Rourke's career began to fall apart as his erratic behavior on movie sets earned him a reputation as a self-destructive troublemaker, and he later headed for Miami to pursue his dream of becoming a professional boxer. When he finally did return to acting, Rourke struggled for years to find a decent role. Now, he's not only collecting critical raves, he's a potential contender for Oscar gold.
Q: How huge of a challenge was this for you?
A: It was the hardest movie I've ever made. I was never so glad for a movie to be finished because it was just exhausting emotionally and physically. What's funny is that coming from boxing, I kind of looked down on wrestling. I saw it as a pre-choreographed, pre-arranged kind of entertainment. But after my third MRI and my fifth trip to the hospital during wrestling practice, I went, 'Man, these guys do get hurt.' At the end of the day, when they're in their mid-40s, they can't even tie their shoes. They're really busted up from head to toe.
Q: How badly did you get injured?
A: I had to go from 192 lbs up to 235 lbs and when you're packing that kind of weight and somebody picks you up, twirls you around and throws you down, something's going to hurt, rattle or roll. Finally I got a real serious one about the second month into training. I blew out an L5 disc in my back, which is not a good thing. So I limped back and instead of giving me sympathy, Darren Aronofsky the director, would be yelling at me in the gym, 'You're only giving me 50%.' That's what I like about him. He is the captain. The first day we met he pointed his little pinkie finger at me and he said, 'You're going to listen to everything I say. You're going to do everything I tell you, and you're never going to disrespect me in front of the crew. And I can't pay you.'
Q: How did you get Bruce Springsteen to do the title song for the film?
A: I wrote him a letter about how I felt about the movie. I had kind of lost touch with Bruce for a long time during my lost years. I lost touch with a lot of people. I wrote him a personal letter and he responded with a very beautiful song for us, 'The Wrestler,' that we couldn't have afforded in a million years.