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Mickey Rourke is whiplash in Iron Man 2

First Posted 20:25:00 04/15/2010

Filed Under: Entertainment (general), Celebrities, Cinema

Mickey Rourke will go the extra mile when he?s preparing for a role, no matter what it takes. The Oscar nominated actor believes in building up a character, giving him layers and making him as believable as possible and if that means taking himself off to a Russian prison, in preparation for his part in Iron Man 2, then so be it.

?It?s no big deal,? he says. ?But you have to do what you need to do to get a handle on your guy. I felt I needed to know where he?d spent a lot of years and in this case that was in a Russian prison. So I wanted to see what that was like for myself.?

He didn?t mention the fact-finding Moscow trip to director Jon Favreau but instead, just jumped on a plane and headed out to meet some real convicts and flesh out his back-story. It proved to be an invaluable experience.

?I didn?t tell Favreau I was going,? he says. ?I went over there for a few weeks and I went to the prisons in Moscow and I met with a prisoner who had just got out after 12 years and I was fascinated by the tattoo work that he had and some of the other guys, too.

?I was interested in the meaning and significance of the tattoos that they had because they are different to the ones you see in the States. A lot of the tattoos have secret meanings. For instance, there will be a drawing of a cat, depending on the size of the tattoo, which can mean different things in a prison society.

?There was one tattoo that I was very interested in and it was of an old Russian schooner and the guy had it on his belly and underneath, in Russian, it said ?give me a blonde, a bottle and a boat and I?ll sail away..??

That kind of detail was a gift for Rourke who promptly asked Favreau and writer Justin Theroux if it could be incorporated into the character he plays in Iron Man 2, the formidable Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash

?I tried to incorporate the whole Russian philosophy. It?s a culture of its own and I really enjoyed doing the research and meeting the people and they were very gracious there at the prison.

?The guards took their time with me, I talked to the guards and to the prisoners and I was very interested in seeing under what conditions my character would have been incarcerated for 20 years.?

The first Iron Man film was released in 2008 and scored that elusive double success as it became a box office hit and a universal critical triumph. Favreau, who directed the first film, and his star, Robert Downey Jr., who plays Tony Stark aka Iron Man, both wanted Rourke for the sequel.

Rourke praises them for fighting to get him on board and in return he was determined to do the best possible job. But he was also insistent that Vanko, a man who has languished in a harsh jail for years nursing a terrible grudge against the Stark family, would not be a cardboard cut-out villain.

?In the story, the iron man suit was invented by my father over in Russia and was stolen by Tony Stark?s father and then my father spent his whole life feeling cheated and then died when he got out of prison,? Rourke explains. ?And so what I?m doing is avenging my father?s death because of what was stolen from him.?

If Rourke was going to play him, he wanted Vanko to be a worthy opponent to Stark but he also wanted the story to show him as a human being, too.

?It was nice because both Favreau and Downey Jr both fought for me to get my deal worked out, those guys both went into bat for me and I appreciated that,? says Rourke.

?And then I spoke to Favreau and I told him, after I read the material, that I had some adjustments that I wanted to make and some character choices and he brought in Justin Theroux, the writer.

?And I said ?well, I?d like to be able to speak Russian in the movie, I?d like to be able to use a Russian accent when I had to speak English and I also wanted to have a pet.?

?I was also adamant about not making him your typical, you know, lumbering kind of one dimensional Russian villain character. I said ?there is no reason why this guy can?t be sympathetic at times??

?I also wanted him to have a sense of humour. Yeah, sure he is going to be violent and unpredictable and all those other stereotypical things that you are going to have with a Russian bad guy but it was important for me to bring some likeability to the character.?

Favreau?s background as an actor meant that he completely understood Rourke?s ideas, he says.

?He understands what my process is and why I was asking for these things. I wasn?t just picking things out of the sky to be difficult,? he says. ?He was understanding and said ?let me think about it..? and then it was ?yeah, I think we can do that..?

