Actor Mickey Rourke

The Oscar nominee and star of the fantasy adventure film Immortals explains why he continues to play such physical roles.

Mickey Rourke made a long climb back to the acting business. He grew up in Miami's tough Liberty City area, where he learned to box, and has been both an amateur and a pro in the sport. He launched his acting career with small roles before garnering attention in the film Body Heat and went on to earn critical acclaim for numerous performances. After taking a break from acting, he made a high profile comeback, winning an Oscar nod for The Wrestler, and has since appeared in Iron Man 2 and The Expendables. He's next up in the action film Immortals.


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Mickey Rourke back to this program. Following his Oscar-nominated role in “The Wrestler,” the veteran actor continues his run of high-profile projects, including films like “Iron Man 2” and of course “The Expendables.”

His latest is called “Immortals.” The movie opens in theaters around the country this weekend, and so here now a scene from “Immortals.”


Tavis: So we stopped that scene just before it got krunk. (Laughter) It was about to be on and popping in that scene in just a second, which leads me to start this conversation by asking when, Mickey, are you going to stop playing these physical roles? You’re not getting any younger, dude.

Mickey Rourke: No, I’m no spring chicken, dad. (Laughs)

Tavis: Yeah, you ain’t getting any younger. You keep taking on these –

Rourke: Yeah. This one really wasn’t that physical. It was all – we had a big fight – there’s a really nice fight scene. I’m not going to say when it comes in, but we actually did the fight scene, it was choreographed, and then you know how they go to the middle of nowhere and they test the movies?

What they said was they wanted to see more. So about seven, eight months after we finished the movie we went back in and actually re-choreographed a longer, more physical fight scene, and I said, “Oh, no.” I don’t mind if it’s like, oh, a line here and there, but not the fight scene again.

Tavis: But you’re making my point, though.

Rourke: Yeah.

Tavis: What is it about these physically demanding roles that really get your attention?

Rourke: Truthfully, I think it’s the – I did sports my whole life coming up, but it’s something that I’ve always tremendously missed. I always liked contact sports. It just, the preparation or the training that I have to do before I do a film, it’s usually a couple months or what have you, I need that regimen in my life to just be calm and to relax and everything.

It’s something I miss. It’s like when you see a professional fighter or a football player, baseball, whatever sport, and somebody says, “Well, you can’t do it anymore, you’ve got to retire,” half of them go haywire.

Tavis: That’s true. Did you get hurt on this one?

Rourke: No, I was hurt coming in on this one. (Laughter)

Tavis: You were hurt going in.

Rourke: I was real hurt going in. I was over in London and I was in a bar at about 4:00 in the morning, drinking some tequila, and –

Tavis: Not a bar story, Mickey.

Rourke: No, no, no –

Tavis: Okay.

Rourke: These rugby players came in and we started talking about sport. I thought we had a lot in common with this, that and the other, and the tequila and the good time, and one thing led to another, we started arm wrestling, and (laughter) I went through, like, one or two of them. Then the third guy was, like, the size of a house, and he just – and my tendon popped and my arm swelled up real big.

Anyway, to make a long story short, we started a friendship and they gave me a magazine about their team, the Huddersfield Giants, and that article was an article about another rugby player who is the first athlete to come out of the closet while he’s still playing professionally.

Then I heard some talk about him, I was watching that “Pardon the Interruption” show and they were giving him props for his courage for coming out, especially playing the game that he plays. So I went over and asked him if I could get the rights to his story, and –

Tavis: So now you’re going to play him.

Rourke: I’m going to play him, and that’s –

Tavis: So another physical role.

Rourke: Yeah, but I’ve been training now for six months.

Tavis: Right. Rugby’s a tough sport.

Rourke: Yeah, and I haven’t done wind sprints in 20 years, so you can imagine what I’m going through. Actually had to – my body broke down about a month ago and the doctor actually told my trainer, “Cut everything in half.” So we’ve got another six months of training and we’re going to rock and roll with it.

Tavis: So shouldn’t there be something in your contract, and I’m sure there is now, for all the agents and producers watching this program, all the producers especially, I’m sure there’s a new clause in your contract, “Mickey Rourke cannot arm-wrestle in bars in advance of shooting the next project.”

Rourke: Oh, no, I’m never going to (laughter) – I called, I was in Germany, actually, and I called up – a friend of mine had told me Klitschko had just had a bicep operation, a tendon operation, what have you, and to call him up. So I called Klitschko up and first thing he said is, “Mickey, you’re too old to be arm-wrestling rugby players.”

Tavis: (Laughter) Klitschko understands, man.

