An American indie bound for Oscar nominations: “The Wrestler”
In which: Mickey Rourke, a sure thing for an Academy Award nomination, plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a pro wrestler long past his heyday, struggling to reconnect with his daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, while finding out whether his relationship with a stripper, played by Marisa Tomei, is strictly business. Darren Aronofsky directs.
Interviewed: Last month at the Toronto film festival, just off a hotel lobby. Rourke’s dog rested nearby. Rourke’s handler du jour hovered at the outset.
Rourke: “You know, I was out of the game for some time. Wasn’t doing any work at all. So you know I’m just glad to be back in the saddle again, sorta kinda. Where’s the dog?”
Handler: “Right there.”
Rourke: “OK. We’re all good. You know what I need? An espresso. An espresso, and a Perrier water or some (expletive) like that.” (Handler exits.)
“Darren called my agent. Wanted to set up a meeting. My agent sent me the script; I read it; I met with Darren. At this particular time, he had some financing with another actor, big movie star (Nicolas Cage). And he was going between doing it one way, or doing it another way - with me and with less financing. He made that clear to me from the start. I understood; politics, you know. I was just glad to meet him. And then it worked out.
“This was never going to be a ‘Rocky’ story. This was more like it really is. This guy’s not going to come back and be a champion again. He’s not going to go back to Madison Square Garden and wrestle in front of 60,000 people. I liked that aspect of it. No glorification of it. You’re seeing somebody at the tail end of a sport. There is no comeback, really, for guys like this. Guys like Rocky Balboa don’t beat guys like Muhammad Ali - only happens in the movies. ...
“Boxing and wrestling are as different as fencing and rugby, except that you’re in a ring with four corners. Boxing, you go in there to inflict as much damage as possible, without anybody trying to see your punches. For me, with 15, 16 years of boxing training, it took a month to unlearn it all (for the filming of “The Wrestler”). It takes these guys five, seven years to learn how to fall the right way, to take the slams. First time somebody threw me up, I was in the (expletive) doctor’s office and couldn’t move my (expletive) back, my vertebrae (expletive) got all (expletive) exploded. Then it was the knee; then it was the neck. It gave me a new kind of respect for a sport I had no respect for.
“My younger brother Joe, back in the day in Venice Beach, we used to go lift weights at Gold’s Gym, which was the mecca of bodybuilding back then. And there was a guy named Magic. He had long blond hair; he had two hearing aids, couldn’t hear a (expletive) thing. He was a character, a biker dude who lived in a bus behind the gym. He wrestled on the side, and I based my character on this guy Magic, more than anybody else.
“Darren (Aronofsky, the director), I’d make 50 movies with this guy. Very intelligent, uncompromising, knows exactly what he wants, yet has the courage to change it if he sees something better. He challenged me to be the best actor I could be. (After some takes) I’d go over to him, and say, ‘I brought it. Did we bring it, or what?’ He’s got this monotone, and he goes: ‘You brought it. But bring it better.’
“... So he challenged me as a man, as an artist.
“For a while there (in the dark years before ‘The Wrestler’) I needed ... to get away, to just ... I had too much crap going on in my life. I just needed to step away, and the boxing helped, and I continued with the therapy, and cleaning house, let’s say. And starting over again. I didn’t know it was going to take me 13 years, but what are you going to do. I was really bad for a long time, and it wasn’t anybody’s fault except mine.
“Change is hard, especially for a guy like me. And it’s not that I wanted to change. I had to change. And I’m very thankful now that I did.”
“I’m just grateful to be invited to the dance again.”