For Mickey Rourke, the renaissance continues: Following his triumphant return to the world of mainstream Hollywood films in Sin City and The Wrestler, he next joins the all-star cast of Iron Man 2, playing one of the film's parade of villains. As Ivan Vanko, a Russian weapons designer who creates a suit and power supply to match Tony Stark's, he gains a nickname (Whiplash) derived from the gadget he creates to up the destructive stakes - a pair of electrified whips wielded to extremely effective lengths. Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier sat down with Mickey in Hollywood, CA to talk gimmicks, gadgets and weeping in Russian...
Emmanuel Itier: There are some great gimmicks with the tattoos, the teeth… Were you involved in developing the way you looked?
Mickey Rourke: Jon [Favreau] showed me some drawings. They did some really nice illustrations of the character. I don’t know if the tattoos were there or not. I think he mentioned them, and then I did a whole bunch of research and picked each of them out because of the significant meanings. And when I was over in Russia, all the books I had… I met a guy who just got out of prison after 13 years there. It was in Moscow. He came up to my hotel room, took all his shit off and showed me what everything meant. And then even pulled his pants down. He had these eyeballs tattooed there. And I was, “What do those mean?” He goes, “I’m looking over things.” I go, “God, I gotta have that.” [Laughs] And then like he had a little tiny tattoo. And then all these eagles and shit. And the worst tattoo he had was a little tiny one. Didn’t say what that meant. So I tried to incorporate all that stuff into it.
EI: And the parrot? Why the bird?
MR: Because he’s alone. He’s working all the time by himself and he’s not a social person. A cat can’t talk to you. Maybe he could talk to the bird and the bird could say other things to him and keep him company…
EI: The bird wasn’t that chatty, though.
MR: Well, I had to fight for the bird. It was a fight to just get the bird in the fucking movie. [Laughs] Because everything wasn’t just run by Jon. He had to go through the Marvel people. [Laughs] So we had to get a green light to make sure the bird didn’t curse or pull its pants down or something.
EI: Was it actually your bird?
MR: No, I went out and got a bird just like that so I could see what happened at home.
EI: Do you still have it?
MR: Yeah. Some things I would say to the bird or do or whatever, I wanted to find out where the bird liked to be touched. I didn’t have time on the set to do that, so I did it with the bird that I bought that was just like the bird.
EI: You learned Russian for the movie. What else did you do to prepare?
EI: You went to the prison…
MR: I went to the prison in Moscow, and of course they showed me the cleanest prison they have. [Laughs] I was also told how the prisons are different outside in different zones. They had a really great bakery in the prison. And then the guards all play ping-pong, so they played ping-pong with the guards and then went in and met the prisoners. But the most interesting thing, really, was meeting the one prisoner who just got out after 13 years and seeing his different tattoos. I noticed he was very still with his movements. Physically, he was just very deliberate. He wasn’t like all over the place. He said what he said and he just moved… He just moved kind of slowly through everything. He took everything in, and when he looked at me, it’s almost like he looked through me. There was just something very solitary about him. I guess from maybe being in prison for so many years that… I’d ask him a question and he knew almost what I was going to ask him before I asked him the question.
EI: How was the mix on the set of these different ways of preparing the character? Because you are a Method actor. On set, was there a lot of improvisation…?
MR: There was no improvisation with Robert [Downey, Jr.] and I because Robert likes to stick to the lines. With the bird: different story. I think the time I did a little improv, a little bit, was with Sam Rockwell. That was a lot of fun. Sam sort of flowed with it, had a good time with it. It was nice.
EI: You agree you bring some rock and roll to the movie?
MR: Rock and roll? They told me to leave that at the door. [Laughs]
EI: But you didn’t.
MR: I try, you know.
EI: You gave the film an edge, don’t you think?
MR: I haven’t seen the film. I don’t know. I read my character. I didn’t read a lot of the other stuff too clearly. I have no idea what’s in the movie or what it’s about, to be honest with you. [Laughs]
EI: Is that the way you always operate?
MR: Pretty much.
EI: Does that work for you?
MR: Yeah, because I kind of don’t want to know what’s going on. It’s like in life. I don’t know what you… You know, he could get up and freak out right now and pull his pants off. I’m not going to know that. So I like to leave a little room open for the unexpected and not have in my head, “It’s supposed to happen like this…”
EI: How do you get your roles or choose your roles?
MR: My agent called me and said Jon Favreau wants to see you for this particular movie, and I said, “Oh, it’s another cartoon?” But I enjoyed working on Sin City with Rodriguez. And I’ll tell you the truth — I didn’t really care for all that Spider Man stuff. But I did really like Ironman. I liked it mainly cause Robert was in it. I thought Favreau did a great job together with Robert, and I thought it was just really great that Favreau took somebody like Robert and put him in the role instead of some flavor of the month. It could have been just some guy that was like watching grass grow, but Robert made it very interesting and funny and unpredictable. I think that’s the reason that the first one was a success, because of the chemistry they had. So when they presented me with this Russian guy, Favreau and I talked about it, and Justin Theroux is a really great writer. We were sending notes every day to reduce stuff, and I’d have to beg for the bird and for the tattoos and for the teeth, and they’d come around. They wouldn’t say “yes” right away. I kept saying, “What about the teeth?” “What about the tattoos?” It was a good collaboration with everybody.
