Michael Rooker is a multi-talented actor with a diverse body of work, ranging from Guardians of the Galaxy – where he played blue space pirate Yondu – to the AMC show The Walking Dead – where he played the surly Merle Dixon. He has recently finished Bolden! and is currently filming The Belko Experiment, as well as getting ready to reprise his role of Jared Svenning in Kevin Smith’s upcoming Mallrats 2.
At Wizard World Comic Con Chicago 2015, I had the rare opportunity to sit down with the Guardians of the Galaxy star for an exclusive interview. We discussed his acting career, his friendship with James Gunn, the way he approaches his roles, as well as his thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and The Walking Dead.
You’re currently filming The Belko Experiment, which was written by your good friend and director James Gunn. What was it like working with James again?
Well James was there a few weeks, he wasn’t directing this, so we had more time to go out and have dinner, have some drinks, stuff like that; had a lot more time on set to relax and chill out with him.
So since you’re such good friends with him, is there a different dynamic when working with him compared to other directors?
Oh, I know what you’re getting at! He’s the director! You respect that, he knows how all of his actors work, and he plays to those strong points for everybody – the whole cast.
You recently said that you were going to reprise the role of Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Is there anything you can surprise us with? Where do you think the character is at this point?
[Michael gives a big grin and responds coyly] Uh, yeah, exactly! I love the weather here in Chicago!
Since you’ve done both blockbuster films like Guardians of the Galaxy and smaller independent films, have you found your acting has been informed by the different budgets, by the types of stories they are, their medium, or do you just approach them all as creative projects?
Well I hope I continue to learn and grow. I think that every project I do, I learn something different. I learned how to work with all these different actors that all have their own little idiosyncrasies and ways of doing things, and everybody respects everybody else’s work, and the way they get to where they need to be to get to the role, and have a good time doing it.
Do you have any sort of acting method to approach your roles from?
I went to the Goodman School here in Chicago which is now called the Theatre School of DePaul, and we did a lot of heavy Stanislavsky-type stuff. Whatever method, the classical method stuff, I don’t know if people really do that… you know, it develops as you go along. You just have to find your own way. Everybody’s different, all I know is I’ve got a really interesting take on material. When I read it, it’s like nobody else’s take, so I’ve always been that way. I try to keep it inside, and I don’t like to tell or show what I think about the material.
Even when I did Talking Dead. Remember Talking Dead? They do it every Sunday after The Walking Dead. You know, the actors and everybody gets on there and talk about “how they did” and “why they did”, and all this kind of stuff, and if you go back and look at mine, I don’t think I ever told anybody about “how I did” or “why I did”. That’s up to you, and the take on what I do will influence you in some way. So I hope it’s been an interesting experience – whether you agree with my take on it or not, I really don’t care.
Finally, how do you choose your material? Do you just get whatever material your agent gives you or do you specifically look for roles you want to play, like “I want to play Merle Dixon” or “I want to play Yondu”?
If I have the opportunity to actually choose! Most actors, the general fans and newspeople, a lot of you guys think we actually choose these roles, a lot of these roles just fall on us and we go, “Oh my God! Let me pick this up, carry it home with me, and do it! That’s usually what happens. [laugh] I mean, the ones we go and try for, we usually don’t get. But the ones we’re not even thinking about, they land at our front doorsteps. It’s amazing, I’m surprised at how anybody gets jobs.
Thank you so much, Michael. You’re a god.
Bless you, my son. [Michael touches my forehead]