When a movie is called Sin City, how can Mickey Rourke not be in it? As famous for tabloid-fodder antics as his Method-y scuzzball turns in movies such as 9 1/2 Weeks and Angel Heart, Rourke has his biggest role in more than a decade in Robert Rodriguez's hyper-pulp noir flick, adapted from Frank Miller's comics. He makes the most of it: Rourke's soul-scarred killer hero, Marv, is a surprisingly romantic and even funny terror. Later this year, Rourke stars with Keira Knightley in Tony Scott's Domino. Sounding grateful and penitent, the actor, 48, says, ''I owe a lot to Robert and Tony for letting me work again.''
It's been a while since you've had a lead role like this.
I got disenchanted early in my career. I took several years off and thought I'd go back to acting again. [But] it wasn't like, ''We'll hire you again.'' It was like, ''Forget about it.''
Was your reputation getting in the way?
Look, I f---ed up. I don't know where my head was. I didn't handle it the right way the first time around. I like the fact that directors [are finally] judging me for who I am now instead of who I was.
Sin City was shot against a green screen with minimal sets. What was that like?
It was different. You're on this treadmill walking through this city, except there's no city. I had most of my scenes in a room by myself. Which was fine with me.
It didn't conflict with the way you're used to working?
I couldn't go off on my ''I'm gonna wear this, wear that. . .'' No, we were shooting the comic: If the coat was blowing a certain way, a wind machine was blowing that coat in that direction. But I respected Robert's vision.
What did you think of the character Marv when you first took a look at Frank's comics?
I saw this hulking figure with this. . .''face'' and went, ''How the f--- am I going to look like that?!'' If I could sit still, they could get [the makeup on] in an hour.
You famously flirted with boxing. Did your experience in the ring help with playing Marv?
With the presence. But Marv is more hardcore than me.
Did you have any difficulty getting into Marv's scary head?
Well, I've spent most of my life feeling like Marv. There are moments where you go through self-destructive periods in life, and you look in the mirror, and [Marv is] what you see. Sometimes, I [had to tell myself,] ''This is Marv. This isn't Mickey.''