He's not going to make a film about a gay rugby player. He's going to make one about a rugby player who happens to be gay. That's how Mickey Rourke put it this week when he revealed his intention to star in a biopic of the former Welsh captain, Gareth Thomas.
The Hollywood actor has laid months of rumour to rest by confirming that he really does intend to portray Thomas, who became the world's only active male professional sportsman to admit to being homosexual when he "came out" just over a year ago.
Rourke committed to the role after reading a profile of the man known in his native Bridgend as "Alfie" in the American magazine Sports Illustrated. He met Thomas in July, and discussed the 15 years he spent concealing his sexuality while playing. "I read the story," he said. "It's one of the toughest, hardest sports in the world to play. They play with no pads. It's a really brutal sport. To be a man who plays rugby who is gay and to live with that secret for the amount of years that Gareth had, to perform at the high level that he performed at, it takes a lot of courage."
For many of the early years of his career, Thomas was known as a volatile personality who sometimes failed to realise his full potential. After separating from his wife in 2006, he told close team-mates about his sexuality and subsequently became the most capped player in Welsh rugby history.
Thomas emerged from the closet via an interview in the Daily Mail in December 2009 and has since become a prominent gay rights activist. Speaking to the chat-show host Alan Carr this week, Rourke said it would make a perfect follow-up to The Wrestler, for which he garnered an Oscar nomination playing another troubled athlete.
However, he said it would have to be sensitively handled. "When I met Gareth Thomas, this is one thing that he and I talked about," he said. "This is something that's really important."
The film's script is still in development and finance has yet to be secured. That could be a challenge: movies about rugby, which in the US remains a minority sport, have a mixed commercial record. The Matt Damon film Invictus got several Oscar nominations but failed commercially.
And Rourke has to confront achieving a realistic portrayal of the famously-toothless valley boy. Cosmetic dentistry aside, he claims to have agreed to learn Welsh for the role. "I have no choice," he said.
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