Page last updated at 18:23 GMT, Sunday, 7 September 2008 19:23 UK

Venice wowed by Rourke comeback

By Emma Jones
BBC News

A new movie starring Mickey Rourke as a professional wrestler has received a rapturous response at the Venice Film Festival - and won its prestigious Golden Lion award.

Mickey Rourke
Rourke's performance is already being tipped for awards recognition
Actor, hellraiser and one-time professional boxer, Mickey Rourke has taken plenty of punches over the last 15 years.

But a film in which he plays an ageing wrestler could put the '80s heart-throb back on his feet.

In The Wrestler, the 51-year-old plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a washed-up fighter who is told another bout in the ring is likely to kill him.

Screening in competition at this year's festival, it is directed by Darren Aronofsky of Requiem for a Dream fame.

According to Rourke, the filmmaker didn't pull any punches. "He was brutally honest," he tells BBC News.

"He sat there and said, 'You're a great actor but you messed up your career and no one wants to hire you.'

'Blessing'

"'I have a film I want to do with you. But you have to listen to me, you must never disrespect me, you can't go out every night - and I can't pay you either.'"

Rourke got off to a promising start in acting in the 1980s with films like Diner, Angel Heart and the infamous Nine-and-a-Half Weeks.

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke
The actor at the festival with co-star Evan Rachel Wood and a dog, Rocky
But he failed to live up to his potential and became better known for his off-camera activities. In the 1990s he briefly returned to his original career of boxing.

"I didn't mind what Darren said about screwing up my career, because I did do that," says Rourke. "I didn't know how to get it together for a long time."

A chance to return to the limelight came and went when Rourke turned down a part in Pulp Fiction.

In 2005, though, he gained rave reviews for his supporting role in dark comic-book saga Sin City.

The Wrestler, he says, is the next step on the comeback trail. "I'm thrilled about this movie. To me, it's a blessing.

"I've been out of work for 15 years and I truly believe this movie will turn things around."

His role as a scarred, pumped-up fighter with long blond tresses and a capacity for self-destruction has impressed the critics at Venice.

I realised Darren needed me to revisit some dark places where I didn't want to go
Mickey Rourke
According to Variety, it is "a galvanising, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances."

Rourke says his boxing background was no help for the intensive three months of training he had to do for the gruelling wrestling scenes.

"I didn't have a lot of respect for wrestling," he reveals. "I thought it was just entertainment.

"Then I found out these guys take 10 years to learn how to land on the floor without hurting themselves.

'Pound of flesh'

"I just landed like a brick. My neck went, my back went and I spent more time in the doctor's office than I ever did in six years of boxing."

Even more painful was the realisation he would have to delve into his own past in order to bring "The Ram" to life.

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
The Wrestler sees Rourke playing a fighter who has seen better days
"What frightened me was I realised Darren needed me to revisit some dark places where I didn't want to go," he explains.

"I didn't want to think about my ex-wife, or my family. But I knew he would want his pound of flesh and there was no way I could skirt round it."

The actor even admits relief when the film was temporarily cancelled. Now, though, he acknowledges he has been given a second chance.

"I didn't realise it would take so long for me to patch things up," he says. "But it's not about raising hell and thumping my chest with me now.

"I don't have another 15 years to sit on the bench. Hey, I have splinters in my ass from sitting on the bench for so long."

The Wrestler will be released in the UK in 2009.


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