To the film industry he's a bad boy whose years of tirades and partying have winnowed to a select few the number of people willing to give him a break. These days he claims to have cleaned up his act, but only time will tell if he's serious.
Rourke is an accomplished actor whose body of work spans three decades, and whose appeal to his fans is perpetuated just as much by his outlandish antics as it is from his acting chops. And he does have chops. Rourke attended the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute during the Seventies. He's worked on at least 52 films, some with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Sean Penn, and Tony Scott. In Sin City -- which opens next week and stars an ensemble cast that includes Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Hartnett, Rosario Dawson, and Jessica Alba -- Rourke plays the character Marv, an obsessed man who roams the dark streets seeking vengeance for the murder of his girl. He follows that with a role in Domino, a film by Tony Scott (Top Gun, True Romance, Enemy of the State, and Man on Fire, with Rourke).
The once-rugged actor, whose black-Irish looks have been transformed into a weird pastiche of cheek implants and uneven skin, is poised on the verge of a huge comeback -- Sin City, which screened last week at Show West, the mini film festival attendant to the SXSW music conference -- has generated tremendous buzz and favorable early reviews.
In the spring of 1992, Rourke went a few rounds with New Times when the free weekly decided to make a little sport of Rourke's sideline as a boxer. That was right after his appearance in the disastrous Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man with Miami-affiliated costar Don Johnson. The rest of the Nineties were rough on Rourke, who had his scenes cut from Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line and was reduced to taking bit parts in Get Carter and Buffalo '66. Rourke, who once owned a nightclub in Miami Beach, began spending less and less time here.
Recently, though, El Marielito has been hanging out in these parts again, and his career is showing signs of reviving, thanks to peaceful collaborations with directors Scott and Robert Rodriguez.
Here's what Mickey has to say about the movie business, his ups and downs, Miami, and taking it all like a man.
New Times: In your career, you've managed to come back from the dead more times than the zombies in Evil Dead. Are you hoping Sin City is going to do for you what Pulp Fiction did for Travolta?
Mickey Rourke: Well, I'll tell you this: Travolta didn't raise half as much hell as I did. I mean, you pay for that shit. Travolta, even though he went a few years not being at the top of his game, he still had work. He was still playing the game. You know, it's a game and you got to be able to play well with others. I didn't do that all the time and I paid the consequences.
What sort of consequences?
I mean, there were a good ten or fifteen years there that were pretty rough. I had to sell all my cars, my bikes. I couldn't get work. You got to be able to work. People would say, "Ah yeah, Mickey's a good actor, but can we get someone else. Someone we can handle?" That's kind of what happened in Domino, my next film. Luckily, Tony Scott, he went to bat for me. He wasn't afraid to stick with his vision.
You've worked with Scott in the past; you seem to have a lot of respect for him.
Yeah, Tony Scott is the consummate professional. He knows what he wants in a shot and he works with you till it's exactly right. The guy is just, he's respectful to the craft. He's really the most professional guy in the business. You want a director that can get that performance out of you. Not everyone is able to do that. He's one of those that can. I admire him for that.
How do you view your mid-period work, which was panned by the critics of the day but has now become regarded as influential and classic? I'm thinking in particular of Angel Heart, which has been extremely influential on European directors including Dario Argento?
Right, right, well you know a lot of my stuff is like that. Nine 1/2 Weeks and Rumble Fish didn't do anything here in the States either. I mean nothing. With Rumble Fish, Francis, you know, he had a vision, but Universal didn't know what the hell to do with it. It was so different than anything that was being done here. People didn't understand it. It wasn't till I got overseas, in Paris, that I realized, shit, people really dig this.