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Film

When Mickey Rourke took Robert De Niro "to school"

It has always felt as if Mickey Rourke has had two separate, distinct careers in film. First came the Rourke of the 1980s with the dashing good looks that scored him roles in Rumble Fish (1983), The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) and 9 ½ Weeks (1986).

Rourke took a break from acting in 1991 to pursue a professional career in boxing – he had trained as a boxer as a young man – though he retired from the sport in 1994 and took on a number of supporting roles in film over the next ten years. 

Rourke made a big Hollywood comeback in 2005 – now with the face of a man who’d been punched in the face repeatedly – with the neo-noir flick Sin City, before his titular role in The Wrestler (2008), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

One role Rourke could not nail down, though, was a part in Martin Scorcese‘s 2019 epic crime drama The Irishman, starring many of Scorsese’s long-time collaborators, including Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino.

Rourke has recently argued that he did not get the part in the film because of a longstanding feud with De Niro. “Marty Scorsese, great director, he wanted to meet me for a movie with Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Chris Walken and Robert De Niro,” Rourke explained. “The casting person told my manager that Robert De Niro said he refused to work with me in a movie.”

“Now I don’t look up to him no more; I look through him,” he added. “I came up from the shit. He doesn’t know that life. He’s a bitch and a cry-baby. He wanted me to bend down and kiss his ass, but he’d got the wrong guy.”

Rourke’s only on-screen appearance alongside De Niro came in 1987’s Angel Heart, and though both actors’ performances were praised, it has been reported that the pair fell out during the film’s production, starting a feud that has lasted over 30 years. Rourke has attributed this to the fact that his acting style is at odds with De Niro’s famed method acting.

“I would read the script a couple times and make all my choices so I would have plans in place,” Rourke explained. “I always took the acting very personally, and that extended to whoever I was working with. My mentality is very much, ‘this is me against you, and I’m going to take you to school.’ That’s why when De Niro and I worked together, it didn’t go very good. He would keep crying about what I was doing to the director, and this one time, there was a moment where he bitched a little too much.”

“I didn’t lose my temper or anything, but I just looked at him, right in the eyes,” Rourke added. “I looked right through him, and I was thinking to myself, ‘Listen, you ain’t been where I’ve been, you haven’t walked in my shoes, and there is no fucking way you’re going to win this battle with me.’ He’d have had to kill me, wake me up and kill me again. So, you know, when I do acting, I make it personal.”

Angel Heart is a psychological horror film adapted from William Hjortsberg’s 1978 novel Falling Angel. Rourke plays Harry Angel, a New York City private investigator who is hired by a man named Louis Cypher – played by De Niro – to try and find Johnny Favourite, a crooner who has recently gone missing.

In contrast to his recent comments, Rourke had once spoke glowingly of De Niro’s performance as an actor and of the influence that performing alongside De Niro had on his career: “It was the first time I think I ever had to really concentrate in the way I had to concentrate,” Rourke said. “He’s the most concentrated actor I’ve ever seen. If you lose your concentration with [him] for, like, four seconds, you’re outta there. At the end of the day, I was drained. [But] working with him sort of rejuvenated me.”