Doing It with Heart: Michael Rooker

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Photo by Thom Stanley
Photo by Thom Stanley

Remember when Yondu (Michael Rooker) told Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, “I don’t use my head to fly the arrow, boy, I use my heart”? It’s an apt description of how Michael Rooker has tackled his acting career. At his Dragon Con press conference on Friday afternoon, Rooker spoke of approaching every role with the intention of making the character someone fans would be so enthralled with that they would want more.

Rooker certainly isn’t afraid to give a part his all. He recalled using an assigned pantomime death scene to “deal with” one of his college professors (who was a bit of a jerk sometimes) by pretending to be a circus performer with a venomous pet snake that would retrieve objects. Rooker mimed swallowing the object, then the snake. Of course, the snake bit him. Poisoned, Rooker rolled and writhed on the floor, crawled over to his professor, and clawed his way up along the professor’s leg. For the grand finale, Rooker proceeded to throw up … all over his professor’s pants and shoes. Did he really throw up, though? “Oh, yeah, of course! I completely regurgitated my breakfast just because I didn’t like this guy. I thought it was awesome.” Now that’s acting with true passion. The result? He got an A+ in the class.

Ever since, Rooker has poured his utmost into every role. It showed in his recent portrayal of Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, where he made a lot of people cry. When asked if he had cried, too, he said, “I cried when I saw my paycheck.” Not really. “I was paid quite well,” he added with a grin. Interestingly enough, he did all the whistling for his character, although the sound was enhanced to make it more unusual. He loved playing Yondu, particularly his penchant for little trinkets—like looking for his little frog after the crash, carefully dusting it off, putting it in his pocket, and then killing 150 aliens.

Asked if he would be good or evil if he played a part on Game of Thrones, he said, “I would just like to cut things. I like cutting stuff [and] throwing axes.” Which he does in real life, too, and apparently he’s a natural. As the titular character in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Rooker dug deep and used his own imagination to portray how he thought this character would speak and act. Henry was also good at throwing things, too—“like Otis’s head,” Rooker joked.

When given the part of Merle, Rooker decided right away that the character was going to be big. “I just had to convince the studio and the writers,” he said. The director used five cameras to film the monologue on the rooftop, which gave Rooker free rein to do anything he wanted. “I laid that [scene] down, and after that, if they didn’t bring this character back … [Laughs] It was so well done, thank-you-very-much-Michael-Rooker—but thank you five cameras because it gave me the freedom to really open up.” He felt the scene was “a great piece of writing,” and he took full advantage of the opportunity.

That was his final contracted scene, and he didn’t know when, if ever, he would be back on the show. Unfortunately, everyone else in the film and TV community was so certain he’d return and be a regular on The Walking Dead that no one wanted to hire him for the next year. They thought he’d be too busy playing Merle. “Once I did come back, it was absolutely amazing … a wonderful, uplifting experience for me personally and for my career.”

Rooker doesn’t have a favorite character, because whatever character he is currently portraying becomes his new favorite.  His commitment to each character shows. “It doesn’t matter if I’m doing four lines or fifty lines,” he said. “I try to make this role really something that, when you see it, you ‘re like, ‘I want to see more.’” And we do. Keep it coming. And if there’s any way you could convince the powers that be to raise Yondu from the dead, well, that would be just peachy.

About the author

Debbie Yutko Debbie Yutko lives near Atlanta with her husband, two children, and two cats. When she isn’t gardening, rescuing homeless kittens, or cramming math formulas into teenagers’ brains, she can be found stringing words together at her computer and dreaming of adventures in far-off lands. She is a lifelong reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy and a veteran attendee of Dragon Con, where she enjoys attending panels and working with the talented staff of the Daily Dragon.

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