Mickey Rourke's soul is in Miami. It's home. It's where his family is. It's where he is able to make sense out of life.
And, most importantly, the city is his artistic muse, an emotional oasis allowing the moody, misunderstood Method actor to embrace skills neglected after filming 1987's "Barfly."
"I really do love Miami," said Rourke as he cradled Loki, an 11-year-old miniature whippet and Chihuahua mix, his constant companion over the past years. "Miami -- you can relax here."
After years of therapy, Rourke said he is close to banishing most of the negative forces that crippled his life and career.
Gone are the hoodlum friends, dysfunctional relationships and bad-boy antics that made him a pariah in Hollywood.
And gone are the bad films that went straight to video.
"I have fallen in love with acting again. I care about the craft," Rourke whispered in the same feathery tone immortalized in his modern-day film noir cult classics, "Angel Heart" and "91/2 Weeks."
Patient fans who long suffered through the horrible films Rourke made in the 1990s (with the exception of "The Rainmaker") should be pleased to learn that Rourke, in the past four years, has been rebuilding his career through a careful selection of memorable and critically acclaimed character roles.
"The new generation of young directors don't care about my old reputation," muttered Rourke, chain-smoking in the lounge of the South Beach hotel he now calls home. "They remember how serious I was about acting and expect nothing less from me now. And I am not about to disappoint them."
Although he is still being cast in thug roles, Rourke can play street in a thousand innovative ways.
Steve Buscemi cast Rourke as Jan the Actress in the prison drama "Animal Factory," where Rourke stole the show as a neurotic, transvestite inmate with a lisp.
In Jonas Akerlund's "Spun," Rourke plays the Cook, a wild man who runs a crystal-meth lab out of a motel room.
In Tony Scott's "Man on Fire," Rourke portrays Jordan Calfus, a corrupt attorney who represents the family of a kidnapping victim.
And next year, audiences will see Rourke in what he hopes will be his defining, breakthrough role.
He has the lead in Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City," playing Marv, a moody, disfigured, persecuted, misunderstood thug who loses the love of his life.
Marv seeks vengeance but finds redemption.
It is based on the best-selling graphic novel by Frank Miller.
"When a great artist decides to pick up the paintbrush again -- sometimes you see their greatest work," said Rodriguez, who recently completed the film. "Mickey is nothing short of amazing. He plays Marv on so many complex levels. Even Frank Miller said Mickey is Marv."
Rodriguez is convinced that Marv will help bring Rourke back to the top. Rourke says this is the only role in his 25-year career that he is proud of.
As a Method actor, Rourke, whose once-boyish features underwent reconstructive surgery following a 1990s boxing career, relates to Marv's disfigurement, angst and street code.
Back in 1961, a child named Philip Andre Rourke Jr. -- nicknamed Mickey by his father -- grew up in a housing project on 84th Terrace near Miami's Liberty City neighborhood.
His mother, Ann, had recently relocated from Schenectady, N.Y., with Mickey, his little brother Joey, and his sister Patty, after divorcing.
In 1967 the family moved to Miami Beach, where Rourke hung around the now-defunct Fifth Street Gym. He had a few amateur fights but hung up the gloves after suffering two concussions. He attended Miami Beach Senior High School, where he played baseball.
After graduating high school Rourke knocked around Miami Beach, later working in the very hotel where he now lives.
Rourke hung around with a group of street punks and would have likely wound up dead or in jail had acting not come into his life.
He performed in a University of Miami production of Jean Genet's "Deathwatch" and moved to New York in the 1970s, where he eventually studied at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg.
After years of struggle, he got his big break when cast as arsonist Teddy Lewis in 1981's "Body Heat."
Then the moment he hit Hollywood's A-list, he lost the passion for acting, turning down blockbuster roles, alienating key directors and producers.
When asked if he was racked with self-loathing for having made it big while most of his homeboys from Miami foundered, Rourke looked stunned.
"It's a good question," said Rourke, who says he was physically abused by his stepfather as a child. "But I know for decades I made a string of self-destructive choices that only recently I have been able to understand."
When he was divorced by Carre Otis, after a romance that began when they were starring in "Wild Orchid," it was a wrenching heartbreak for Rourke, eventually leading him into life and career-saving therapy.
By 1994, Rourke attempted a comeback but still didn't take his art seriously. He had one amazing performance in 1997 when Francis Ford Coppola cast him as sleazy attorney J. Lyman "Bruiser" Stone in "The Rainmaker," but Hollywood didn't care.
He wrote films ("The Last Ride," "Bullet") under the pseudonym Sir Eddie Cook, but they went straight to video. Then came a slew of movies in which he showed up just for a paycheck.
He eventually bottomed out, finding himself alone and broke, living in a tiny bungalow above Sunset Strip with several Chihuahuas that he dressed in jumpers.
But with the new millennium and extensive therapy, Rourke changed. And Hollywood's new generation of directors noticed.
Besides Rodriguez, Scott and Akerlund, Rourke says he has met with Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino and hopes to work with them at some point.
But first and foremost, Rourke is happy that he has reclaimed his soul.
When he is not on a film set, he is in South Florida, caring for his biker brother, Joey, who has been fighting cancer for many years.
"Joey has been very sick, has gotten into a number of accidents . . . I love him more than anyone in the world," said Rourke, fighting back tears. "More than anything else, that is why I am here."
Whether Rourke will become a leading man again rests in the success of "Sin City."
"It would be nice to make a successful comeback, to get larger, better roles," Rourke said, "but even if I don't, I think I am making peace with myself, with acting and with those I love. I'm finding peace."