?And I thought it was a testament to Favreau as a director and also his level of intelligence. I know why he wanted me for the part but he allowed me to bring all these different elements.?

Rourke plunged into the physical preparation needed for the part with typical enthusiasm. When Vanko is transformed into Whiplash, Rourke needed to wear a spectacular, but very heavy, suit, complete with lasers that fire from his arms. And the first time he tried it on, before filming started, he realised that in itself represented quite a challenge.

?You know, the first day I put the suit on I walked about 10 yards and I was exhausted, I was huffing and puffing,? he recalls. ?The suit weighed over 45lbs not including the things on my arms.

?So, along with my trainer, I went out to a sporting goods store and we bought two weighted vests that were 20lbs a piece and for about two months we would put the treadmill on an incline and did daily workouts on that.

?I started out wearing a 20lb vest for about half an hour and we?d walk up hill and then I?d put on the other 20lbs and we?d do another 45 minutes. And then we?d get off the treadmill and I didn?t have the lasers with me, but because the lasers worked a lot like a whip, what my trainer did was he went out and got two bullwhips and we used those.

?So then I?d work with the vest on and we?d incorporate some of my boxing training and we would do like four minutes doing circular motions with the bullwhips and the vest on in different directions. So when I had to wear the suit on the set I was physically prepared for it.?

Rourke clearly relishes a physical challenge. He interrupted his acting career to return to the boxing ring, the sport he first practiced as a teenager and his searing performance as an over the hill fighter in Darren Aronofsky?s The Wrestler earned him a Best Actor Academy Award nomination.

?I really do enjoy the physical stuff because sports has always been really important to me,? he says. ?And I?ve always enjoyed training ? well, I don?t enjoy training for the first two or three weeks when I?m out of shape but once you get into it and you get into a zone, it?s something that I really like.

?And if the project has a lot of integrity then I want to be as good as I can be in it and I do enjoy that process, yes.?

Rourke admits he?s not usually a fan of the comic book genre of films. But the first Iron Man was an exception.

?I don?t really care for these kinds of movies but I think what changed my mind is that I liked what Favreau did and I liked that he has the balls to fight for an actor like Robert Downey Jr to do it instead of some 20 year old flavour of the month guy,? he says.

The Wrestler was a small budget, independent film and Iron Man was a huge production. But both directors clearly struck a chord with Rourke.

?The Wrestler was a $5 million movie and I can remember going on to the set and I didn?t even have a chair to sit in and if I had to get a cup of coffee I had to go down to McDonalds and get it.

?I remember showing up on the set for Iron Man and they said ?those are your chairs over there..? and I said ?can I have a cup of coffee?? and they were like ?what kind of coffee would you like? Cappuccino? Frappucino?? I was like ?fuck!? It was a lot of fun.

?You know, Aronofsky works you to the bone whereas Favreau, when he gets the take he wants, he moves on to the next take. I mean, I love working the way that Darren does, you know, where you want to kill him!? he laughs. ?But Favreau is a little more easy going but he gets what he needs and I liked that, too.?

After a fallow period when Rourke?s acting career virtually ground to a halt, he?s now back on top and enjoying his work as much, if not more, than he ever did. He also has a very different perspective on it than back when he was an angry young man.

?Coming back with Sin City and Once Upon A Time in Mexico after being out of work for 13, 14 years, I?m really enjoying it for the first time since I was in acting school.

?That?s a really nice feeling and it?s nice to have goals and to realise that I can?t take a movie just for a pay check, I?d better take a movie because I believe in it, because I believe in the material and I believe in the director.

?You know, I learned a great lesson where I just can?t go to work for a pay and it?s important for me to do movies where I go ?I want to be better in this movie than I was in the last movie.??

Iron Man 2 is released and distributed by United International Pictures thru Solar Entertainment Corp. In Cinemas 30 April 2010 (Friday)

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