Rourke: Yeah, yeah.

Tavis: He gets it.

Rourke: The operation didn’t work, so now I’m going to probably have to get a cadaver tendon, and if the chances work that it’ll work.

Tavis: Have you always been this way? Have you always like living on the edge, living on the wild side?

Rourke: I never thought – see, the thing is I don’t consider it living on the edge.

Tavis: It’s just you being you.

Rourke: No, where I come from, all the boys that lived on the edge, they’re all in jail.

Tavis: Right.

Rourke: Those are the guys I consider living on the edge.

Tavis: That’s fair. That’s fair.

Rourke: Yeah.

Tavis: So “Immortals,” let me jump back to where we started. So King Hyperion, tell me about this role that you’re playing here.

Rourke: I just showed up, put my pants on, and said my lines, brother.

Tavis: (Laughter) No, no, no, it’s more than that. Tell me about the character.

Rourke: Well, the character is a mythology character, he’s a god that’s they threw out of upstairs, whatever they wanted to call it then, and he’s down here on Earth, and people said, well, he’s really a mean (unintelligible) and he’s quite evil.

I try to say, well, you look at it like well, he considers this territory his neighborhood, and some young (unintelligible) is coming into his neck of the woods on his block and so he’s just taking care of business. It’s like, no, no, no, this is my neighborhood. So you have to skedaddle.

Tavis: (Laughs) You love this, though. I can see it on your face. You love this, man.

Rourke: I have a good time. No, people always say, they say, (laughter) “You like playing bad guys and evil guys.” I’m saying, “They take what they offer me.” But I always look for stuff that has integrity. That’s why I chose to work with this director.

I saw his commercial reel and I was blown away by it. He even did a commercial reel where he had all these athletes and they were in masks. That was for Nike, with Derek Jeter and all these other guys, I think that he was in it. That was, like, preparation for him to do this, you see, with the masks and everything.

I knew when I read the material, after looking at his reel, he would be able to sort of transcend what was on the page to the screen in a very classy way.

Tavis: But you’re not going to deny that, Mickey, you do like playing bad guys. You like playing the heavy.

Rourke: You know what? For some reason – here’s my big fight. Usually if you read a screenplay, no matter who’s writing it, the bad guy is always written as a one-dimensional bad guy. I always say to the director, I went through this on other projects, wait a minute, he can’t be bad all the time.

I’ve met some gangsters in my day that, “Can I get you this, could you do that?” Really polite. Then it’s like, “Yeah, we’re going to cut him up later.” (Laughter) So I want to add those elements to King Hyperion. What’s nice about this director, who’s very clever, is he said, “Well, before you go over there and cut his (unintelligible) off, just stop over there and pick up the apple and sort of maybe you’re going to give it to him or maybe not.

“You’re not just running over there to cause havoc. Take a moment to just see what you want to do before you do it.”

Tavis: So why not, then – and maybe you will in the not-too-distant future – why not go, just do a 180 and play a character who is just a really, really nice guy?

Rourke: I’m waiting for that. Hollywood’s famous for putting you in a box.

Tavis: In a box, yeah. Would you like that?

Rourke: Of course I’d like to get the girl.

Tavis: Could you do that?

Rourke: Huh?

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)

Rourke: What?

Tavis: I heard the last part, yeah. (Laughter) I know you can do that. Could you play the nice guy?

Rourke: I’m looking forward to it, brother.

Tavis: Yeah.

Rourke: Lots of times the bad guy, if I could play with it a little bit and communicate with the director and the powers to be, I could turn it into a very interesting character where the all-American so-and-so is written a certain way. So I’m looking forward to playing a good guy, yeah.

Tavis: Yeah. How was this – I said it and I suspect most other persons who are honored enough to have a chance to interview you right around this point of your career, I suspect this comes up in every conversation, which is this resurgence that you are undergoing, this bounce back, whatever you want to call it – bounce back, comeback, resurgence.

How do you see that, and is it going the way that you thought it would? Because you’ve had a serious run since “The Wrestler,” man. You’ve been running.

Rourke: Yeah, well, I had a serious amount of time, 13 years out of work, too, where after I think a decade – after several years went by I thought, whoa, I’m not going to get invited to the dance again.

Then after a decade went by I started thinking, “I can’t be in this town and feel this kind of shame and humiliation,” because it makes you feel small. You feel insignificant. It’s like people said, “Oh, well, you got hard back in the day.” I said, “Yeah, I got hard, but I got hard to cover up a whole bunch of (unintelligible) that made me feel small and insignificant when I was little,” because it’s easier to feel like this than the other way.

