I used to see him sitting on the patio at the Café Mediterranean up on SunsetPlaza. Sitting there in the middle of a pale LA afternoon over a barely touched plate of pasta with a little sausage of a dog cradled in his arm…
Yeah, it was Mickey Rourke, the tough guy pain-in-the-ass movie star who’d given up acting to be a boxer, or something. You could see tourists going by on the sidewalk pointing at him, whispering to each other. “Isn’t that –?” But the locals didn’t give him a second look. Mickey Rourke, the washed-up actor, was yesterday’s story.
Sure, a lot of Hollywood people had written him off. Just one look at that once sharply handsome face, now bruised and misshapen as an overripe cantaloupe, told you why. He was a man who had pursued his obsessions down a dark path and lost his way. It wasn’t the first time a bright light had doused his own flame in this town, and while the tabloids pissed on the ashes, was there anybody to blame but he? And what did it matter, anyway? The time for blame was over. The world spun around a few times and Hollywood moved on.
Now here he is, sitting on the sofa across from me in a fancy suite in the Regent Beverly Wilshire, ready to talk about his new movie, “Sin City.” You know Mickey’s back in the ring because he got a corner man – a short balding guy tucked silently in a chair by the window. He must be some kind of assistant, the kind of flunky that stars keep around to fetch the coffee and make sure the limo’s on time. Yes, it is comeback time for Mickey Rourke, and even Loki – that little sausage of a canine padding across the carpet to nuzzle my hand – wants me to know it.
“Hey, you know the dog’s name,” Mickey chuckles in a voice thickened with nicotine. “You get an extra fifteen minutes.”
Hell, I got the mutt’s name from the publicist in the hallway, figuring it might work in my favor.
“Pat Connolly says hello,” I say, playing another card.
“Pat, you mean Pat the ref?” Mickey says, eyes widening at the mention of Pat Connolly, the legendary boxing referee, ex-IRA man, and one of my oldest friends in this town. “Haven’t seen Pat since we went to the fights at the Olympic. That was a long time ago, jeez. How is the guy?”
Pat’s getting a heart operation, I tell him. Before he went into the hospital Pat told me that on “A Prayer For The Dying,” he set Mickey up with a dialog coach to get his character’s Belfast accent right. The guy he set Mickey up with had also served a stint with the IRA and was later busted by the Feds in New York.
“Oh, and the Tattooed Man says hello, too,” I add, giving him all my news.
“Oh, yeah? He’s in Iraq now, I hear.” “Give him my best,” says Mickey.
The Tattooed Man is Stanley White, legendary Sheriff’s homicide detective. I spent a few nights on the murder beat with Stanley when I was doing research for my movie, “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.” The first five or six cadavers bothered me… after that, well, just pour me another drink. I’d always wanted Mickey to play Ford. What’d I get? Andrew Dice Clay. Okay, back to “Sin City,” directed by Robert Rodriguez.
“We stayed very true to the pages of the comic book,” Mickey explains. “It’s a testament to Robert as a filmmaker. He really made it come alive. I think the younger generation will like this. It’s got a lot of energy. People go ‘Oh, it’s bloody’ but it’s not just blood. It’s got a little kick in the ass, a sense of humor to it. It’s not just blood or something vicious. You can laugh at it.”
How did he get involved in “Sin City”?
“I was walking down Wilshire Boulevard and I saw big smoke signal, it said ‘Mickey, we’re looking for you.’”
He pronounces it “Wil-SHYER.” But now he decides to get real with me, sorta. “I’d worked with Robert previously on ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico.’ Had a good relationship with him. He called my agent and said he said he and Frank [Miller – creator of the graphic novel on which the movie is based] would like to meet with me. Because Frank had yes or no over everything. We met at the Four Seasons and the meeting went well. We took it from there.”
Mickey gives Loki a stroke beneath the chin, then continues.
“They were still playing with Marv, my character in the movie. There were still variations on how Marv was going to look. They wanted Mickey to come through and keep Marv,” he says, speaking of the special live-action/animation look of the film. “They did a lot of tests. So they finally got the look they wanted. Just using the three pieces—the chin, the nose and the hair.
Was there a big challenge involved (…and I’m thinking: staying sober? Making the morning call on time?).
“Biggest challenge?” he think a moment, then smiles. “Eating lunch with the makeup on. It was hot in Texas. My forehead would start to sweat. But it was fun. It wasn’t that serious a film. Didn’t have to dig too deep.”
In fact, Mickey didn’t have to interact with the rest of the cast at all. Everything was done on a green screen and cut together with the digital visual effects in the editing room. His only scene was in the opening shot with the girl in the bed. Most of his scenes were working with Robert reading the lines. He didn’t meet any of the other cast members (Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, etc.) until the looping sessions when they added their voices to the film.
The critics called Sin City an homage to film noir. That’s ironic because it’s where Rourke got his start, the film noir-ish Larry Kasdan picture “Body Heat.” Mickey’s whole life and career, through “Barfly” and “Wild Orchid” and everything else, has been in the film noir mode. He seems to understand that, and alsom come to understand his limitations as an actor. But he’s carved himself a niche and maybe that’s marketable, because he also knows how hard it is for filmmakers today to capture that particular dark mood authentically.
“Most film noir is a little piece here and there,” he says “Maybe they get the fucking words, the dialog, the cigarettes and the good-looking broad. But they don’t get the whole thing. I think Robert captured the whole thing. You see the old Robert Mitchum movies, but I think Robert transcended all that.”
I mention “Body Heat.” “Hell, I was just glad to have a job,” Mickey says, rubbing Loki’s absently hairless belly. Another world, another time. “Everything changes from day to day,” he muses, and gets to talking about boxing. “I used to see myself as a guy in the ring. That was very comfortable. A more honest role. But I’m okay with this one.”
Silence follows the remark—a silence not exactly like the grave, but a few steps away holding flowers and peeing in the shrubbery. I’m thinking: Boxers are always having comebacks. His role in “Sin City” is potentially Mickey’s comeback. Aloud, I venture that it must have taken some doing to resurrect his career.
“There must have been some little agent guy,” I say, drawing on a bit of Hollywood wisdom earned from near a quarter century in The Business, “some little agent dork running around Hollywood dropping your name in clubs and at dinner parties.”
“Yeah, a little agent guy named David Unger,” Mickey chuckles. “Before he was engaged, he used to get laid doing that, dropping my name at parties.”
The dorky little guy sitting in the corner seems to sneeze and cough at the same time, a choking noise emitting from his throat and his face flushes the color of a baboon’s ass.
“Isn’t that right David?” Mickey deadpans, nodding at him. “He always says he puts up with a lot. I like to see him turn red.”
“And boy do I turn red,” says David Unger, Mickey Rourke’s agent, loyally putting up with this, and probably a lot more shit to come.
Mickey’s eyelids droop and he looks away for a long moment, signaling the interview is over. But somewhere deep within those sleepy eyes a spark still smolders. I spotted it up on Sunset Plaza, something elfin and wild. It was the Irish in him, and you could see the crazy Mick still had some fight left. They hadn’t counted him out just yet. The kid still had legs to stand up on, still had a few punches in him, and maybe, if you gave him half an Irishman’s chance he’d knock your head off with his famous left hook from outa nowhere. Yeah, just maybe.