Rourke takes to the red carpet at film premiere

Oscar hopeful Mickey Rourke took to the red carpet alone last night to promote his new film, The Wrestler.

The 52-year-old former boxer is tipped to go up against Sean Penn for the best actor award next month.

The Wrestler tells the story of former fighter Randy "The Ram" Robinson who earns a living performing for wrestling fans.

A heart attack forces him into retirement, and he is torn between re-evaluating his personal life and getting back into wrestling.

Speaking at the film's premiere in London's West End, Rourke said he had to forget his fighting background for the role.

He said: "It got in the way because wrestlers don't move like fighters, and fighters don't move like wrestlers. It was really more like I had to get my mindset out of that.

"In boxing, you move very gracefully; these guys move very hulkingly and you can read their punches."

Rourke gave up acting for more than a decade to take to the ring. He struggled to get Hollywood roles following his absence, but came back into the limelight with a part in Sin City in 2005.

Rourke added: "I had 15 years to think about what I was going to do when I got a part I could sink my teeth into. So you just step up to the plate, or you go get a job."

The Wrestler has already won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival and Rourke is also nominated for a Golden Globe for his role.

Rumours have flown about a clash with co-star Marisa Tomei, who did not attend the premiere.

Rourke said working with her was "an experience", and added: "The more heavy emotional scenes were with the very young and talented Evan Rachel Wood. They were the hardest to do. It was all about a father and a daughter.

"He was more concerned with being on the road and wearing his tights than he was with bringing up his daughter."

Questions about the reported conflict with potential Oscar rival Penn were strictly banned.

The Wrestler goes on general release on January 16.