One Up, One Down: Mickey Rourke vs. Michael Madsen
Mickey Rourke and Michael Madsen specialize in low-lives. neither has ever played the President of the United States, a doctor, or a pediatrician. You're more likely to see them as private investigators, government spooks, hitmen, or any other profession that requires moral flexibility. each has the requisite gravelly voice to provide a hint of gravitas and intimidation to their characters. while similar, these actors are hardly interchangeable. Rourke has been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the Wrestler, where Madsen has been commended for his work with the National Squinting Institute.
Before Michael Madsen had his first onscreen credit, Mickey Rourke was headed to stardom. Rourke was in two infamous bombs, Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979) and Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980), before landing in Body Heat (1981) as a scummy bomb expert, and Diner (1982) as Boogie, a scummy girl expert. in 1984, Rourke got his first leading role in The Pope of Greenwich Village, alongside Eric Roberts. after that, the star roles kept pouring in: the Year of the Dragon (1985), the erotic thriller Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986), the supernatural neo-noir Angel Heart (1987), and the Bukowski-penned Barfly (1987).
Madsen followed in the wake of Rourke's career, even reprising Rourke's role of Boogie in the short-lived TV version of Diner. throughout the eighties, Madsen bounced back and forth between television and film, with roles in Wargames, Cagny and Lacey, the Natural, Miami Vice, and Quantum Leap.
Rourke finished out the 1980s as a leading man with a bunch of mostly forgettable films. in one such film, Francesco, he portrayed St. Francis of Assisi, challenging Keanu Reeve's portrayal of the Buddha (1993's Little Buddha) as the most unlikely casting in history.
It was at this moment in 1991 that Rourke's career took a sharp decline and Madsen's took a noticeable uptick. Rourke's decline opened the door for Madsen, substituting Rourke's blonde locks and scarred visage with dark hair and a smooth, baby-like complexion. Madsen's coming out party was as the psychotic mr. Blonde in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. the next year he had a supporting role in the Simon Wincer directed Free Willy (1993), which failed to merit a porno version. Rourke's sole release in 1991 was Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (also directed by Simon Wincer), one of the most ingenuous and unsuccessful uses of product placement ever. Madsen continued gaining traction with small roles in the Doors (1991) and Thelma & Louise (1991).
Rourke, with his career floundering, found he enjoyed getting punched in the face, spurring him to box in several bouts. as a result of his new boxing career, Rourke received a fair amount of facial damage. he started getting cheap plastic surgery, cutting corners both literally and figuratively. his changing appearance, focus on boxing, and sometimes erratic behavior got him bumped down from leading man status.
With Rourke out of the picture, Madsen had the run of the place for a few years, getting first dibs on supporting sadists, gold-hearted lugs, and maverick cops. Madsen never met a script he did not like, starring in 3.8 films per year from 1990 to 1999. his busiest year was 1998 when six films of his were released, along with his television show, Vengeance Unlimited. he did secure roles in several notable films, such as the Getaway (1994), Wyatt Earp (1994), Species (1995), and Donnie Brasco (1997). besides hyper-saturating the market with Madsen, his only real mistake was vacating the role that would become John Travolta's salvation in Pulp Fiction (1994).
In the mean time, Rourke clawed his way through the Andy Dufresne sewage pipe of salvation, playing the villainous Stavros in the 1997 Jean-Claude Van Damme / Dennis Rodman feature, Double Team (which also did not merit a porn version). he made a sequel (Another Nine 1/2 Weeks; 1997) and had bit parts in the Rainmaker (1997), Buffalo '66 (1998), and the remake of get Carter (2000).
For the moment, Rourke stands above Madsen, but that might not last for long. Rourke could fall victim to the same hubris that caused his derailment in the early 90s. Madsen makes a film a week, so chances are that a few of them will actually be good.