After years of b-list parts, Mickey Rourke talks to The Daily Beast's Tom Tapp about the performance of his career, his empty bank account, and how he cut himself for his new hit role.
The Wrestler, which closes The New York Film Festival on Sunday, is generating Oscar talk, chiefly because of Mickey Rourke’s performance as an aging ring warrior confronting lost glory. It’s a role that has resonance for Rourke, marking a personal best many had hoped for but few ever thought they’d see after years of bad roles and tabloid headlines.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Mickey Rourke discloses:
• his interactions with Nicolas Cage, who had first signed up for the role but later dropped out
• that he’s been living on loans for the last few months
• the favor he called in from Bruce Springsteen
• the fact that he actually cut himself in the face with a razor to draw blood for the film
"I’d rather go borrow money from someone than do a movie for a payday. I don’t care if you’re paying me ten fucking million. I’ll sit on my ass."
How do you feel about the Oscar talk?
Great. Are you kidding me? When you’ve had all the years I’ve had when you’re out of the game, it’s nice to be above ground.
The Wrestler is not an obvious Academy film. It will take you getting out and talking to people—journalists, voters, etc.—about it. And the Oscars are five months away. You ready for that?
Absolutely. All the way. You know, I handled shit wrong for 15 years—or longer. If I knew it was going to take this many years to put the pieces back together again, man, lemme tell you, I would have handled things differently. I just didn’t have the tools. I got a lid on it now.
Tell me about the scene where your character, Ram, cuts his face to make the match look more real. I’ve heard you used a real razor and director Darren Aronofsky didn’t know you were going to do it.
Who told you that? Darren? He’s full of shit.
He told me the day he met me, he says, “Do you know what gigging is?” And I say, “No.” And he says, “It’s when [wrestlers] cut themselves with a razor.” And I’m thinking, “Whoa, that’s far out. I don’t know if I could cut myself if I’m not pissed off.”
He said, “I’m going to want you to go all the way with this stuff, even the gigging.”
But he never brought it up after that first conversation. Darren had no idea that I was going to do it, nor did he ask for me to do it. It really hurt because I wasn’t angry. It was really nice because all the real wrestlers in the dressing room gave me a standing ovation for gigging.
Darren has said he always wanted you for The Wrestler. But actually, you were removed from the film for a time, Nicolas Cage was hired, and then he stepped aside and you came back. What happened?
Hey, Nic’s a big movie star. I understood the politics and I’ve got to actually say I was relieved. I thought, I don’t want to fucking go to them dark places that I’d have to go to emotionally, and all of the physical stuff. David, my agent, was devastated.
[After Cage bowed out and Rourke shot the film] I received a text from Nic in Toronto saying, “Congratulations, The Wrestler was always yours to begin with.” Nic really took the high road and was a real gentleman.
Despite your reputation, you have a lot of people who want to see you do well. Tell me about the “special thanks” at the end of the film to Axl Rose.
When I used to box, I used to come out to “ Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I know Axl pretty well and I called him. I told him we didn’t have no money, you know. It was a low budget, and Axl was very generous and he pretty much gave us the song and did me a personal favor.
Some time after my brother Joey had died, I went to Madison Square Garden to see Guns N’ Roses. My favorite song is “ Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and Axl, out of nowhere, just went, “Hey, Mickey, this is for Joey.” And he just murdered the fucking song. I remember just sitting there shaking like a leaf.
How did the Bruce Springsteen song that plays over the end credits come about?
Springsteen? I just got off the phone with him two minutes before you called!
Okay, we did the movie and realized, once again, we ain’t got no money for music. (Laughs.) But what I did know about six days into shooting is this is gonna be the best movie I ever did and the best performance I ever gave. So I had no qualms about…you know, I’ve known Bruce for twenty odd years and keep in touch with him here and there. So I wrote him a letter and I told him about this and said, “If you ever have any time, could you take a look at it?”
Bruce had just lost two thirty-year members of his group (including Terry, his tour manager). A couple months passed and I was back in Miami and in the middle of the night, I get a phone call from Bruce from Europe. He said, “Hey man, I read the script and I got something in my head that I wrote.”
So then, he was playing again up in the Meadowlands. Darren and him were talking and Bruce had an acoustic guitar and picked it up and played the song for Darren. I’m going, “Fuck, this is cool as shit,” and I heard some of the song. Then a couple of days later he sent me the song, and it was just fucking incredible.
Why do you think he did it?
Darren said to Bruce, “Why’d you do this for us?” And Bruce’s answer was, “I’ve known Mickey for a while and I just want to see him back to where he should be.” That just said it all right there. He did it out of love and respect.
All the fucking sacrifice we went through on the movie—working 15-18 hours a day on a shoestring—at the end of the day, what Axl did and what Bruce did, you can’t put a dollar number on it.
There seem to be a whole group of young directors who want to work with you: Aronofsky, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino.
It’s exciting because they’re a new breed that’s not afraid of second-hand stories and they have a mind of their own.
I’m at a place in my life where I’m really happy to go to work. There’d be times where I’d be broke and I’d take a movie I didn’t like for the money. And I cannot behave properly if I don’t respect the director or the material.
So, I would rather—as I’ve been doing for the last several months—I’d rather go borrow money from someone than do a movie for a payday. I don’t care if you’re paying me ten fucking million. I’ll sit on my ass.