Mickey Rourke on Partying His Way Out of a Career

Mickey Rouke Jason Bell / Camera Press-Retna

I made the mistake one time of staying out four nights in a row when I had to work. I’m talking four nights in a row! I was doing a movie called The Pope of Greenwich Village, which is probably my favorite film I’ve made, working with one of my favorite actors, Eric Roberts. After four nights of partying, we had a scene at a bar. Eric had all the dialogue. It was right after lunch, and I was so tired I said to the director, Stuart Rosenberg, “I think my character should sit.” I said that because I couldn’t stand. I put dark glasses on. Eric had to speak, and suddenly I was sound asleep. I almost fell flat on my face, but nobody knew about it until this day.

At the time, I was out chasing girls. There was a place called Heartbreak in New York that we used to go to. It was open until 4. I would pick up girls and drink and dance. That was the norm. I’d catch maybe two hours of sleep in the morning and nap at lunch. My career started in the ’80s and ended in the ’90s because of that nightlife. That was a mistake, burning the candle at both ends. You can’t wait to get to where you have to get, and I took a fast dive off the mountain, and I wasn’t even at the top.

I saw that so much politics was involved with moviemaking. I thought it was all about hard work and actors like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. But you can be mediocre and still be a movie star. To me, when I learned that, it ruined everything. Then I hated it. I went off the tracks right away. I didn’t care about the consequences. There are consequences. Even now, look at some of the young movie stars today from the United States—they are shit. The best guys are coming out of the United Kingdom and Australia.

When you lose everything, and I mean everything, you sit there in this empty room in the dark, and the only person who can get you out is you. The hardest thing in life to do is to change. I worked really hard to make the changes. I went to therapy. I realized the person I molded myself into was strong in one part, but he was weak in others. I thought I could fix it in a year. It was a humbling, groveling, torturous experience that took 12 years. I learned from my mistake that you’ve got to keep working hard. If I could do it again, I’d do it differently. I would have been accountable. It’s a hell of a lot harder to get your career back in your 40s than it is in your 20s.

Interview by Ramin Setoodeh