By Sean Collier
March 3, 2009
After six months of describing just how improbable and unlikely Mickey Rourke's path to an Oscar has been, it turns out that the collective opinion was entirely correct. The restored and refurbished Rourke 2.0, playing a pro wrestler in a gritty little film that fought to find funding, still unabashedly speaking his mind and generally making his publicist's life hell, is going to get an Oscar? Nope. No way.
Much was made of how closely Rourke's redemption and return mirrored the plot of the film. Rourke, botched plastic surgery notwithstanding, proves that his skill and charisma never went anywhere, and broken-down former superstar Randy "The Ram" Robinson claws his way back to respect through a combination of drug abuse and pure determination, desperate to find the crowds cheering for him once again. On the red carpet and on the screen, the line between Rourke and The Ram disappeared; we watched them as one entity, and their stories merged into the same myth.
When the envelope was opened, however, the Academy decided to bestow a second Oscar on Sean Penn, for a certainly courageous, virtuoso performance in a very different film. As the voters behind the big show increasingly become easier and easier to predict, a formula seems to emerge: did you play a controversial and significant real-life character, baring your soul as you did so, in an impossibly well-reviewed film? You did? Very good, here's your Oscar. Even so, Rourke seemed like the easy favorite when the nominations were read, and picked up a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a BAFTA Award en route to Oscar Night. How did Rourke blow it?
At the Screen Actor's Guild Awards, Rourke announced that he had been in talks with Vince McMahon about a possible match at Wrestlemania 25, coming up early in April at Reliant Stadium in Houston. When asked if he was seriously going to step into the ring, Rourke replied, "You bet your ass I'll do it," and issued a challenge to WWE Superstar Chris Jericho – a sort of half-hearted wrestling promo, with a heavy dose of irony mixed in. Later that week, the budding feud continued, as Rourke and Jericho traded boasts via satellite on Larry King Live. Both Rourke and Jericho looked vaguely uncomfortable with the setup; Rourke seemed less certain that he would be accepting the offer, and Jericho struggled to make a wrestling storyline out of thin air (on CNN, yet.)
Meanwhile, the reaction from Hollywood was less than positive. The L.A. Times' celeb blogger Elizabeth Snead quickly predicted it: "If Mickey seriously goes ahead with his plans and continues to talk about this new gig...he can kiss his Oscar shot goodbye." Defamer compared the move to Eddie Murphy's Oscar-ruining turn in Norbit, warning Rourke, "Do whatever you need to after that ceremony, Mickey – just think carefully about continuing to promote the WWE while you're on your ‘serious actor' press tour."
The feeling seemed to be that the prim and proper Academy simply did not give Oscars to guys who were planning on going straight for the lowbrow within months of the ceremony. The fact that it was perfectly in character for Rourke to do and say whatever the hell he wanted, at any time, did not seem to sway voter opinion back in his favor; he just wasn't behaving like a Best Actor, dammit.
This is, of course, utterly preposterous, especially when we were about to give him the damn award for playing a pro wrestler in a movie about pro wrestling. But, hey. It's the Academy. Let's not get into logic, here.
Soon after the Larry King appearance, Rourke's people issued a press release clarifying that no, Mickey would not be wrestling, pshaw, don't be silly. Rourke did agree to make an appearance at Wrestlemania, but nothing more than that. A carefully worded statement from Vince McMahon clarified that Mickey "will be in attendance at Wrestlemania to support the WWE superstars who support him and the film in which he stars, The Wrestler." This concession was not enough to placate the testy Academy, however, and support swung fully away from the underdog and behind Penn, who even acknowledged Rourke's deserving performance in his acceptance speech.
Rourke did not seem bitter or surprised at the ceremony, through bitterness is perhaps deserved. The Academy is firmly in the habit of shutting out deserving performers from a nomination, but pulling an award away from someone because of bad PR moves is especially heinous. However, if we'd really like to keep the parallels strong – if we'd really like Mickey's story to mirror The Ram's, then we have our fitting ending. The Ram did not truly achieve redemption. He did not ascend back to the center of the wrestling world, he did not clean up and get healthy and solve all his problems. He just kept doing what he'd been doing, and doing it well. The Ram didn't get the girl, and Mickey didn't get the Oscar; they just put on a hell of a show. It's all either of them know how to do.