© 2023 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

'Tough Guy' Michael Rooker returns to Pensacon

Michael Rooker
Gage Skidmore
Michael Rooker speaking at the 2018 Phoenix Comic Fest at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Since he started his movie career with roles in movies like “8 Men Out”, “JFK” and “Sea of Love,” Michael Rooker has earned a reputation as a go-to, on-screen tough guy. In the past decade, he’s had major roles in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Suicide Squad” and TV’s “The Walking Dead." Rooker will be in Pensacola this month as a celebrity guest at Pensacon. He spoke to WUWF’s Bob Barrett about his career and how he likes to get out of actually answering questions.

Michael Rooker: “There’s been thousands of questions that I never answer. (Laughs) I get the questions and it spurs me on. My imagination and my craziness I enjoy, so when I get a question that I like, you know what, sometimes I surprise myself and actually answer a question.

Bob Barrett: “Well, I’m feeling lucky today.”

MR: “Okay, here we go.”

BB: “If you could talk about Henry (in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”), your very first role because you started in a really dark place in that movie, didn’t you?”

MR: “You know what I had done, I had been out of theater school (in Chicago) maybe two years. I had been doing some theater and the director (of Henry) saw the play and he had mentioned to the director of the play that they were casting this role; they couldn’t find the guy and wanted to know if I’d come in and read (for the role) and say hello and all that stuff. My director of the play gave me the heads up and I did. That’s how I got into it. Once I got there, I was on my way to work so I was dressed in my work clothes. So those were the clothes that we ended up wearing for the role. I knocked on the door, he opened the door and, in his mind he had already cast me. That’s kind of how it works sometimes, you know.”

BB: “One thing I always wanted to ask you. The third episode of ‘The Walking Dead.' It starts off, the cold-open with Merle Dixon handcuffed to a pipe on a roof in Atlanta. And for three minutes, you just talk. How much of that was on the page and how much was you.”

MR: “Ahh. That’s always a good question. It was this delirious running monologue that, as you said, was a three-minute thing. We had a great script and I moved on from there, that’s kind of what I do, you go with it. Frank Darabont (creator of 'The Walking Dead' series) wrote that and he wrote that for me specifically. So everything in the script came to me in a very natural way. It didn’t take a lot of memorizing because it just flowed, flowed really quite well. Most of that is from the page. The other 30% is all that you see is what you get. And they knew what you see is what you get. They knew for a fact that because a lot of that was my own work and my own imagination being influenced by the script, they had to get it (on camera). What they ended up doing is putting up five cameras. I had cameras that were located for my closeups, Cameras that were for the masters and for the medium shots, cameras from different angles, and they just turned them all on at the same time and we went, baby. We did it maybe about three times and then we moved on. For me, it was one of my three favorite sequences and scenes (in my whole ‘Walking Dead’ experience). That one, the battle scene when I give up my life (trying to) kill as many of the governor’s men as possible, that scene. And there was another scene in the prison with Herschel, that was a great scene as well.

BB: That one episode you brought up where you did die, you actually died twice in that episode, you got to be a zombie for a minute (and we saw you chowing down on someone).

MR: “It’s true, this is true. I did, I died two times in one episode.

BB: “What were you eating there?”

MR: “That was brisket, and it was quite delicious. They can make it with beef or pork or chicken, and they can also make stuff that is non-meat-related. It can be vegetarian (or) vegan. And they did quite a good job, actually. I enjoyed my meal.”

Me, Michael Rooker, I’m not like any of these guys that I’ve played. I’m a lover, not a fighter, Period.
Michael Rooker

BB: “'Guardians of the Galaxy’ kind of opened you up to a whole new audience, you’ve got kids as fans now with that movie, don’t you?”

MR: “You know what, that’s really super amazing. And I do, there are little ones that are super into it. And now they are fans as well. I love it. Love it.”

BB: “Did you have to talk James Gunn (director of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’) into letting Yondu (Rooker’s role in Guardians) have an Alabama accent?”

MR: “Haha! No, not at all. You know, I gotta tell you, folks from Alabama, they listen to my accent and they don’t, I’m sure they don’t think I sound like I’m from Alabama. Then there are folks in Chicago that don’t think I sound like I’m from Chicago. So I have kind of this weird, odd mixture of an accent. It’s a little of everywhere I’ve been, you know. But no, I did not have to convince (Gunn to let Yondu have the accent).”

BB: “You’ve had quite a few fights onscreen. Do you enjoy getting into it a bit with other actors or stunt people?”

MR: “Oh yeah, man, I love a little hand-to-hand stuff. That’s always fun. I did a lot of that when I was a kid, me and my cousin Stoney and everyone just play-fighting all the time. In theater, I really was very good at stage combat. So I always had this fun ability to get down and dirty and do that kind of stuff. I studied Aikido for many years; I lived at the school for two or three years or so. I know how to fall and roll and throw people. If they know how to fall, it makes it easier and more dynamic. If they don’t know how to fall then you have to make sure you don’t hurt anybody. So all that plays into a lot of stuff that I do in film and I’m not afraid to get physical in a movie. It’s not difficult for me to get into a scene and have to get physical.

BB: “Hey, Pacino tossed you out a window in ‘Sea of Love,' so that was pretty good.”

MR: “Haha. Al Pacino. I love Al, he was great. We had fun in that movie, man. We had a blast doing that stuff.

BB: “Are you doing much voice work? You showed up in an episode of ‘Archer’ once and I said 'Hey, that’s Rooker!’"

