Interview — GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY's Michael Rooker on Alien Bodies, Arrows, and Actors

Michael Rooker has been in just about everything in his 28 year career, from Eight Men Out and Mississippi Burning to Slither and The Walking Dead, plus guest roles on basically every TV show to hit the air. Next weekend you can watch him re-team with director James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy, in which he plays Yondu, the menacing leader of the Ravagers and hero Peter Quill’s sort of adoptive father. Rooker looks almost as intimidating in person as he does on screen. With his shaved head, manicured facial hair, filigree silver cross, black t-shirt, and jeans, he could easily be a member of a biker gang. But get him talking and he is like an ADHD kid on a sugar high. He is friendly and laughs frequently. I sat down with him to talk about Yondu’s arrow, the strange bodies populating the galaxy, and The Merle and Daryl Show, hopefully coming to our screens whenever Daryl kicks it.

In the comics, Yondu was an original member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Do you see any future team ups happening between Yondu and the Guardians?
[Long awkward pause] That would be nice. I wouldn’t mind that. I mean, they’re all my buddies, I’d like to do more work with them, so… 

How many films are you on contract for?
A thousand. 

A thousand?

[Laughing] Most actors only get a couple, but I get a thousand.

You get a thousand? That’s impressive. They must have really liked you.
Yes, I plan on living a long time, a long life, and I get a thousand movies with Disney and Marvel.

Why do you think Yondu kept Peter when he picked him up when he was a little kid?
Cuz he was… [Laughter] I think he saw something in the kid that reminded him of himself, you know? Just really a good fighter. A fighter! He’s not a… He might have been afraid but he stood up for himself, you know? Little asskicker kind of guy, standing up to these ugly alien beings that want to eat him, you know? And so yeah, I was like… I think that’s why, and obviously the relationship over the years… I mean, Yondu’s taught him everything he knows to survive — and in an environment where people really do want to eat you — and steal from them and rob them and take their stuff and manipulate them and just all this cool stuff that he needs to know to survive as a Ravager. Yeah, yeah, so he became strong enough to survive the environment now as an adult, and he even takes from me. He’s been taking from me all his life, and I think Yondu really digs it. It’s like ‘Oh, that’s my boy!’

Yondu’s weapon — the arrow — is unique, it’s kind of different from anything we’ve seen in a movie before. Did you know what it was gonna look like when you were filming or was it kind of... 
Yeah we had a practical arrow, we had a practical weapon that I’d wear. I used it like in the last scene, you know the big scene?

If, you see how I put it back in. I used it sort of like as a sword, like the samurais? So I wanted to put it back in in a smooth way, so I went to the holster so I wanted to I did it like as if you’d do a sword you know with a sword you use your thumb and you bring it and then you put it in like this [Demonstrates]. So that’s what I did [Demonstrates several more times]. Like that, and then done. I didn’t have to look or anything like, ‘Uuh, let me put it back in here…”  I wanted to be able to put it back in without looking, just by feel. And that was my image of how I was going to resheath this arrow, and the catching of it was really cool.

The catching was good.
The catching was very cool! And it was like so cool it’s like going through everybody going through the alien in his ship, you know, and just coming back and uh! And all at the same time. The time was expanded, but in reality, I think that all happened like [claps] like that. In the like [untranscribable sound effect], in like the blink of an eye. And they just, everybody drops at the same time.

And they way you controlled it, did you do your own whistling?
I did. I did my own whistling, and they added some sound quality to it. Yeah… I felt a little silly out there whistling away and people were like, 'What the hell is he doing?' You know, pictures of me whistling, and… So it was funny.

It was a really really fun movie. 
Oh yay!

That’s probably the best description of it: it was fun. Was it really a fun set?
It was a great set. Great set to be on. Fun. All the people I worked with and Gunn and everyone… it’s just, yeah, cool spaceships. There’s spaceships, you know? There’s really sexy, sexy women dressed as alien creatures who were really hot. I mean, it was just like, talk about eye candy? My gosh, it was amazing. And it it’s like wow, and everyone had the most amazing bodies. The guys, the girls, everyone had very unusual bodies, because a lot of this, I think when they cast they just like, ‘I need somebody with a 7 inch neck, but only 12 inches in diameter.’ Just really odd-shaped people. I’ want someone that is really tall with short little arms. Or I want someone really short with long arms. And I want somebody who is like 5 feet in diameter. With little stubby legs.’ And it was stuff like just the most odd proportioned beings they could find. Human beings.

