three and a half/four months of working with these wrestling people… I didn’t want to be in there for like two months. For about two months the back was hurt, so it was torture because I couldn’t [move]. Then after about the third month I started feeling better and I was getting it. I wasn’t moving like a prize fighter. I was understanding the way a wrestler moves. It's all exposed instead of closed up. And then I would go in on Sundays, because one of the boys was very athletically inclined in a gymnastic way and he did all these very sophisticated moves, the flips, the scissors and all that, and I said, 'I want to learn that.' So we went in, we did that on Sundays without Darren knowing because I wanted to surprise Darren, because I love and respect him so much I wanted him to be happy with me."
Rourke also worked hard to get into the mindset of a wrestler. "What I didn’t know about wrestlers, which is different from let’s say boxing or, I don't know, much better than anything else is, is there's a lot of camaraderie. You know, these guys who are not on the big show in Madison Square Garden, they travel around together. They share gas money. They share p---y together. They share booze together. They share who’s sort of on what steroids together, or talk about the latest vitamin supplements that are out. They know these little tricks where they’ll grab an arm and they’ll go like that, that means it’s a reverse if you do a double squeeze or a certain other kind of squeeze," explained Rourke. "So there's got to be trust amongst them. Darren refers to it as almost like the circus. But these guys enjoy each other’s company. They live in their own world."
"There was a very interesting documentary done and I think he’s name was Owen Hart, and his brother actually died doing this stuff. We did a lot of research. We watched and saw what happens at the end of somebody’s career, what they looked like then and what they look like now, or the guys who are still trying to hang in there. We really wanted to pay homage to the sport in its due course as the movie went along. Sure, we exposed certain things that wouldn't be in a Rocky movie, you know? But we weren’t making a Rocky movie. It was a different kind of movie. And I'm not ragging that movie at all, but not everybody gets a second chance, you know?"
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The Wrestler hits theaters on December 17, 2008 and is rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use.