Watch the video below, skipping forward to the 50 second mark to see Mickey Rourke talk about Barfly, Bukowski and director Barbet Schroeder.
Rourke wasn’t the first choice. Sean Penn was originally going to play Chinaski, but he demanded his own director.
Barbet Schroeder informed Penn that he was the only one who would direct the film – he had been the one to convince Bukowski to write the screenplay in the first place, after all.
Mickey Rourke as Henry Chinaski
Rourke ended up taking the part, which Bukowski later described in both negative and positive terms over the years.
He wrote a letter of support for the film, titled “A Letter From a Fan” in which he praised the movie and its actors.
He said of Rourke, “The other part of my luck was the actor who played Henry Chinaski. Mickey Rourke stayed with the dialogue to the word and the sound intended. What surprised me was that he added another dimension to the character, in spirit. Mickey appeared to really love his role, and yet without exaggeration he added his own flavor, his zest, his madness, his gamble to Henry Chinaski without destroying the intent or the meaning of the character. To add spirit to spirit can be dangerous but not in the hands of a damned good actor. Without distorting, he added, and I was very pleased with the love and understanding he lent to the role of the BARFLY.”
However, he would later say that he felt Rourke went overboard. The quote below can be found in the Bukowski documentary Born Into This.
“He really overdid it, you know, the hair hanging down. I don’t think the kid has ever been on Skid Row, you know? When the guy walks in and he says, ‘Oh, I’ve been missed, I should run for mayor,’ he didn’t get it right. ‘Cause I’d walk in and say, ‘Oh, I’ve been missed, I guess I should run for mayor’ (said much more quietly). So you don’t brag it. It’s low key all the time. He had it all kind of exaggerated, untrue. He was a little bit showoff about it. So, no, it was kind of misdone.”
When Rourke heard this updated analysis, he wasn’t too happy. That may explain why, in the above video, he seems somewhat dismissive of Bukowski, calling him “okay, for a drunk.” He also points out that he had never heard of Bukowski before being “hammered” about taking the part.
He had harsher words for director Schroeder, calling him a “self-centered prick” and “an asshole.”
Bukowski was less positive concerning Barfly in the novel Hollywood, when he called it simply a “better than the average movie.” He wasn’t a fan of movies in general, though, saying, “It was a sickness: this great interest in a medium that relentlessly and consistently failed, time after time after time, to produce anything at all. People became so used to seeing shit on film that they no longer realized it was shit.”
There is an ongoing debate among Bukowski fans as to whether Barfly or Factotum, starring Matt Dillon as Henry Chinaski, is the better film. Which side are you on? Do you think Bukowski would have liked Factotum or not? Tell us in the comments below.
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