Interview with Michael Rooker

Image of Micheal Rooker

@lcfremont interviews Michael Rooker and talks Henry, Reality TV and Tom Cruise…
Michael Rooker is having a career surge after being everyone’s favorite character actor for decades. Rooker is one of those actors you’ve seen a million times, but didn’t realize it was him. Tombstone, Days of Thunder, Cliffhanger, JFK, Mississippi Burning, Sea of Love, The Dark Half, Mallrats, The Bone Collector, Slither, Repo! The Genetic Opera and too many appearances on television shows to name are just a few of his credits. See? He’s been in your life all along; you just didn’t know his name until his amazing turn as Merle Dixon on The Walking Dead and now his role in Guardians of the Galaxy as Yondu.

Appearing at the Wizard World Comic Con in Reno, Nv, Mr. Rooker took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions. I think you’ll find Michael Rooker to be just as friendly and fun as you had imagined.

Before Merle, what character did people recognize you the most for?

Oooh Wow. It was a combination of Cliffhanger, Days of Thunder, Sea of Love, JFK. I’ve done so much, so everyone has their own memories of my characters. Once I did The Walking Dead, all bets were off. It was all Walking Dead until Guardians of the Galaxy and then within a week it halved, it was 50/50. Half were coming up because of Guardians and half were coming up for Walking Dead stuff.

Do you find them to be a similar fan base or are they a little bit different?

Totally the same fan base. Well…. I can’t say the same fan base because Guardians garnered a demographic that was way beyond even The Walking Dead. You know, three year olds dressed as Yondu and Groot and then I was at a Starbucks and a guy and his wife, who were like 70, 75, came up and said how much they loved the film.

Your first role was Henry Lee Lucas in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. That really bothered me when I saw it.

Did it? When did you see it?

5 or 6 years ago actually. It took me a while to get around to it, but it was amazing. That was your first role and I find that really interesting.

Yes, it was. I was 24.
It was really scary.

It was. It scared me.

How did you prepare to be Henry Lee Lucas?

I like to joke with people and tell them there was no preparation. No, there was preparation. I saw numerous videos of interviews of the police interviewing and interrogating this guy. What I hooked into was his body language and his vocal qualities were very soft spoken, you know, unaggressive. Not necessarily really educated, but not really too uneducated as well. He had a way with sort of making you feel at ease, but also he had a physical…..I think he only had one eye. So, he used that people would feel a little bit guilty about being a little stand offish. He would use that to lure them in. Scary guy.

Was there one scene that was more difficult than the other ones on that film?

No, the whole thing was fairly difficult. It was so hard to go in and out of the character and it was so difficult a task to do this role. Once I got to work, I stayed where I needed to be all day, so at the end of a take, I would go to my room and hang out in my room, wait until they came and knocked on the door and then I would come out and do my scene.

So, was it hard to leave him behind?

Well, that was the thing I learned a whole lot about that. I would stay in character all day and then at night, I would sort of shed it as much as possible, but there was spillover. The spillover for me on that movie was I discovered that I had this really interesting, introverted side that I didn’t think I had. I think I had it when I was a little kid. I was shy and sort of kept to myself a lot, but then I realized it never really went away. So, doing this role,I tapped more into that and I really rediscovered by quiet spaces, so it was very interesting. 

I have this addiction to reality television and I was really shocked when you were on an episode of Scream Queens. Do you remember this?

I do remember. James Gunn convinced me to do that. He forced me to do that.

I always wondered how he got you on there. Was this before or after Slither?

Michael Rooker in Slither

After. Slither was our first experience together and then after that, we just did all kinds of weird stuff. We did several little things, oddities, before we did Guardians of the Galaxy. So, I think all together, we’ve worked together 5 or 6 times.

Was there any kind of takeaway from being on Scream Queens? It was a strange, little show.

It was a very strange, little show. I had no idea what I was doing on the show. To be honest, I was just doing the favor for my buddy and he convinced me. He said, “Look, look, look, just come on the show. You’re going to have six or seven really beautiful women eyeing and googling, goggling over you and you get to tell them what’s up.” So, I’m saying, O.K. I hate telling people how to do their stuff, so I sort of didn’t want to do it, but he’s got a way of getting you to do things.

I have to ask about Tom Cruise.

What about him?

Say something nice about him.

I can say a lot of nice things about him. I had an awesome time with him doing Days of Thunder. I mean, everyday he was there on time and we would, literally, race to the set. We did foot races to the set to see who got their first. Yeah, it was competition all the way through; he’s a very competitive guy and so, we got along very well.

I just think he’s wonderful and I’m usually alone in that.

No, no, I love the guy. He’s awesome and he was great to work with. All the things I can say about him are extremely positive.

Do you have a favorite film experience?

You know what? They’re all great. I’ve had a few negative ones, but most of my experiences in this business has been really positive and very giving, everybody very giving. It’s new every time, you’re meeting people and sometimes you actually get to work with the same people again, it ends up being kind of cool and fun.

I really appreciate you taking the time.

I would take many more moments with you.

Lisa Fremont

Follow @lcfremont on twitter

Images: IMDb

This interview first appeared at in audio form.

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