EI: A movie like this usually opens with a bang, and this opens with you crying…
MR: It does? I don’t remember — it was a long time ago.
EI: You were weeping in Russian.
MR: I see.
EI: It was very touching, and it’s also very challenging. I think that was a big chance to take…
MR: For a cartoon, yeah. [Laughs] Can you call this a cartoon?
EI: Having been part of a big franchise and a studio like Marvel, has it made you think about doing another film like this? The doors are open to you at the moment, I’m sure…
MR: I don’t care. As long as I can work the way I did with Jon Favreau and Downey where they let me incorporate…not make a one-dimensional Russian bad guy and give the guy some humanity, a brain, some sensitivity, some understanding, some layers and not just make him like cowboys and Indians – the Indian is the bad guy. As long as I can work that way and make it interesting, then yeah, I could do this kind of movie again…if it comes around.
EI: I’m a journalist. I like to label things. So here we go: Are you the “Keith Richards” of acting, or is Keith Richards the “Mickey Rourke” of rock and roll?
MR: Oh, I don’t know. [Laughs]
EI: Because you’re very skilled, but you don’t care.
I care, but I don’t care. If they care, then I care. If they don’t care, then I don’t give a f***. Life’s too short and too weird to cry over spilled milk. There are more important things that happen than a movie.
EI: Are you a Keith Richards fan?
MR: He’s a survivor.
EI: Like you…
MR: He’s probably lucky, or else he’s much better behaved behind closed doors.
EI: I think that’s an option.
MR: I know Mick Jagger takes good care of himself, and there’s only one of him.
EI: Do you consider yourself a survivor?
MR: I think I’m a survivor of…maybe of my own destruction, but not of anybody else’s, perhaps. Not in the last 30 years.
EI: How was it with the suit? Did you spend much time in that suit? Was it mostly CGI?
MR: No, I spent a great deal of time in the suit. The suit only weighed about 42 lbs and… My trainer guy…what we did was we got on a treadmill, put it on an incline with a 40lb vest, and then did that for a half-hour, going uphill. Then we’d put the 20lb vest and we’d use the bullwhips to do all the… So I got in shape to wear the vest because the vest was pretty cumbersome. It was leather and metal, and it was quite heavy. So if I didn’t do the training for a couple of months, it would have been difficult.
EI: How much training did you do?
MR: About three months.
EI: And you still have the bird?
MR: I still have Sonny. My bird’s name is Sonny Boy.
EI: Where is he in the house?
MR: He is behind the couch, next to the TV ’cause he likes to hear all the chatter.
EI: Does he talk?
MR: Yes he does. He says one really bad word. [Laughs]
EI: Enlighten us.
MR: I can’t say it. You won’t like this one. I want to work for the next 20 years. [Laughs]
EI: What is the relation with the dogs?
MR: The relationship with the dogs is great. It’s just I miss the one dog and I’m having a very hard time… I do love all the other dogs, but this one was special. I can’t replace her.
EI: Is it true that if you don’t get enough love from people, you look for love by animals?
MR: I don’t know. I don’t see why not, though. I’d much rather be with the dogs than some people I’ve met. And then I’d rather be with some people I’ve met just as much as a dog. So I don’t know how to do it.
EI: Did you ever look at graphic novels or comics as a child?
MR: Not at all. Jon was very upfront with me about why he wanted me, where he wanted to take the character, where he would allow me to take the character… I believed him and I trusted him, so he let me rock and roll.
EI: Did he actually say it was going to be like Johnny Depp in Pirates?
MR: I don’t recall him saying that. Did he say that? I don’t’ know if he said that, but it would have been a good comparison, I guess…
EI: Are you very comfortable with your new-found fame? Is it easier this time around than the first time?
MR: Let’s put it this way: It was a lot more fun the first time around. [Laughs] I don’t want to go back to what happened. The first time around, I didn’t give a fuck. Now I care. It seems new, ’cause I don’t seem like the same person I was then. You don’t spend the whole time thinking about it, ’cause it gets you all confused. People ask me about 9 1/2 Weeks, and that just seems like another lifetime ago. It’s like somebody saying to you, “What was your favorite thing to do when you were six?” I don’t know.
EI: Scarlett Johansson mentioned that she thinks it’s easier for a man to have a comeback than for a female actress…
MR: I think the business is much easier for men than it is for women. You can take a woman that is real hot as a pistol, is a really great actress in her 20s, and it’s going to be very hard for her in her 40s ’cause the society is all geared around young pussy.
EI: Do men become more interesting as they age?
MR: I think a man might have made that up. I don’t think so.
'Iron Man 2' is in theaters now from Marvel/Paramount Pictures.