Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Sunday, 22 February 2009

Rourke steals Spirit award show

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News in Los Angeles

Mickey Rourke
Rourke gave his stage chaperone a twirl after receiving his award
Comeback king Mickey Rourke was the star of the show at the Spirit Awards on Saturday, Hollywood's pre-Oscars celebration of independent film.

On the day before the Academy Awards, the 56-year-old actor was crowned best male lead for his role as an over-the-hill star of the ring in The Wrestler.

With a Bafta and a Golden Globe already in his possession, it is looking increasingly likely he will shortly be named best actor at this year's Oscars.

Should he win, though, he will have trouble topping the lengthy, raucous and profane acceptance speech that brought Saturday's informal event to a side-splitting standstill.

"God damn!" he grinned as he collected his statuette from last year's recipient, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and actress Laura Dern.

He promptly exhorted the assembled throng to give his friend Eric Roberts, with whom he co-starred in 1984 drama The Pope of Greenwich Village, the same kind of career-restoring vehicle he had himself been gifted.

He then joked he would inflict bodily harm on US TV star Rainn Wilson, who had earlier performed a musical sketch wearing Rourke's lurid Wrestler costume.

Dedicating his award to his recently deceased Chihuahua Loki, whose picture he wore on a chain around his neck, the grizzled actor went on to thank the local Santa Monica police department "for giving me a bed to sleep in 10 years ago".

Rainn Wilson
Comedian Rainn Wilson performed a show-stopping number dressed as Rourke's Wrestler character.

Rourke acknowledged his "tough" director Darren Aronofsky and his co-star Marisa Tomei for her performance as a care-worn stripper. "Not many girls can climb a pole, so I give her big props for that," he said.

Finally, he paid tribute to his long-suffering publicist and the wrestling community as a whole for allowing some of its more "controversial" aspects to be revealed.

"These guys are on the road a lot and get lonely," he said as he outlined some of the activities wrestlers like the one he plays in the film might get up to when out of the ring.

Rourke's accolade was one of two for The Wrestler, which was also named best feature by the members of non-profit group Film Independent.

Cruz 'surprised'

Other acting awards went to Melissa Leo and Penelope Cruz, both of whom are also up for Oscars, and to James Franco for his supporting role in Milk.

Leo's award came for her role as a single mother who becomes a human trafficker in low-budget film Frozen River, which is set to receive a UK release later this year.

Teri Hatcher
Desperate Housewives star Teri Hatcher performed an energetic musical number
Despite her success, however, the US actress was pragmatic enough to play down her chances of repeating the feat on Sunday.

"I have no chance," she told reporters backstage. "It will either be Meryl [Streep] or Kate [Winslet], so you should put your money on them."

Many consider Cruz a safer bet to receive her first Oscar for her fiery turn in Woody Allen's comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona - a performance that won her a Bafta two weeks ago.

The Spanish star refused to be complacent, though, claiming she is "always surprised" when she hears her name read out.

"My heart was going so fast," she continued. "I am always terrified every time I have to go up there [to collect an award]."

Tom McCarthy was named best director for his film The Visitor, while British movie Man on Wire won best documentary.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, meanwhile, took the best first feature prize for his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, which picked up another gong for its ensemble cast.

Palme d'Or winner The Class was named best foreign film, the same accolade it will compete for at the Academy Awards on Sunday night.

There were also screenplay prizes for Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Milk, the biopic of the famous gay politician and activist, Harvey Milk.

British comic Steve Coogan hosted the ceremony, which included humorous musical performances from Desperate Housewives star Teri Hatcher and Oscar hopeful Taraji P Henson.

As the celebrity guests departed, however, there was only one thing they were talking about.

"They should have stopped the show after Mickey," rued McCarthy, whose win was announced directly after Rourke's. "Who can follow that?"

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