What do you think the casting notice for you was?
I was the most normal, I was the most normal! Yeah, I was the most normal. Yeah, Rooker’s, I'm literally the most normal person. Chris Pratt’s big, he’s got a lot of muscles. He’s tall. Everybody’s, everybody is like… Dave [Bautista]! I mean, my gosh. Everybody is big. Rocket Raccoon is very short. He doesn’t even, he’s just like, digital guy. [Laughs] Whatever. I’m 5’10’’! Size 10D. I’m average. Mr. Average, that’s who I am.

You’ve worked with James Gunn on all three of the feature films that he’s done. What is your relationship with him like, and why do you… I assume you enjoy working with him…
Who told you that?! 

Lucky guess.
I do, actually I do. I enjoy HIM. We’re good friends, and the first time we met all the sudden it was like, ‘Whoa! I know this guy!’ It’s like we have a kindred spirit. And it’s just like, chemistry right off the bat. We liked each other, cool, we got along, worked well together, funny, a lot of laughter, a lot of joking, it was a perfect, perfect relationship. It was awesome. He’s a great, talented, unbelievably talented guy. And sometimes I’m talented. [Laughs] If I’m not being talented that particular day he gets the whip. ‘Rooker! Ten lashes! Hurry! Be talented! Boom!’ So yeah, I get along really well, fun. And you know, it just happens and the work, boom, comes out great. And other… I get this with actors sometimes too. Other actors, you know. We actors, we’re cut from the same cloth, right? And it’s like, you go into a room filled with other actors at a party, and it’s like, ‘HEY! WHAT’S UP?!‘ and you don’t know the guy, you don’t know the girl, you’re just like actors, you know each other. You’re just like, there’s this connection right away. Yeah, same with Gunn. Same thing.

I can’t get out of here without asking you a little bit about The Walking Dead because all our readers are huge fans. Are you as afraid of Merle as I am?
No, Merle ain’t… No! You shouldn’t be afraid of Merle! You’re a female anyway. Merle’s liking you! [Laughs] You may not give Merle any action whatsoever — he never got any action on the show! But he’s such a nice guy! Why wouldn’t you want to hang out with Merle? Little Merley, he’s a good guy! But he’s that character that’s like Wow, you don’t if this guy’s gonna smack you upside the head or give you a big hug… So it’s that tightrope that character walks, and it’s like you don’t know where he’s gonna come from, and it’s kinda cool. I like it. I like that when other actors are feeling that on set. I like it when the audience get it, they get it as well. They’re like, ‘This guy, this guy’s dangerous. This guy’s funny, this guy has a heart, you know, this guy’s really cool.’ And it happens, you get all of this from Merle. And it’s not all so cut and dry. It’s not like racist. Sexist. Yeah, he has all that. He’s a racist, sexist, good for nothin, scum-suckin’ pig, and you still love him. You know? He loves his brother. He has commitment toward his only living kin. And I think people get it. People get that. He’s willing to give his life for his only living kin, for his brother. And they’ve gone through the same abuse. You know? It’s like, Merle’s back is as bad or worse than Daryl’s. So, you know that scene when we’re together, it’s like we see this, you realize, on Merle’s face, yeah, the same thing happened to him, so… It’s really cool cool cool, and Norman [Reedus], of course, is like a Gunn. I mean, it’s like I know this guy. We’re like real brothers. And that’s why the work comes out so cool, so like after we do a scene, we do a sequence in The Walking Dead, people see it, they see the show, that’s all they talk about. The show becomes the Merle and Daryl Show. 

That is true.
Truly, it’s true, it’s so true. And I’m like, Norman says, ‘Why are we getting, why aren’t they writing for us?’ And I said, ‘Dude, you saw what happened last time. That’s all people wanted to talk about was Merle and Daryl. This ain’t the Merle and Daryl Show. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to break this news to you. But it ain’t the Merle and Daryl Show. It’s The Walking Dead. It’s Rick’s show! It ain’t our show! Dammit, man! We both gotta die before we can do our own show, okay? Norm, you’re gonna have to die by the…’

You guys can do like a Highway to Heaven...

Guardians of the Galaxy comes August 1.