This Could Be A Total Bust, or Mickey Rourke Inside The Actor’s Studio, by Brendan O’Malley

My talented brother Brendan O’Malley is an amazing writer and actor. He maintained a blog for many years (he doesn’t blog anymore) -in 2020 I posted links to his 50 Best Albums essays, as well as all of his music essays – shows he’d seen, artists he loved, etc. Today, though, I’m posting what he wrote about Mickey Rourke – in honor of Mickey Rourke’s birthday. I am tangentially involved in this story. Many years back, it was announced that Mickey Rourke was being interviewed by Jim Lipton in Los Angeles for “Inside the Actors Studio.” I am on the mailing list for those interviews, and I went to all of the interviews in its early seasons, held at the New School for Social Research. (If you watch early seasons, and you see a red-haired woman wearing a black beret in the audience – that’s me.) I got complementary tickets due to my association with the Actors Studio. I would have obviously gone if Mickey Rourke’s interview took place in New York, but this one was being filmed in Los Angeles. I emailed Michael instantly – old-timers know all about Michael – one of our bonds was – and still is – Mickey Rourke. I asked if he wanted to take my ticket. He was busy, so I texted Bren. Thankfully he was able to go! And he gave a full report. Here it is.

This Could Be A Total Bust, or Mickey Rourke Inside The Actor’s Studio

We sat in the plush velvet theater seats waiting for Mickey Rourke to come out and have his ass kissed by James Lipton. The evening was supposed to have started at 7PM and it was now pushing 8. Our seats were right next to the two cameramen set up in the audience to film Lipton and Rourke. We heard their conversation…

“He’s not even here.”


“Rourke. He ain’t here. This could be a bust.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Just heard it on the headset. He isn’t here. This could be a bust. I mean, a total bust.”

This could be a total bust. With Mickey Rourke, who was briefly on top of the mountain, there is always the chance that he might just decide, “Ah, fuck this noise.” And disappear forever.

But all of a sudden there he was.

He was wearing what appeared to be some sort of a seersucker suit with a sheer tight long sleeve muscle shirt underneath open to his navel. His tri-color hair was in a set of mild dreadlocks and he wore blue velvet shoes without socks that looked like they could have been worn by Kirsten Dunst in a scene from Marie Antoinette. A fedora/hat-you-wear-to-bet-on-horses was pulled down over a pair of shades which sat atop an impish mustache/goatee triangle. In short, he looked fucking crazy.

Lipton asked about his parents’ divorce when he was young and he mumbled that Lipton was going to make him smoke sooner than he thought. He then pulled out a Zippo attached to a watch-fob and lit up the first of what seemed to be a thousand cigarettes.

In a moment of behavior reminiscent of the kind he uses to such wonderful advantage in his film portraits, he became frustrated by the smoke billowing out of the coffee mug he’d been ashing into so he took the pitcher from the side table and poured a dollop of water in to quench the ember.

The movement was delicate, refined, the kind of thing an aristocrat would do if they were holding a meeting with a visiting dignitary. When you combine that kind of grace and precision with the body and fashion sense of a Miami pimp with a Gatsby fetish … well, let’s just say you wind up with Mickey Rourke.

I won’t go into all of the amazing anecdotes he shared. You can watch the Inside The Actor’s Studio broadcast for that.

Melody (my girlfriend) is younger than me by just enough that she missed Mickey Rourke’s moment in the sun. She has a memory of seeing 9 ½ Weeks in high school and knowing it was naughty but she was too young to really identify with Mickey Rourke as an actor. She’d seen Barfly in college but couldn’t really remember it. His charm is pretty much disguised in that movie anyway. We went to see The Wrestler which capitalizes on his past but she really hadn’t been subjected to the full weight of what had been LOST.

So we watched Angel Heart to get ready for the big event. It was very interesting to watch someone experience Rourke for the first time in all his glory. He is truly astonishing.

(Side note: they didn’t talk about this film AT ALL which is such an oversight that there must be an actual reason for it, either Rourke refused to talk about it or Alan Parker wouldn’t give permission for the clips. There’s a story there that I’d love to know about.)

