Rourke plays 'Iron Man' villain

When Mickey Rourke talks about the busy state of his career, the gritty actor who made a remarkable comeback two years ago with "The Wrestler" says he's fortunate.

"I feel very grateful to have that opportunity," he says. "I just think if you persevere and you work hard enough and you don't fade away, you can get lucky."

Rourke's cinematic renaissance continues to move along nicely with his current role in "Iron Man 2," which opens Friday. It's the much-anticipated sequel to the 2008 summer box-office sensation that was popular with superhero fans and newcomers alike, earning $318 million in the United States.

Although he's not really a comic book guy, Rourke says he liked the first "Iron Man" and was drawn to the sequel by the opportunity to work with Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau.

Rourke credits Downey and Favreau with lobbying for him to be in the movie and convincing Marvel Comics that it would be a good idea.

"Pretty much when I got the part, I felt very obligated to do the best job I could, because of the way those guys were campaigning for me," he says in a no-nonsense voice, speaking by phone from Los Angeles.

"Iron Man 2" follows the latest adventures of Downey's character, wealthy and debonair industrialist Tony Stark, who announced to the world in "Iron Man" that he was the superhero in the flying suit of armor. Now Stark is dealing with the repercussions of his celebrity and being pressured by the government to turn over his technology.

This time, the cast includes Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Stark's friend James (Rhodey) Rhodes. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, Stark's loyal assistant.

Rourke plays Stark's nemesis Ivan Vanko (also known as Whiplash), a mysterious Russian technology expert who, in the trailers for the movie, sports long hair and tattoos and looks like a stylish, worthy villain.

The actor credits Favreau with allowing him to bring his ideas about creating the character to the table.

"I made some choices as an actor that he went to the Marvel people and ... had to convince them that I wasn't out of my mind," he says.

Rourke studied the Russian language for about three months, spending two or three hours a day on it, a task he calls "really hard work." He says his Russian girlfriend made fun of his accent. "I've met her parents and I'm the only one that doesn't understand what they're talking about," he says with amusement.

There also were months of physical training to prepare for the heavy gear he wears in the film. When told that it sounds like he took preparing for the role seriously, Rourke replies, "I take everything serious."

"The Wrestler" earned him an Oscar nomination for best actor and spurred the boom times he's experiencing now. He's taking a break from filming "Immortals," a Greek mythology epic, to promote "Iron Man 2." He says he plans to do a couple of projects with director Tony Scott, including the drama "Potsdamer Platz."

He just finished a "very weird, kind of romantic, kind of strange movie" called "Passion Play" with Megan Fox of "Transformers" fame, whom he describes as a disciplined and talented actress.

And he says he'll star in a movie about Genghis Khan, a project with writer-director John Milius. "Probably more excited about that than anything I've done," he adds.