Mickey Rourke was the best thing about Iron Man 2, and now he's wreaking havoc in a bear-tooth hat in The Immortals. How does he go about creating such memorably batshit villains? We were lucky enough to speak with him one on one recently, and he told us his evil secrets.
Find out how Rourke goes about creating such eccentric baddies, why he's constantly fighting to make movies more interesting — and what pisses him off about working on modern big-budget blockbusters.
In The Immortals, Rourke plays the villainous King Hyperion, who's bent on freeing the Titans and taking the ultimate vengeance on humanity. We had an exclusive interview with him at the press junket for Tarsem Singh's Greek gods movie this past weekend, and here's what he told us. Fair warning to our more delicate readers: this interview is spoiler-free, but there's plenty of profanity.
You play a larger-than-life eccentric villain in this movie. What do you find attractive about those sorts of roles, and what drew you to this project in particular?
I was very interested in working with the director Tarsem. Whatever is written up in the screenplay, when I'm reading, you always know he's going to bring some interesting visuals as well as interesting ideas for the characters. We had a long pre-production, so we knew everything was going to be really done for us before we even showed up. And reading the character, talking to Tarsem, I'm attracted to the villain — because I guess that's how he's written, depending on your point of view — trying to develop a character that has layers and isn't just a one-note sort of bad guy all the time.
So do you approach him as a bad guy, or do you try to see it from his perspective?
I try to justify his actions. I'm looking at it as like I would a guy on the street. You know, he's a guy in a particular position, he's the king of his neighborhood, and the other little prick has crossed the boundaries and come into his territory. And so he's just going to cut his fucking head off, you know, for justifiable reasons.
A lot of your characters have eccentric visual quirks. Hyperion has that huge headgear, and there's the cockatoo in Iron Man 2. Do those help you get into character?
It's all part of the fantasy, really. It helps me more than it hinders me, that's the way I look at it. Because it's sort of... you know, you buy into what's going on in the moment when you're watching the shot.
How do you avoid just playing standard, cliched villains?
I make choices that interest me that I hope... I pretty much think about the audience. To me, what's real laborious is just doing the one-dimensional, one-note bad guy. So I try to make him as interesting as I can. I try to convince the powers that be, whether it's Jon Favreau or Tarsem, and so I try to stretch the choices I make as far as I can just to give the character some more interesting layers, hopefully, at the end of the day.
You seem to bring an energy to this movie that's not like what we're used to seeing in these sorts of epics...
Well, you know, thankfully, people like Tarsem and [producers] Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari instead of going with a piece of wood that floats, they want somebody interesting.
You've talked a lot in recent interviews about your upcoming biopic about Gareth Thomas, the Welsh rugby player who became the first professional athlete to come out of the closet while still playing. That's a much more personal project for you than something like Immortals — is that a balance you're trying to strike in your career?
I've always liked that other type of movie more than something like this. But when something like Immortals comes along, I try to find the integrity of the piece, I try to find what interests, what's interesting and intelligent, and what rocked it for me was the fact that I know Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari, they always set the bar high and those people at Relativity. They make intelligent films, they try to do that, and they have done it, and they hired a director of the caliber of Tarsem.
Does a movie like Immortals give you more of a sandbox approach to acting, where you're more able to just play around and have fun with the role?
It does if you have the right players. Because you have some creative, open-minded, innovative producers that are going to hire an eccentric visualist like Tarsem. For me, that's like a breath of fresh air, to have a really intelligent guy that's going to take and he's going to not compromise, he's going to be shooting this movie with integrity, in a very classy way, the way he does his commercials. I don't necessarily think I would have made this movie if Tarsem Singh wasn't the director.
So a lot of it is finding the right director who you feel comfortable with?
I try to find the right director who won't compromise his or anyone else's integrity, and yet be political enough to give the studio what they want yet put up a fight to maintain that integrity. So we're not watching some science fiction fucking wham bam thank you ma'am Marvel piece of crap.
Your big goal then is to be able to express yourself clearly to the director and do what you want to do?
I try to gain ground every day, and Tarsem is intelligent enough and has enough integrity, he's going to be intelligent and open-minded enough to hear my fight, to [hear] me say, "Let me do this," "Why does he have to do that real bad and angry, why can I'd do that gently?", "Why can't you see moments in Hyperion where you go, 'You know, I understand where he's coming from?'"
You've mentioned before that you're looking to work with people who will bring everything they've got and not back down from you...
I'm looking for somebody who's going to make something respectable, with as much integrity as they can. And not just shoot the thing for entertainment or making money reasons. Yes, I have come to terms with this business being political and it's about making money, and there's a lot of gray — and I understand it's why I'm talking to you, we're trying to get people to see this movie. I have a responsibility there where many years ago I wouldn't have done this, but I understand what the game is now. So as I'm on this journey I'm just trying to keep as much integrity as an actor, the reason I wanted to be an actor and not just sell out. So if I have an idea, I'm not working for some hack the studio got to save money with shooting, because he can get the job done in a certain amount of time. They hired a guy who is not a hack. They hired a guy who might cost them some more dollars, but the movie is going to be a hell of a lot more interesting.
Maybe he's intelligent enough that if I come up with an interesting idea, he's going to let me go with it. It may not be the best idea, but he's not going to be some hack who's going to say to me, "Oh, we don't have time for that." If I ever looked at my acting like that or the journey I'm on, I might as well get a job punching a fucking clock, right? A lot of movie-making, and a lot of TV, and I look at a lot of other stuff, and I go, "That's all these motherfuckers are doing is punching a clock." I'm sure you've seen twenty movies in the last two years that were over a hundred million dollars that looked like some jerk-off punching a clock.
So it's finding room for the art to get through, even on a big-budget movie like this...
I mean, I'm no IFC independent arty farty motherfucker. Just because they shoot a movie that cost two million dollars, they call it art? I'm not banging that drum either. What I'm just trying to say is that, hey, Tarsem has got a great commercial reel. He's really fucking talented, and he's still got his artistic integrity, so he's going to do the best he fucking can to make this movie just keep you on the edge of your seat. And I want to go along for that ride.
Immortals opens tomorrow.