Dec. 22, 2008 -- Do call it a comeback. Please. Mickey Rourke insists.
Unlike some stars who claim they never counted themselves out of the game, Rourke is adamant that "The Wrestler" is his attempt to return to the Hollywood ring.
"This is a second chance for me. It's my last chance; I just wanted to bring it," he told Peter Travers in a recent interview set to air on ABC News Now's "Popcorn" Tuesday. "That's the only way I can work for the rest of my career."
His starring role as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in the Darren Aronofsky-directed drama, which opened in select theaters Friday, hits pretty much on top of home.
Randy's a washed-up professional wrestler climbing back into the ring two decades past his prime. Rourke, by his own admission, was a washed-up professional actor who could hardly hold down a job after retiring from the movie business and attempting a career in boxing in the early 1990s.
"Boxing was going to be my profession," he said about that stint. Rourke trained as a boxer in his early years and returned to the ring after breakout performances in the '80s hits "Diner" and "9½ Weeks" because he felt he was "self-destructing."
"It had very little to do with how I felt about acting," he said.
When injuries sidelined him from becoming as big of a star in boxing as he was on the big screen, Rourke attempted to get back into the business. Though he scored a handful of supporting roles in the mid '90s, his reputation as a tough guy turned off many in the industry. (At the time, Alan Parker, who directed Rourke in 1987's "Angel Heart," called working with the actor "a nightmare. ... He is very dangerous on the set because you never know what he is going to do.")
But while pro fighting may not have panned out for Rourke in real life, on screen, he's been almost universally hailed as nailing his part. Critics are calling his turn in "The Wrestler" as the best of the 52-year-old actor's career. He credits his comeback to Aronofsky.
"I was living on hope, fears," Rourke said. "Being out of work for 13 to 15 years is no walk in the park."
The director admitted it wasn't easy getting movie backers to take a chance on a down-and-out star.
"Every single investor said no to Mickey, at least once," Aronofsky told Travers.
Mickey Rourke's Comeback Through Film
Against all odds, the movie got made. Now, Oscar buzz is building. Rourke and "The Wrestler" have been nominated for a slew of awards, including Golden Globes for best actor. Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, who plays Randy's stripper love interest in the movie, also scored a Golden Globe nom for best supporting actress.
For a guy who started out the decade playing the villain in Enrique Iglesias' "Hero" music video, things have gotten pretty damn good. Rourke realizes that. Now that he's back in the game, he doesn't want to get out.
"With any athlete, there comes that time and day where they think you're too old. ... They put you on the bench," he said. "[But] you gotta keep on going, getting the edge."
Rourke was referring to "The Wrestler," but the adage seems pretty apt for the actor, too.