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Aging Rourke's stunts in The Wrestler made insurance a risky venture

by BY ERIK HOLM AND MICHAEL WHITE BLOOMBERG NEWS | February 27, 2009 at 3:08 a.m.

— The Wrestler won the title of riskiest movie of 2008 after leading man Mickey Rourke did his own stunts in scenes involving staples, shards of glass and barbed wire, according to Fireman's Fund Insurance Co.

Rourke's stunt work and his integral involvement in the plot earned The Wrestler the designation of hardest-to-insure among Oscar-nominated films. In one scene, Rourke, who is in his 50s, is shown deliberately cutting himself to draw blood during a fight in his role as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an over-the-hill performer trying for a comeback.

"You had an actor who is not 20 years old who was doing some very highly physical stunts and could obviously get injured in the filming, a lot worse than an actor who is walking through the set on [When] Harry Met Sally," said Joseph Finnegan, vice president of Fireman's Fund entertainment division. Fireman's Fund, a U.S. unit of Munich-based Allianz SE, is the largest insurer of Hollywood productions.

A serious injury to a star can lead to a shutdown of a movie's production and an insurance claim for costs tied to the delay. Insurers may work with a movie's producers to increase safety efforts or otherwise alter production plans to reduce such risks, and an underwriter is typically on the set when the most dangerous stunts are performed.

Finnegan declined to say how much Fireman's Fund was paid to insure The Wrestler, distributed by News Corp.'s Fox Searchlight. The average cost of insuring a film is about 1 percent of production costs, he said, a price tag that can rise or fall based in part on the reputation of a stunt coordinator.

The Wrestler earned two Oscar nominations, a best actor nod for Rourke and best supporting actress nod for Marisa Tomei.

Frost/Nixon, a film by General Electric Co.'s UniversalPictures about former President Richard Nixon's historic series of television interviews, was among the least risky Oscarnominated films of 2008, the insurer said.

The safest films "are walk/ talk productions where the actors are shot in simple scenesand don't engage in activities much beyond dialogue," the insurer said in a statement.

Last year's riskiest movie, Sean Penn's Into the Wild, won the designation in part because the production team had to transport trained bears in climate-controlled recreational vehicles.

MovieStyle, Pages 37 on 02/27/2009

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