As we watched Angel Heart I primarily watched Melody. Since I know what is coming next in each scene, I vicariously witnessed her being buffeted about by the story, by Rourke’s easy charm and rumpled elegance, by the existential dread that he effortlessly embodies. This carried over to the night of the Inside The Actor’s Studio taping and by the time we left she admitted that she was “a little in love with Mickey Rourke.”

And isn’t that what is happening with the whole world right now? And isn’t that great? The whole world is saying, “Hey, Mickey Rourke! We are a little in LOVE with you.” It isn’t just normal box-office bullshit, media-created marketing blitzes telling us that Josh Hartnett is sliced bread’s next incarnation.

Nothing against Josh Hartnett (who I actually like), but the powers-that-be tried to treat him like he was Johnny Depp before anyone had gotten a look at him. He was like a minor league phenom touted as the next big thing. Then he gets to the big leagues and it just doesn’t happen. And conversely, can you imagine reading that Josh Hartnett had given up acting and was pursuing boxing? That he had had it with the stinking quagmire of Hollywood and rejected the whole kit and caboodle?

There was an organic quality to Mickey Rourke’s rise to stardom that is hard to explain to people now. There was no internet. There wasn’t even cable TV on a widespread basis. Nope. This guy hit the screen for 5 minutes in Body Heat and that was all it took. The audience responded and he was off and running.

I hit college just as he hit his stride and we college actors were all on the Mickey Rourke band wagon. We didn’t just want to see his movies. We wanted to BE him.

And this was when things started to go haywire somehow.

I remember going to see Johnny Handsome in the movie theater. For the first half hour I was convinced that Rourke was going to win an Oscar. He plays a disfigured criminal whose deformation has created a kind of anti-social violence in him. He then is given the opportunity for a radical kind of facial reconstructive surgery. The moment when he removes the bandages to see that his face has been transformed into that of Mickey Rourke is one of the more astonishing moments of acting that you WILL EVER SEE.

And then, the movie, like the next 15 years of Rourke’s life, quickly de-volved into a bad cliché. I remember being highly disappointed that the story and film had let Mickey Rourke down, that he was simply TOO good for the material. And in listening to him talk to James Lipton, I think it was that very sense that destroyed him. He could not reconcile the fact that his talent could NOT BE MATCHED in any significant way. His standards set the bar so high that he needed a Coppola or a Scorcese or a Polanski EVERY time out of the box or there wasn’t really a point to it.

Now a certain level of this is bullshit. He was out of control. He was difficult to work with. He seems to have been incapable of respecting the talents of other people, finding it easier to hide behind his own as a defense mechanism. But I don’t think this has anything to do with him as an ACTOR. If he’d continued digging ditches in Miami he’d have been a prima-donna ditch digger with anger management issues and an ego so finely developed that it becomes unhealthy.

This is why the story of his personal journey is so fascinating to us. Normally I don’t care a hoot about the personal life of an actor. In fact, it bores me to tears. I care about what happens once the credits roll and that is about it. But in this case, the relationship that he has developed with the public is so personal that his story has become part of his onscreen persona. And this is a change from the beginning of his career when he seemed to crave a kind of anonymity and mystery, even in the parts he played. He craved anonymity and mystery so much that in fact, he became anonymous and a mystery.

But on this night, anyway, Mickey Rourke deigned to grace us with his presence.

We’d gone from “This could be a total bust” to Mickey Rourke surrounded by fawning young artists hoping to touch one of their heroes. And the most amazing fact was that he’d shown up at all. That he’d turned off the voice in his head that said that evenings like this were bullshit, they weren’t what it was all about. We love Mickey Rourke because in some way we AGREE with him that that stuff is bullshit. But we’re still glad he showed up for it.

Look out world. Mickey Rourke has finally arrived.

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3 Responses to This Could Be A Total Bust, or Mickey Rourke Inside The Actor’s Studio, by Brendan O’Malley

  1. Melissa Sutherland says:

    Was anyone ever more beautiful?

  2. Meghan says:

    Omg. Gosling. GOSLING. *That’s* where his whole vibe comes from. *That’s* his actorly forebear, the archetype he goes for.

    Sorry, just got that.

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