So after, like, 10 years or so went by I had lost pretty much everything I thought I had or wanted, and there was particular things I wanted back. I knew – I can’t go into what it is, but I knew if I could come back again, maybe I could get these things back.

Tavis: You say you don’t want to go into it and I won’t press you on that, but are the things you’re talking about, Mickey, are they external things or internal things? Character things or possessions?

Rourke: Neither.

Tavis: Neither, okay.

Rourke: Yeah. There was just some contact that I wanted to just reclaim.

Tavis: Okay.

Rourke: I wanted to be good enough to be able to be identified, recognized, reckoned with. It gave me the fire, it gave me the drive, because I said, “I’ve got to have that back or I’m going to just die.”

Tavis: When you know inside, Mickey, when you know inside that you still have that – and when I say “that,” I mean the gift – when you know you still have the gift, when you know you still have the talent, and folk don’t recognize it, either because you have self-inflicted wounds or because they’re just not calling your number right now, but when you have that gift, you’ve shown it before, you know it’s still there, they’re not giving you a chance to expose it again, how do you navigate that?

Rourke: It ain’t about the gift. It ain’t about that at all, that’s the thing. It’s about the reputation. The first time around, you could make a few mistakes, when you’re in your twenties or whatever. But when you try to come back at 40, it’s like, it’s about you got this reputation, and I didn’t handle my stuff good.

I’ve said in the past I was responsible for bringing Mickey down, not anybody else that I’d scream and yell at, because there comes that one day when you’re all alone and you’ve got to look in the mirror and you can’t blame anybody else, because that’s the only way you can get strong again is if you do the hard work and you take the blame.

Then you’ve got to climb that hill all by yourself again, and it’s harder the second time around because you’ve got to make changes, and change is the hardest thing in the world for anybody, for a guy like me or guys like me or what have you is to completely change and kind of like turn the cheek a little bit, because you feel like oh, man, I built my whole life to be this kind of man, and now I’ve got to, like, bend a little bit.

But it was okay for me to bend a little bit, because what I had cultivated myself into was no longer a strength; it was a weakness.

Tavis: So it wasn’t hard for you to be humble?

Rourke: It was a process. It became easier. It was not easy for me to say – I didn’t care about repercussions. I didn’t care about what being called a professional was or being on time or telling somebody to (unintelligible) off or, like, “What are you looking at?” If I’m walking in a fancy restaurant in Beverly Hills and some guy who’s a big-time player is looking at my girl’s (unintelligible), I’m going to say something.

But you can’t do that all the time. You’ve got to go, oh, well, he’s just admiring what I got, instead of – that don’t work here.

Tavis: Not (unintelligible).

Rourke: No.

Tavis: That thing, that thing that we’re not going to talk about that you wanted to reclaim, have you reclaimed it? Have you found it?

Rourke: No.

Tavis: Or are you still in the process?

Rourke: No, no, no, it’s –

Tavis: It’s still coming.

Rourke: Well, no, no, there are certain things that I’ve reclaimed.

Tavis: Right.

Rourke: There’s other things that you realize in life you’re better off without.

Tavis: What are you proudest of that you have reclaimed with this resurgence you’ve been on? Because everybody’s loving you right now, so what are you proudest of that you have, in fact, pulled back on your side of the ledger?

Rourke: Letting what made me short-circuit years ago, letting that anger and that shame go.

Tavis: Okay.

Rourke: Yeah. Being able to go, “That man with the big stick ain’t around no more. I can’t blame the whole world for that.” That, because everybody paid for that. When that guy swung the lead, everybody the rest of my life paid for that.

Tavis: The anger part I get. The shame – why shame, though? What was there to be shameful about? Mad at yourself, like you said earlier, for inflicting some wounds. What’s there to be shameful about?

Rourke: Probably the same was – it’s hard to talk about – it’s not being able to stick up for yourself when you’re two feet tall.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah.

Rourke: And say, I don’t – get your (unintelligible) hands off me, even though you can’t do nothing.

Tavis: Yeah.

Rourke: Yeah.

Tavis: Wow. What is it about the acting thing that allowed you to endure all that you’ve endured, to fight as hard as you have fought to come back? There must be something about this thing called acting; there must be something about being a thespian that just means more to you than anything in the world.

Rourke: When I started out, I started out boxing, and I got hurt, and I was told to take a couple of years off. I didn’t go back. I went to acting. I started to do the acting thing by mistake.

