When Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was looking to cast the role of ‘Yondu’, the blue-skinned leader of the Ravagers who basically raised Peter Quill/Star Lord (played by Chris Pratt), Gunn turned to an actor he’d worked with before. Gunn and Michael Rooker have teamed up on a variety of projects, most notably the 2006 horror comedy Slither, and they have a good working relationship. And while Yondu isn’t a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy group in this film, he’s still an important character in the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book universe.
As the film heads to theaters on August 1, 2014, I had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with Rooker about not only Guardians of the Galaxy but his overall résumé including his time on The Walking Dead.
Michael Rooker Guardians of the Galaxy Interview
You did a number of huge action movies in the ’90s. Did this take you back to those days?
Michael Rooker: “Oh yeah. This is a big movie and this was like I’d work one or two days and have three days off. It’s like a real movie, you know, not like The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead is like you work every day 12 hours at least, every day. TV is hard.”
The Walking Dead wasn’t your first show, was it?
Michael Rooker: “No, but it was the first show that I had an ongoing role in. And it wasn’t just, ‘Bam!’ They work their butts off. And doing a film, not to say you don’t work your butt off on film, but it’s done in such a span you have time to literally concentrate on one little sequence. And when you’re doing that, the other actors get to chill. You get to go to Spain or go visit someplace if you’re overseas. But, yeah, this was like a big movie – Days of Thunder. It was really a big production.”
Is there a Michael Rooker persona whether it’s Merle or Mallrats or Slither, and did you adapt Yondu to that persona?
Michael Rooker: “No. Yondu is completely different than anybody else but what happened is because Gunn wrote this role for me, a lot of what goes on with Yondu – this whole tough love thing – is really stuff that is what I do. I’m like, ‘You know what? If you mess up, you’re going to have to pick yourself up. I’m not going to come over and baby you and pick you up. Pick yourself up. There you go. Now, let’s see you jump over that again. No? You don’t want to? Okay, good, you learned something.’ Stuff like that. I’m a tough love kind of person and this is Yondu’s about. Yondu gets this kid early on, decides to keep him, mainly I think because he reminds him of himself a little bit. Tough, willing to fight bigger creatures willing to eat you. And so it’s all cool. It worked out good.”
When you worked with Kevin Smith on Mallrats would you talk about comics?
Michael Rooker: [Laughing] “Kevin was too busy to talk about comics! He was a really cool guy to work with. No, we didn’t really talk about comics. He was very centered. He was very concentrated on doing a good job on his film.”
Was James Gunn your introduction to comics, even though he told you not to read them?
Michael Rooker: “Oh no, I read comics before. I re-established my connection with comics doing this film.”
Can you talk about the teeth and the body paint?
Michael Rooker: “You like those teeth, don’t you? I’ve got bling on my teeth, baby! The body paint…the whole process was about four and a half, five hours, also including wardrobe. All that includes wardrobe and also taking a break for a bit of a bite, a little meal.”
Did you have to take the teeth out for lunch?
Michael Rooker: “I would not put them in until after. I could put those in any time. Take them out, put them in. They were not like Slither where they were built into the makeup. I couldn’t take them out; they were built into that whole prosthetic thing. This, I could take them out and put them in any time.”
How will you feel if kids like you in this and they discover Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer?
Michael Rooker: “Good for them! Yay! You learn from Henry, just like you learn from almost anything really. You can learn from silly, goofy movies and serious movies, and Henry you learn not to hitch rides with strangers. It’s not a good idea. If people come away from that movie thinking, ‘I will never hitch again,’ I’ve done my job. You won’t, will you, especially if you’re carrying a guitar case. Not a good idea.”
Now that you’re in the Marvel universe, have they talked to you about Yondu coming back for maybe the TV projects or The Avengers 3?
Michael Rooker: “I wish they would! What the hell? What are they waiting for? Come on, let’s do it! Of course I’d love it. It was a great role; it was really fun to do. You become part of this thing and it becomes part of you. There’s this connective stuff that goes on and, yeah, I could do it anytime.”
Benecio Del Toro was introduced in the tag of one of the previous movies so did they talk to you about multiple appearances?
Michael Rooker: “Oh, nobody has talked to me about that. At this point, no I haven’t been involved in that kind of conversation.”
Did you have to rein yourself in with any lines in Guardians?
Michael Rooker: “No. My lines are what my lines are. Sometimes I do some adlibbing and stuff like that, but that’s all good. Whatever Yondu would say in this human tongue…actually a lot of what he says is not what he’s saying, what he’s meaning. Stuff like ‘Killing,’ it can mean a lot of different levels of killing. Killing could mean punishment. There was a line with me and Star Lord where I said – and I think they had to cut it out – but it’s a line that says, ‘I’m going to kill you so hard you’re going to wish you were dead.’ It’s sort of indicated to me that this guy doesn’t know exactly what these words really mean in this human tongue. It was really cool, really interesting to do that. I also have some other language thing that I do in there too.”
Were you a Yondu fan and what are some of your favorite Yondu issues of Guardians?
Michael Rooker: “How about the one where he’s fighting all the green Yondus. There’s one where his people have been interbreeding or the alien race has been coming on and capturing his people and they’re breeding with them, and producing a really, really super aggressive alien race of people that end up taking over his planet.”
How did you know you’d hit it off so well with James Gunn? Was that immediate on Slither?
Michael Rooker: “It was on Slither, like the first moment. I opened the door and he stood up and gave me an ovation. I said, ‘Maybe you should wait until after I do the audition before you do that.'”
I recently went back and watched your first episode on The Walking Dead as Merle and one of the things I thought was that if Merle not been so antagonistic that he had to be handcuffed to the pipe, and if he had not been so antagonistic to T-Dogg who dropped the key, then he might not have found himself in that situation.
MMichael Rooker: “Actually, you should watch it again because it wasn’t Merle’s doing. Merle was minding his own business shooting heads off of zombies when someone came onto the rooftop and said, ‘Stop!’ And guess what? You don’t say stop to a man like Merle Dixon, you know? Whoever came onto that rooftop – it could have been anyone – was about to get two barrels of Merle Dixon. And also watch it again because Merle Dixon did not punch first, T-Dogg punched first. And, I think it was a pretty damned fair fight, five against one. You see it and you go, ‘I don’t like this guy,’ but when you look real close you realize, ‘Oh, wait a minute. Merle was just like mind your own business, blah blah blah…’ Well, of course he used other words that offended someone, but that’s where the punch came from. I punched him emotionally and he tried to punch me physically.”
– By Fred Topel
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