Looking quirky and resplendent in his preternatural tan, gray pin-striped suit and sunglasses, the 56-year-old star is this year's comeback kid after the career revival of "The Wrestler," and he wasn't taking his lead actor nomination -- or the free meal -- for granted.
"I was out of work for 14 years . . . the biggest [post-nomination] change is the people I burned bridges with are forgiving me for the horrible way I carried myself for many years," Rourke said.
The swank luncheon sometimes has the feel of a rehearsal dinner for a Hollywood wedding for which the bride hasn't been picked yet. Rourke, for one, is expecting to be left at the Oscar altar. "I'll probably be sitting out there clapping for Sean Penn," Rourke said, referring to the "Milk" star.
In past years, the luncheon was used to coach the nominees about the upcoming ceremony, but this year there was an unusual air of mystery. Bill Condon and Larry Mark, the new producer team for the Feb. 22 gala, to be aired on ABC, didn't advise the 112 nominees. Instead, academy President Sid Ganis told them to expect the unexpected.
"All of you guys," Ganis said, "you're in for a big surprise."
Hugh Jackman will be hosting the show, which is undergoing a push to be more crowd-pleasing -- no surprise, considering last year's broadcast hit an all-time ratings low -- but the academy may be looking at a year when a film with no Hollywood stars wins.
Danny Boyle, director of " Slumdog Millionaire," won the Directors Guild of America Award on Saturday, a solid signal that the film about youngsters growing up in Mumbai squalor has become the best-picture front-runner. At the luncheon, Boyle chatted with Ron Howard, who is up for best director for " Frost/Nixon," and it was pure shoptalk: They discussed camera lenses.
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Judging by applause volume, the big winners this year will be Penn, Kate Winslet and Robert Downey Jr., who is up for supporting actor for his "Oscar-crazed weirdo" Kurt Lazarus in " Tropic Thunder."
"I tend to think I should be nominated for everything I do," Downey said. "Not the truth. . . . In no way could I have read the script and said, 'It's Oscar time!' I was just hoping I wouldn't be shot at the premiere."
Times staff writer John Horn contributed to this report.