One reason that Mickey Rourke’s performance in The Wrestler is so affecting is that it’s the first role to fully exploit the gruesomeness of Rourke’s real-life appearance. As Randy “the Ram” Robinson, Rourke is puffed up and salon-tanned, as manufactured as the twists and turns in the Ram’s wrestling matches. But to see Rourke’s face in The Wrestler as the Ram remembers his eighties triumphs is to be reminded of the beautiful guy Rourke once was in that same decade. Directors didn’t always know what to do with him then — just as few directors until Darren Aronofsky have known what to do with that face these days. Check out Vulture’s slideshow of Mickey Rourke’s face through the ages, after the jump.
You likely haven’t seen Michael Cimino’s legendary flop Heaven’s Gate, but if you have, Rourke’s baby face pops out of the movie’s three-hour running time, even amid such other distinctive visages as Christopher Walken and Kris Kristofferson.
All stills courtesy of the respective studios.
Rourke is so pretty in Body Heat that he has real trouble seeming convincing as a dangerous explosives expert. When he tells William Hurt that femme fatale Kathleen Turner sought Rourke out behind Hurt’s back, you’ll probably think, Of course she did!
Up against such regular-guy faces as Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, and Paul Reiser, Rourke – while otherwise very good in Barry Levinson’s ode to 1959 Baltimore – doesn’t quite fit in.
A little bit older now, Rourke is already adopting tough-guy attitudes in public appearances.
Seen here with Faye Dunaway around the same time that he starred as Charles Bukowski in Barfly, Rourke is already unafraid of hard living, onscreen or in real life.
One of the first movies to really use Rourke’s encroaching seediness to good effect is this erotic thriller, best known to most as the movie you watched the night your parents got Cinemax.
Rourke doesn’t do his face any favors with his early-nineties flirtation with boxing.
Four years of boxing left Rourke with some pretty impressive facial issues, it seems, because by 1995 he already is starting to look a little bit like a scary grandma on the subway. Not coincidentally, this is a fallow period in Rourke’s career – he makes a series of forgettable movies, ending with Another 9 1/2 Weeks in 1997.
At the premiere for The Rainmaker, Rourke looks dramatically older and scarier – but still somewhat normal – and he’s still playing a hero of sorts, an unscrupulous but basically good-hearted ambulance chaser.
In Buffalo 66, Rourke is cast in a vivid one-scene role as the evil bookie who threatens hapless hero Vincent Gallo’s family and sends him to jail. It’s the beginning of a string of villainous roles for the onetime romantic hero.
The hair. The lips. The tan. Rourke already looks a lot like Randy the Ram, and so, frighteningly, does his longtime partner, Carrie Otis.
Up against the similarly reconstructed Sylvester Stallone, villainous pimp Rourke still manages to seem more horrifying in their climactic, uh, face-off.
Worried about how frightening your face looks? Sit next to Bob Dylan! Next to the ancient sage of rock and roll, Rourke looks fantastic.
Having cast an actor with a perfectly mangled face as haunted bruiser Marv, directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez force Rourke to go through three hours of makeup every day to make him even more frightening.
Do not attempt to wink, Mickey Rourke.
In The Wrestler, Rourke’s face can be alive with joy during his bouts, and at other times seems to collapse in on itself in sadness. It’s an intense and incredible performance – but one that makes us wonder what other serious roles Rourke could possibly play. The Wrestler could be the beginning of Mickey Rourke’s career resurrection – or just a never-to-be-repeated highlight for an actor whose face once promised much more.