“People are always afraid of the truth.” – Mickey Rourke
American actor Mickey Rourke has put up brilliant performances in acclaimed films like Rumble Fish and Sin City, among others. He has earned critical success with awards from the Chicago Film Critics Association, the Irish Film and Television Awards, and the Online Film Critics Society. In 2009, Rourke received a Golden Globe award, a BAFTA award as well as an Academy Award nomination for his work in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.
Rourke was initially interested in the world of sports, aiming to make it as a professional boxer. However, injuries kept him out of the ring and began experimenting with the idea of being an actor. After borrowing $400 from his sister. Rourke moved to New York and worked multiple jobs while studying under Actors Studio alumni Sandra Seacat. He made his feature debut with a small role in Steven Spielberg’s 1941.
“I trained like an animal, but the thing is focus and concentration,” Rourke once commented about the crossover qualities of his boxing and acting life. “When the bell rings it’s like when the little red light goes on over the camera. And I can usually nail my lines on the first or second take because I’m right there,” he added.
Despite fighting many personal and professional demons throughout his life, Rourke has matured into his role as a member of the Hollywood elite, even if it isn’t a label he would willingly accept. “Acting was never my first choice as a profession, but I came to terms with it when I decided I better buckle down and be the best I can be at it,” he said, offering an insight into his deep will power and determination. “You can be mediocre, the way most actors are, and you can still be a top movie star, even if your movies are boring and predictable. All you have to do is know how to sell yourself, let yourself be manufactured.”
On his 68th birthday, we revisit some of the best performances in Mickey Rourke’s career.
Mickey Rourke’s 10 best film performances:
10. 9½ Weeks (Adrian Lyne – 1986)
Although many of the ideas and provocative scenes in 9½ Weeks might appear dated now, Rourke’s performance as a Wall Street trader is still a memorable one. The reception in the US was poor but the film was saved by international audiences who liked the film’s open stance on sexuality.
Official Film Synopsis: “Two strangers, Wall Street trader John (Mickey Rourke) and art gallery assistant Elizabeth (Kim Basinger), become involved in a new relationship. What begins as a courtship, though, becomes extremely sexual, as John begins to push for more daring and kinky scenarios, including striptease and bondage.
Although their passion is strong, Elizabeth starts to realize that John is not sharing any part of his life besides sex. She must make a decision about what she wants from their relationship.”
9. The Pope of Greenwich Village (Stuart Rosenberg – 1984)
In this underrated buddy film from the ’80s, Rourke and Roberts team up as two Italian cousins with compelling on-screen chemistry. Rourke called his co-star Eric Roberts here as one of the three best actors he ever worked with, up there with Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. Rourke’s performance was inspired by Robert De Niro but he still managed to make it his own.
Official Film Synopsis: “Charlie (Mickey Rourke) and his troublesome cousin Paulie (Eric Roberts) decide to steal $150000 in order to back a racehorse. The aftermath of the robbery gets them into serious trouble with the local Mafia boss and the police.”
8. Year of the Dragon (Michael Cimino – 1985)
Rourke stars in Cimino’s first film, after the infamous Heaven’s Gate, as a racist Polish Vietnam veteran turned New York cop with a strong dislike for the triads in Chinatown. The 1985 crime film had a lot of despicable characters, including Rourke’s but with his stand-out performance, he revealed the character’s humanity under that harsh exterior.
Official Film Synopsis: “Captain White (Mickey Rourke) takes it upon himself to bring down the Chinese organised crime in NYC. This puts him in conflict with Tai (John Lone), the ruthless leader of the organisation and pulls his life apart.”
7. Diner (Barry Levinson – 1982)
Diner was filmmaker Barry Levinson’s directorial debut as well as his tribute to his fond memories of growing up in Baltimore. The ensemble cast was a crucial element of the film, featuring Rourke as Boogie in his first significant role. Boogie struggled with a gambling addiction and the role cemented Rourke’s on-screen persona as the “bad boy” archetype.
Official Film Synopsis: “It’s late 1959, and six guys in their early twenties are stumbling into adulthood, alternating responsibility with carefree time at their local diner. The story centres on the return from college of Billy (Tim Daly) to serve as best man at the wedding of his pal Eddie (Steve Guttenberg).
