MICKEY ROURKE’S character in THE WRESTLER describes himself as a broken down slab of meat, a man that’s alone and who deserves to be.

It’s a striking echo of how he discusses his own life in reality: the way he squandered his early potential with bad boy behaviour that left him largely unemployable in Hollywood, except for the roles as heavies that have been his main screen work for the last two decades.

The story of a comeback attempt by a former wrestling golden boy fallen on hard times, THE WRESTLER parallels MICKEY ROURKE’S own return to the sort of critical acclaim he once earned with films like BODY HEAT, DINER and BARFLY.

“I ruined that myself,” he said in an interview at the TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.

“I wasn’t ready at that time. There were some broken pieces that I had to fix that made me behave a certain way. I wasn’t knowledgeable enough for many, many years to understand or want to accept that the movie business is political – and that it is a business.”

“You know, coming out of The Actors Studio, I thought it was just about acting and I knew I could do that – and I knew that I could do that better than most people. That’s what I carried around and I was very wrong. Very wrong, very immature, very uninformed, very uneducated about that. I wish I knew differently because I put myself and a lot of other people through a lot of hell that I regret.”

In 1994, MICKEY ROURKE was accused of spousal abuse against his then wife, actor/model CARRE OTIS. Charges were later dropped after prosecutors were unable to get Ms. Otis to testify.

An amateur boxer in the 1970s, he went pro in the 90s after his film career went to hell. In the years since, he has had occasional supporting parts.

THE WRESTLER marks the first time in ages that anyone has entrusted him with a lead role. Let alone a challenging, sympathetic one. Director DARREN ARONOFSKY fought to cast him. Potential financial backers did not want him in the film.

Mr. Aronofsky only got his way by paring the movie down to a $6 million budget. Small change by Hollywood standards.

The payoff was swift and plentiful. THE WRESTLER won top honours at the VENICE FILM FESTIVAL over the weekend and has been picked up for U.S. distribution by FOX SEARCHLIGHT. They plan to release it in December during the heart of ACADEMY AWARDS season.

MICKEY ROURKE, who turns 52 on SEPTEMBER 16, is getting solid OSCAR buzz for his compelling work.

“There’s an incredibly honest performance in the film and the fact that people are reacting to it is not surprising to me,” stated Mr. Aronofsky.

“We all knew how great and talented he was. He just hasn’t had the opportunity to show the world for a while. I’m just honoured – literally – to be the guy who was lucky enough to get Mickey at the time and place in his life when he was ready to open up once again to the world.”

THE WRESTLER stars MICKEY ROURKE as RANDY “THE RAM” ROBINSON, a giant in the ring who played MADISON SQUARE GARDEN 20 years earlier but now scrapes by on matches in high school gymnasiums and community centres. A rematch of his most famous bout offers him a chance to reclaim his former glory.

Meanwhile, he makes fumbling efforts to patch things up with his daughter (EVAN RACHEL WOOD) and to romance a reluctant stripper while trying to keep his deteriorating body in form with steriods and tanning salons.

MICKEY ROURKE packed on forty pounds of muscle for the part doing weightlifting sessions twice a day and eating six meals every day for six months. His emotional regimen has been a marathon by comparison: 13 years of seeing a therapist which he resisted for a long time.

“I didn’t think anything was wrong with me. I thought it was everybody else and there was a lot wrong with me. But it had to do with old stuff from my childhood that I had a lot of shame about. I’m a very proud man. I didn’t want to feel shame. It was easier to manifest that into anger and a hardness.”

“Then it eventually got too hard and I realized that when I lost everything. I mean everything. Not just my movie career. Then you’re alone. I have to work on it every day because the little guy with the hatchet still lives inside of me – and he’s sleeping now. I don’t want him to ever wake up again.”

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