It was hard for me, because it was all – I wasn’t real social and I wasn’t very verbal. I was just dead quiet. Plus I was still on the street. I was handing out flyers for (unintelligible) on 42nd Street and doing this, that and the other that I shouldn’t have been doing, and it was like, it was weird to be living on the street and going to acting class like regular people. (Laughter)

Because I’m sitting there watching it, going, “When am I going to be able to get up in front of the class and read something?” So for two years I sat in class and I couldn’t get up in front of the class. It was like (unintelligible). I couldn’t do it. I was terrified.

Then one day I was with this – the teacher said to me to do what she called work, put myself somewhere else, someplace that I loved, that I missed, and I made it the Fifth Street Gym, and we were doing this activity where I was lacing my shoes up and my boots, and she said, “You hear sounds in the gym. Who’s there?” and she said to me, “Tell me whose voice you hear?” I said, “Oh, I hear Ali’s voice, I hear Jimmy (unintelligible) voice, I hear Jerry Corey’s voice,” and I started to have fun with it.

I realized I was so focused and concentrated that I let all my being scared go. Then years later, when I didn’t like acting anymore and I went away and then turned professional and fought for five years and Freddie Roach was my trainer, there came a day again when they said, “Well, you can’t fight anymore.”

I said, “Okay,” because my neurological test. But people said – I think to myself, was that destructive, that I took five years off to go do that? But yet what I never had, even when I was an amateur fighter, or even as a civilian, I never had discipline with being focused and concentrated. I was a scattered everywhere.

But going back and working with Freddie Roach, it was all about being responsible, being focused and being concentrated, and hard work and just going over something that was like, yeah, anybody can do all this. You training – you know about boxing – if you can just perfect a left jab you can keep 90 percent of the people off you.

So it’s all about boom, and I remember one time I’ve gone boom and I’ve got this hand down here, Freddie threw off his mitt and hit me a left hook, and he said, “Get that (unintelligible) hand up.” I said, “Oh.” It’s better you learn it in the gym than in the fight. (Laughter)

So it was like now with acting, when that little red light goes on and you’ve got to do your thing, I’m relaxed. I’m concentrated, because when that bell rang it was like, “Oh, excuse me, could you do that over here?” You ain’t got time for that.

Tavis: So the fight game has enhanced your acting ability.

Rourke: It really brought back like a sixth sense with being – it’s like live or die when that light goes on. So it’s helped me.

Tavis: Since you raise that, you mentioned that – well, I should – you mentioned it, but I’ll take it a step further. So there’s a fighter who you used to train, a guy named Terry Claybon.

Rourke: I wasn’t his trainer.

Tavis: No, you managed him, I’m sorry, his manager.

Rourke: I was an amateur fighter.

Tavis: Right.

Rourke: Terry Claybon had just turned pro.

Tavis: That’s right.

Rourke: He needed some kind of support, and Bill Slayton, God rest his soul, he was like a dad to all of us, he said, “Let’s manage Terry together,” he said, “Because you’re not going anywhere and Terry’s going somewhere.” (Laughter) He said, “You’re going to be a club fighter; Terry could be a champion.”

So we managed Terry together. Terry was, like, I think 12, 13 and 0, because speed fighter with a left hook.

Tavis: He was quick.

Rourke: Quick feet and smart, which is –

Tavis: I only raise that because the guy that you used to manage is now my trainer, so I hear these Mickey Rourke stories in the gym all the time. I’m always hearing Mickey Rourke stories from Terry.

Rourke: Did he tell you how he knocked me on my (unintelligible) with a left hook?

Tavis: No, we’re not going to talk about that.

Rourke: No, he did.

Tavis: We’re not going to talk about that. (Laughter)

Rourke: He’s one of three guys who did. I got (unintelligible).

Tavis: No, no, no, no, no, no. But he has great respect and adoration for you for all that you did for him in his career, but I raise that only because to your point, when I started boxing a year or so ago I was amazed, to your point, at how much the fight game really does discipline you in every other aspect of your life, and I’m a relatively disciplined person anyway. But fighting takes it to a whole nother level.

Rourke: It’s a whole other level. That focus, that concentration, it’s just – Freddie Roach, since he’s gotten many (unintelligible) he’s – Freddie used to sleep in the gym. Freddie’s a millionaire now, but if you see Freddie working in action, it’s all about concentration, focus.

If you go in there, as you know, and you, even though he’s strong as a horse, and you’re not relaxed, you’re going to get tired. So it’s all about relaxation, concentration, focus, which is key elements when you’re acting.

Tavis: Since you’ve mentioned Freddie’s name two or three times, I cannot let this conversation end without asking you who you like in the fight this weekend. It’s going to be a big one.

Rourke: Somebody asked me that the other day. Oh, this weekend.

