By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 20, 2008 at 8:04AM
Fox Searchlight will send out its first trailer for The Wrestler today. Their mission: to make filmgoers want to see a movie that looks very male--Mickey Rourke plays a down-on-his-luck, aging wrestler facing the end of his career who suddenly needs to reach out to his daughter, poignantly played by Evan Rachel Wood, and a stripper pal, Marisa Tomei. Communicating with women is not his strong suit.
Indie-financed for $6 million by French company Wild Bunch (the same outfit that backed Che), The Wrestler debuted at the Toronto Film Fest, where Fox Searchlight scooped it up. It went on to play well at the New York and AFI Film fests and opens in theaters at the end of December to qualify for the Oscars.
Director Darren Aronofsky, recovering from The Fountain, initially wanted to cast Rourke but was convinced to raise foreign coin with Nic Cage; to his credit he realized that he just had to have Rourke. He told the actor, who has been dealing with anger management issues for years, to act professionally, cut out the night life and do what he was told. Rourke listened to him and gives a sensitive, nuanced performance. Expect to see some great Rourke stories in the press as he does the rounds. The Academy actors often respond to a comeback like this, but Rourke is not your typical actor.
About 12 years ago, Rourke found himself lying alone in a big giant house with "no career," he recalls, "my entourage had left with everything they could take, including my best leather pants. My ex-wife said to me, 'you need help.' Something happened that night. It was thunderstorming. The doctor came over and I had a gun. They took every gun I had out of the house. I was howling. There was blood everywhere. The dogs were covered with blood. It was mine, I had cut my finger off. I left the house in the thuunder and lightning and took my six dogs to sleep on the beach. I couldn't stay in the house anymore."
Twelve years of intense psychotherapy followed. "I'm down to a phone call every Saturday," he says. "I didn't want to change. I was ashamed, I was proud of the armor I had built up. It was a street macho thing, from where I came from. But it's a weakness. If you take it too far, it scares people. It's a strength if you're living on the street, where I spent too many years. Even after I made it as an actor, I was surrounding myself with a group of people from that world. I didn't want to live in a state of shame and anger. I still have nightmares to this day. I'm thankful to get this second chance. When you were as bad as I was, out-of-control and unprofessional and scary--I didn't realize the degree to which I frightened people in the business."
Even after he cleaned up considerably, Rourke says, he still didn't get work, because a generation of people remembered how he had behaved. As well as he did on Sin City, he was still under a pound of makeup. Playing with Clive Owen and Benicio del Toro, says Rourke, was "my opportunity to bring it. Competing for me is a healthy good thing."
On The Wrestler, Aronofsky told Rourke he was going to have to be in shape. "He challenged me," says Rourke, who submitted to multiple takes until he nailed not to his satisfaction, but Aronfsky's. "I had to nail it better."
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]