MR: “Yeah that’s right I did ‘Archer.' I have been doing a fair amount of voice work. I did a whole little animated project called ‘Vivo’, which is really kind of cool. During this whole COVID thing, I’ve done maybe three or four jobs from my trailer, here in the driveway. I had COVID back in July. So I was down for about three weeks or so and back then they really didn’t want you to go out and about until you tested negative, but lo and behold it took me a month and a half to test negative. So I was in my trailer for almost four weeks and then I didn’t test negative for another month and a half. So I was in my trailer for over two months and during that period I did four voice-over jobs.

Georgia Barrett
Michael Rooker on stage at the Saenger Theater in 2016

BB: “I see, of course, I trolled your IMDB page; you did some work with Ellen Barkin (from ‘Sea of Love’) again.”

MR: “I totally did! And what a blast, I had so much fun. Me and Ellen hadn’t seen each other for 30 years. And I ended up getting this little gig (called) ‘The Outlaws’. Adam Devine, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Haggerty, Richard Kind, I mean just a whole smorgasbord of comedic geniuses. And then there was me and Pierce and Ellen, the three pretty much straight actors. And the others were all comedians and we had an absolute crazy, crazy good time. Just finished it, by the way.”

BB: “Where are we going to see that pop up?”

MR: “We did it for Netflix, I think. I’m not sure when (it will be released), but it’s going to be fun.”

BB: “Was ‘Suicide Squad’ the best hair you’ve ever had in a movie?”

MR: (laughs)“You know what, that hair should have its own credit!” *both laugh* “You know, that hair was just something else. I had three versions. I had a wet, nappy, goopy version. I had a really, really silky, clean-looking version. And then I had a version that wasn’t wet but a bit oily looking. The wigmaker was genius, and it was beautiful. I had always wanted straight hair. Because I have curly hair, you know? And curly hair, it doesn’t really grow, it doesn’t get in your eyes, you can’t flick it back and look cool, it’s just curly, it’s just there. So, as a kid growing up, I always wanted straight hair and I think I mentioned that to (James) Gunn about 8 years ago. We were talking about stuff and hair for ‘Slither,’ that was my first movie with James Gunn. And we were talking about hair and I told him the story about how I really dreamt about having straight hair. And so hence, I get this beautiful head of hair for this movie and I was impressed. It was great.”

BB: “Looking back, what was the most out-of-character role that you played?”

MR: “A lot, actually. I don’t think I’m like most of my roles. I bring in my own stuff: who I am physically; how I move; how I talk. I don’t intentionally try to change my voice or do some accent or anything like that. And when I have to do an accent I usually go to the location. I hang out where I’m supposed to be and I have a really finely tuned ear. I catch nuances and before I know it, I could be there for a week hanging out, having a beer and just chatting with people, and before you know it I’m talking like them. So for me it doesn’t even feel like I’m putting on an accent because I’ve already given myself the time to let the local accent become a part of me. And it’s not very thick, usually. And so it still sounds like who I am, how I talk normally, my rhythms. But with maybe a little New Orleans kind of flair, like in ‘JFK’. Or if I’m in the South, my Southern vernacular starts developing and coming out a little stronger. But trust me, when I go back and visit relatives, they don’t think I sound like them at all. I have a combination Chicago, Alabama and some other places where I grew up so that all kind of melds together and you get what you get, because I don’t generally try to change my sound. And when I was a kid, my southern accent was so thick, so Alabama, even people living in Alabama couldn’t understand me.”

BB: “That’s good! That’s good.” *both laugh* I was going to say you did really good New Orleans in 'JFK.' That was legit”

MR: “Yeah I like New Orleans and I hung out there a few weeks before the movie began. We had rehearsals and all that stuff, but I was there before the rehearsals, going out and hanging and eating and getting to know some of the cops. I still have friends there. My friend who was a chief, Kevin Anderson, we’re still buddies. I’m still friends with folks who are still down there and also some who have moved on. I went down there after the big storm, Katrina, and I got some buddies together and we went down and we barbequed for three days and three nights for the first responders. So I have an affinity for that area, I like it a lot. So the accent for me, when I got there and started talking and hanging out and eating and having a few drinks with people. Man, that accent came so naturally. Within a week I was a local boy. So cool, I’m glad you mentioned it, that was a good one.”

BB: “Yeah it was. And working with (Oliver) Stone, how was that?”

MR: “He was great, man. We kind of loved/hated each other, you know? He’s the kind of guy that gets you in trouble in a bar. He just yaks and talks about anything; he says anything. Trust me, this dude could offend you very easily. So, Oliver he just goes off, and if you’re in the area and you don’t like what he’s saying, he could get you in trouble. That’s all I can say” *both laugh*” I would not want to go out drinking with him.”

BB: “Well now I kind of want to!”

MR: “No, I don’t want to. I don’t wanna fight. I prefer not fighting. I prefer not having conflict. I’m a nonconfrontational individual, even though my roles are quite confrontational and quite right-in-your-face a lot of times.

BB: “Well I tell you what, if you want to barbeque in two weeks when you’re down here, I’m there.”

MR: “I love barbequing, man. That’s so much fun. When I even think of barbequing, the New Orleans stuff comes out. Even thinking about a pig roast, you know. Let’s go, let’s do it!”

BB: “Well all right. Looking forward to seeing you here (at Pensacon).”

MR: “Everybody come on out. We’re gonna have a blast, man. That’s the main goal, just to chill out, relax and have a complete, great time.”

Michael Rooker will be at Pensacon Feb. 18-20. For more information, visit pensacon.com.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.