Mickey Rourke is stalking you.
Anytime you read something about the Oscar race, or if you happen to live in Los Angeles or New York, you’re likely to run into the “Wrestler” star and his comeback tale.
At a screening in Santa Monica last Friday, the actor again presented his well-honed character. It’s comprised of equal parts hard-bitten repentant (“There’s always going to be the man with the axes inside me, and it’s my job to keep him the f--- quiet”) and selfless craftsman (“I grabbed bums off the street to run lines with them in the middle of the night,” he said of his devotion to acting). In the last week alone, he has sat for six Q&A’s.
The Rourke full-court press shows what has become a popular, even dominant, method of actor campaigning. Call it the Pennsylvania Democratic primary method — if a story gets told enough times, momentum gathers, goodwill accumulates and a nomination is born. Or so consultants hope.
The approach isn’t limited to Rourke. While they’re unlikely to appear in any switched-at-birth-features, Richard Jenkins, in his way, is doing the same thing. The “Visitor” star, an actor who has more than 50 film credits to his name and is already well-liked in acting circles, has come to town numerous times to promote his candidacy via interviews and public appearances.
Jenkins is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet, as sweet and straightforward as Rourke is brash and complicated. The character actor has, with good humor, turned on the charm of a Midwestern dad who’s just happy to be a part of it all. “I have both anticipation and dread about awards,” Jenkins said. “It’s a world I’m not familiar with. But I love the movie, so I’m happy to do it.”
Thrusting an actor into the limelight — which Fox Searchlight is doing for the star of “The Wrestler” and Overture for the star of “The Visitor” — can pay dividends. It keeps a role on voters’ minds. And it makes the season feel like a living, breathing event instead of just a collection of screeners and screening dates.
But at some point, it can offer diminishing returns.
When is it too much?A little bit of exposure draws attention to a role. A lot of exposure distracts from the role and turns the race into a referendum on the actor.
By running out the messenger so often, a studio also risks losing control of the message. One way for Searchlight to undo the image of a faded, down-on-his-luck actor like Rourke is to showcase him. But to do that is to unwittingly point up the reasons he faded in the first place (a dilemma that came home to roost when a New York Times magazine profile on Rourke semi-backfired).
Rourke charmed the audience Friday with his candor. But some of his comments (on meeting director Darren Aronofsky, he said he “looked real Jewish and real smart but he had this swagger like his b---s were too big for his pants”) won’t exactly help his bid.
Even if there’s nothing provocative, too much solicitation in general could lead to backlash; just look at how some of the heaviest-campaigned movies, like “Australia,” struck out at the Globes last week, while barely-mentioned titles like “In Bruges” scored nominations.
And while a little visibility is a good thing, it’s not everything. Sean Penn has been nominated four times for an Oscar even though he shuns most media.
It’s likely that both Rourke and Jenkins will get Oscar nominations on Jan. 22, if not more. Rourke, no matter how many jaws he causes to drop, is a shoo-in, and Jenkins’ bid still looks strong. And the shtick is, in certain quantities, undoubtedly entertaining.
But as much fun as it is to watch an over-the-top personality like Rourke make his case, in the end, it’s the soft sell that may be the better approach. That, or a media restraining order.