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'Dragon' Rourke Breathes Fire

September 16, 1985|DEBORAH CAULFIELD | Times Staff Writer

It's tough to be the only person voicing an unpopular opinion. Mickey Rourke knows; after weeks of speaking out in support of his latest film, "Year of the Dragon," and its director, Michael Cimino, the actor is bruised--and bitter.

"It's been a nightmare," Rourke said wearily in a telephone interview. "It's completely changed the way I feel toward film critics and the media."

Much of Rourke's indignation that day stemmed from an interview he had with "Good Morning America" co-host Joan Lunden.

"After I talked with her," she told the producer to kill the segment because I was too supportive of Michael," he claimed.

(A spokesman for the ABC morning show said the videotape of the interview had been "inadvertently damaged" and was therefore unusable. Rourke's publicist, however, recalled being told by the producers that the interview had been too "one-dimensional.")

To call Rourke's opinion "unpopular" seems almost an understatement, given the barrage of bad press aimed at "Dragon" since its Aug. 16 release. The story of a crime-busting police captain's fight to crush a powerful Chinese underworld syndicate--its director, screenwriters (Cimino and Oliver Stone), actors and distributor (MGM/UA)--have variously been excoriated by critics, columnists, Chinese- and other Asian-Americans and even a city councilman (Mike Woo of Los Angeles).

Issues raised include everything from "Heaven's Gate" (Cimino's previous debacle) to the changing hues of gray in Rourke's hair (although most complaints focus on Cimino's treatment of Asian-Americans and women).

Rourke was particularly irritated at Woo's involvement in Asian-American protests: "He's only become involved in that issue to elevate himself politically. Let Woo organize something to feed people who can't get jobs instead of grandstanding like this."

Rourke voiced even less respect for the critics, who generally have praised him for his film performances ("Body Heat," "Diner," "Pope of Greenwich Village," among others).

"Sometimes I used to read what they had to say about movies," Rourke said, "but after what we've gone through with the critics on this film, my opinion of them has changed. They're totally gutless people who don't realize that it takes one or two years to make a movie. To slash things apart like that. . . ." Frustrated, he stopped mid-sentence.

Still, it wasn't as if the reaction to the film had been unexpected.

Several days before "Dragon" opened, Mickey Rourke conducted business as usual from his Beverly Hills office.

Outside, it may have been the Big Orange, but inside the atmosphere was pure Big Apple. Despite an abundance of sunlight outside, the heavy dark wood furniture on the bare floors was just barely illuminated in the shaded room by a lamp in a corner.

Given Rourke's predilection for New York City and living in hotels, his emigration to Los Angeles seemed out of character (in addition to his office, he's rented a home here with his wife, actress Deborah Feuer).

"I had a thing with my wife about the hotels that had come to a crossroads," Rourke explained, smiling guiltily.

"I had to make a decision and think about what my priorities were. Besides, I get, uh, self-destructive in New York. Whatever schedule I try to put together, I can't seem to stick to it. I get too . . . um, well," he smiled again. "I have too much fun."

Although he turns 30 this week, Rourke seems older. His hair was pomaded back in a 1950s style and, though unwrinkled, his face is weathered, perhaps the result of his years spent boxing, first professionally and now for fun. His eyes reflect the kind of awareness and wisdom that come from years of streetwise living.

Rourke has been elevated to Godfather-like status by many actors in their early to mid-20s, who seek him out for counsel on their careers and speak of him in reverential tones. He referred to them as "kids," and complained, "I enjoy working with them, but all some of them want to do is be famous; they don't want to work hard enough."

A mention of the Brat Pack and his derision became palpable.

"I'm very careful now who I open up to because, in the past few years, I've seen a lot of the kids I cared about get very neurotic. Once they start working, they get real. . . ."--he searched for the word--"I don't know how to describe it . . . it's ugly."

With those words, Rourke's youthful innocence rose to the surface like cream, with his dese and dose voice as soft and soothing as lamb's wool and a smile that managed to be angelic, vulnerable and mischievous simultaneously.

His primary loyalty is to his friends; he protects and helps those he deems "good dudes," often at his own emotional and financial expense.

Rourke lit a cigarette and began to talk about such a friend, director Cimino, who cast Rourke in "Heaven's Gate" although the part was later cut.

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