Mid-way through Mickey Rourke’s comeback vehicle, The Wrestler, his character Randy “The Ram” Robinson” –after learning he’s got to give up wrestling– attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood.
Sitting on the pier of the Jersey boardwalk in the middle of a bleak winter day, he pleads with his daughter to forgive him. “I’m an old broken down piece of meat,” he says tearfully. “And I’m alone. I deserve to be alone. And I just don’t want you to hate me.”
It’s the centerpiece of a heartwrenching movie that showcases Rourke’s subtle acting talents, which coupled with the immense physicality of the role (Rourke beefed up 35 pounds and trained for months before shooting), makes him the front-runner for the Best Actor category (He nabbed both the Golden Globe and the BAFTA).
It helps, too, that Randy the Ram’s narrative arc mirrors Rourke’s own life. Once hot and on top of the world, Rourke’s career self-destructed in the 90s. After a few memorable roles in classic movies like Diner and Body Heat, his onscreen choices became notoriously cheesy (Wild Orchid and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, anyone?) and he left Hollywood for a return to his first love, boxing, an adventure that lasted about four years longer than it should have.
After returning to Hollywood broke and with a broken face (from boxing injuries and, possibly, bad plastic surgery), he did a few memorable stints here and there in the aughts (Sin City and The Pledge), before Wrestler director Darren Aronofsky gave him a second chance. Upon meeting the notoriously untameable Rourke, Aronofsky told Rourke, ‘You’re gonna listen to everything I say and do everything I tell you,” and boy, we’re glad he did.