By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 20, 2012 at 9:38AM
The comeback of Mickey Rourke has been a faltering thing. After years in the wilderness, the actor returned in force with an Oscar-nominated turn in Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," and followed it up with supporting roles in bona-fide blockbusters "Iron Man 2" and "The Expendables." Since then, however, things haven't been so hot, with long-delayed films "13" and "Passion Play" mostly disappearing on release, while Rourke's self-destructive tendencies came out again when he bashed not only those films, calling them (accurately) ''terrible," but also director Martin McDonagh, who Rourke labelled a "jerkoff" after he bailed on the helmer's film "Seven Psychopaths." The actor instead lined up the kind of direct-to-video actioners that he was stuck in the 1990s, films like "The Courier," "Black November" and "Java Heat."
But could he have another awards contender in the pipeline? About eighteen-months ago, rumors circulated that Rourke was intending to star in a biopic of Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas, who made headlines when he came out in 2009, becoming the only openly gay active professional sportsman in the world. We'd dismissed it as something that would never happen, but it appears that the film is legitimately moving forward, and Rourke is very serious about his performance. Very serious.
Baz Bamigboye reports from a conversation with producer Colin Vaines ("Coriolanus") that Rourke is currently in training for the untitled film, having already dropped nearly thirty pounds and, believe it or not, had further surgery on his eyes in order to more closely resemble Thomas, who is over two decades younger than the turning-sixty-this-year Rourke. But Vaines tells Bamigboye, "When Mickey's committed, as he is with this, he can do anything. The age isn't a problem."
The film certainly seems to be aiming high, the producer saying that he's "thinking of Martin Scorsese's 'Raging Bull' meeting Lindsay Anderson's 'This Sporting Life,' where sport was used as a backdrop to explore an inner torment." Shooting is set to kick off in September, but some second-unit filming may take place during the upcoming Six Nations tournament.
It's hard to know what to make of the project, now that it's clearly a reality. Thomas' story is clearly a powerful, potent one that could make for some real drama, but it's hard not to think that it's something of a vanity project for Rourke to play a man less than two-thirds his own age. And while producer Vaines, a former Weinstein Company executive, has some impressive credits on his resume, he did also produce the mind-bogglingly awful "W.E," suggesting he's not immune to the whims of stars, and their chosen director, South African commercials helmer Antony Hoffman, hasn't made a feature film in a decade, since his dreadful debut, the Val Kilmer sci-fi film "Red Planet." Guess we'll find out sooner or later if it was worth Rourke's trouble.