Billy is consumed by a confusing relationship with a close female friend, while Eddie still lives at home, preparing a football trivia test for his fiancée and vowing to cancel the wedding if she fails. Other characters woven into the narrative include Boogie (Mickey Rourke), a womanizer with a gambling problem, and Shrevie (Daniel Stern), a music addict with a troubled marriage.”
6. Francesco (Liliana Cavani – 1989)
Liliana Cavani’s little known film Francesco featured Rourke as St. Francis of Assissi. It is interesting to watch him play a religious figure because most of his other characters have been on the other end of the spectrum. The film’s production comes across as less than impressive but Rourke delivers a dedicated performance.
Official Film Synopsis: “A journey that flashes back into the era that observed the transformation of Francis (Mickey Rourke), a pampered son of merchant to a full-fledged saint of Assisi.”
5. Barfly (Barbet Schroeder – 1987)
Based on a screenplay by American writer/poet Charles Bukowski, Rourke plays Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical character Henry Chinaski.
Rourke had to make a lot of preparations in order to capture Bukowski’s spirit and appearance. He did not bathe or wash his hair for weeks, adopted a limp, perfectly mimicked Bukowski’s speech patterns and injected his performance with a sense of profound humour. The role earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actor for his efforts.
Official Film Synopsis: “Down-and-out writer Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) spends his nights drinking and picking brawls at a dingy Los Angeles watering hole. One night Henry spies a kindred spirit in pretty barfly Wanda (Faye Dunaway) and, despite warning signs that she may be unfaithful, shacks up with the woman.
When Henry’s fears are confirmed by Wanda’s infidelity with bartender Eddie (Frank Stallone), he begins an affair of his own with wealthy publisher Tully Sorenson (Alice Krige).”
4. Sin City (Frank Miller, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez – 2005)
Touted by many as the best comic book adaptation, Rourke steals the show as Marv, a man who wakes up next to a dead prostitute and tries to find out who killed her. The performance was very physically demanding ant Rourke had to undergo a complete transformation in the make-up department.
Although he hadn’t had a good role in almost 20 years, Sin City marked his perfect come-back. His performance won him awards from the Chicago Film Critics Association, the Irish Film and Television Awards, and the Online Film Critics Society.
Official Film Synopsis: “Four individuals cross paths when they try to solve their personal problems and fight violence and corruption in the wretched town of Basin City, Washington.”
3. Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola – 1983)
After the exhausting work on Apocalypse Now, Coppola decided to make more intimate films with two S.E. Hinton adaptations in 1983, Rumble Fish being the superior of the two. The film featured an amazing cast as well as innovative filmmaking techniques. Rourke was perfect as the troubled Motorcycle Boy, perfectly capturing the inner torment and anguish.
Official Film Synopsis: “The story follows Rusty James (Matt Dillon), the local thug, stuck in a small town and living in his older brother’s shadow. Tension mounts when his brother, The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), rides back into town.”
2. Angel Heart (Alan Parker – 1987)
This supernatural thriller was controversial at the time of its release because of an explicit sex-scene but it has gained a cult following in subsequent years and its influence can be observed in many films of the same genre, including Roman Polanski’s Ninth Gate.
Rourke was fantastic as the leading man, displaying multiple emotions ranging from anger to fear. He is charismatic and cocky as Harry Angel.
Official Film Synopsis: “Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a private detective contracted by Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to track down the iconic singer Johnny Favorite. However, everybody that Angel questions about Favorite seems to meet a tragic demise.
Eventually the trail leads Angel to New Orleans where he learns that Favorite had dabbled in the black arts. As Favorite’s whereabouts and true identity become clear, Angel learns that being hired by Cyphre was not a random choice.”
1. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky – 2008)
This film is often referred to as a semi-autobiographical account of Rourke’s own life but labelling it as just that would be doing a disservice to what Rourke achieves in Aronofsky’s 2008 drama.
He brilliantly captures the nuanced physical and psychological struggles of a wrestler who is past his prime. Rourke received a Golden Globe award, a BAFTA award as well as an Academy Award nomination for what is undoubtedly the best performance of his career.
Official Film Synopsis: “An ageing wrestler struggles to keep up with life as he is too old to continue his wrestling career. He realizes that he has to come to terms with what life has to offer at this stage and move on.”