Tavis: Yeah, Manny and –

Rourke: Oh, Freddie.

Tavis: Yeah.

Rourke: I thought you meant the other one coming up.

Tavis: Yeah, we’ll talk about that. But so it’s Manny and –

Rourke: Yeah, Marquez, no?

Tavis: Marquez, exactly. So you like Manny in this fight?

Rourke: Here’s the way I look at it.

Tavis: Okay.

Rourke: Whoever Freddie Roach is training, I’m rooting for. (Laughter) That’s the way it is.

Tavis: Well, that’s Manny in this fight, then.

Rourke: Yeah.

Tavis: Yeah.

Rourke: Yeah.

Tavis: Okay, so you feel the same way about –

Rourke: Yes.

Tavis: – Pacquiao.

Rourke: Yes.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah. It ain’t ever going to happen, I don’t think.

Rourke: If Freddie switched camps, I’d be rooting for the other guy, so.

Tavis: Are you serious?

Rourke: Yeah. My love’s to Freddie, man.

Tavis: I respect that.

Rourke: Yeah.

Tavis: I respect that.

Rourke: Anybody who said to me – I was losing a fight one time in Miami, or not doing too good. It was about even, but the other guy was beating me a little. I went back to the corner – this is my hometown – and Freddie goes like this: “You want to go back to acting?” and I said, (laughter) “No.” He goes like this – boom. “Then you get in there and knock that (unintelligible) out.” Okay?

Tavis: Yeah. Well, I think – Freddie’s pretty good, though.

Rourke: Freddie’s the bomb, man. Freddie’s great.

Tavis: Yeah.

Rourke: Yeah, legendary, and a great fighter passed away, want to give my condolences to –

Tavis: Joe Frazier.

Rourke: – Marvis and his family, Joe, Smokin’ Joe, a legend, yeah. I liked Joe. We had some dinners. He was a piece of work, man, yeah.

Tavis: Yeah. So to your point now, the point you made a moment ago about Freddie asking you whether you wanted to go back to acting, so this is it for you for the rest of your life. You’re comfortable now in this space, this acting space?

Rourke: Yes.

Tavis: Yeah.

Rourke: Yes.

Tavis: This is it.

Rourke: I feel very blessed that I’ve had an opportunity to come back and do this again. In any line of work, no matter what you do anywhere, you don’t get the second chances. Even with sports you don’t get the second chance, so.

Tavis: You even got hands and feet – put that back up, Jonathan. You’ve even got hands and feet in the sidewalk now.

Rourke: Yeah, yeah. I’m more proud of having my dog and my grandma and my brother’s name on that.

Tavis: Yeah.

Rourke: Yeah.

Tavis: How did you – tell me about this love you have – you love your dogs over the years.

Rourke: Yeah.

Tavis: Yeah.

Rourke: Yeah.

Tavis: How’d that develop, as a kid?

Rourke: It’s actually from just being – it’s like I said, when you lose everything and the people run to the hills, you change your habits. I realized I had to change the people I was rolling with, going out with, because they weren’t good for me to be around or what have you. I wasn’t good to be around.

But I had to clean house, and so that’s what I ended up with, was Loki and Bojack and Kid Chocolate.

Tavis: Kid Chocolate.

Rourke: Well, they’re all named after fighters.

Tavis: I love that. (Laughs)

Rourke: Yeah, yeah.

Tavis: I love Kid Chocolate, though.

Rourke: Yeah, Kid Chocolate, Bojack.

Tavis: So that old saying is true, that dog really is man’s best friend.

Rourke: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Tavis: You lost one of your dogs.

Rourke: I’d rather stick a knife in my assistant (unintelligible) over there than hit my dog. (Laughter) Come over here, son.

Tavis: But you lost one of your dogs.

Rourke: I lost all my brood. I had the whole brood, yeah, for 19 years, 18 years, 17 years, 16, 14 and 13, yeah.

Tavis: So what do you do, you start over again?

Rourke: I started over again.

Tavis: What you got now?

Rourke: I got Ruby Baby, I got Moshofsky, I got Tango Makarenko and Jaws. Yeah.

Tavis: Okay.

Rourke: Yeah.

Tavis: (Laughs) I love Mickey Rourke. The new movie is called “Immortals.” This guy has been on a run the last few years since “The Wrestler,” and I’m rooting for Mickey Rourke all the time in anything he – just like he roots for Freddie Roach, I root for Mickey Rourke. Mickey, good to have you on this program.

Rourke: Thanks, brother. Thank you very much.

Tavis: Good to have you here.

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Last modified: November 11, 2011 at 2:16 pm