Not only has Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy become the biggest movie of the summer, but it’s just highly entertaining fun. An action-packed epic space adventure, it’s such a fun ride, with great action, plenty of laughs, a ton of heart and perfect choices in music, and it will have you cheering for the snarky Rocket Raccoon and a talking tree named Groot.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actor Michael Rooker (who plays blue-skinned humanoid Yondu) talked about how amazing it is to be a first-time Marvel actor and hit a home run, that he was confident that director James Gunn would put him in the film, if he could just convince Marvel and Disney, how he wouldn’t have been able to do Guardians, if his time on The Walking Dead hadn’t come to an end, how Yondu’s teeth and contacts bothered him more than the make-up, how very similar the finished product is to the original script, what a collaborative filmmaker James Gunn is, how even though he has no idea where his character will go in the sequel yet, he does know that Yondu will be more fleshed out, and that he’d love to see Yondu in other environments like Avengers 3. He also talked about his next project, Bolden, which is a mythical account of the life of Buddy Bolden, the first cornet king of New Orleans. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: Even though Marvel has had great success in the last few years, this was a risky movie with a risky tone and feel, and a talking raccoon and tree. So, how cool was it to see that people not only turned out to see it, but that they really got it and also had a great time with it?
MICHAEL ROOKER: That’s the bottom line, with any movie you do, whether we’re making you squirm in your seat, scaring the shit out of you, getting you hooked on the characters, touching a chord that is much more serious and emotional, or you’re just having fun. So, it’s pretty darn amazing to have this experience, being a first-time Marvel actor, and coming out and hitting a home run. It’s nice. I’m sure they appreciated it, and I surely appreciated it, as well. It’s great!
When I spoke a couple of years ago at the Season 3 press day for The Walking Dead, we talked about Guardians of the Galaxy, and you said that you would play any character that you were offered, even if it meant voicing the raccoon or the tree. Would you have just been totally crushed, if you’d never been offered a character, or were you pretty confident that you’d be playing something?
ROOKER: I was pretty confident that I’d be playing something, if James Gunn could convince Marvel Studios and Disney to cast me. He’s involved with the casting too, but if he could convince them to go along with him and agree with getting me on the roster, then yeah, I would have voiced Groot. Not a problem. Groot is an awesome character.
Typically, an actor wants his character to stay alive on his TV show as long as possible, so that they still have a job, but you seemed okay with the fact that Merle Dixon was killed off on The Walking Dead because it enabled you to go do Guardians of the Galaxy. Is that a fair assessment?
ROOKER: The timing was exquisite. It could not have been better. It turned out perfect. The timing of when they were going to film Guardians of the Galaxy completely conflicted with the filming of The Walking Dead. There was no way that I could do Guardians of the Galaxy, if I were still alive on The Walking Dead. I did not put any bugs in anyone’s ears, or anything like that. It just happened to be that they wanted to create a real buzz on The Walking Dead by killing off one of these major characters, and I just happened to be the guy that was the winner of that lottery. What can I say? I would have loved to have been on The Walking Dead longer, but it didn’t happen. But boy, it could not have happened at a better time.
ROOKER: Indeed! That’s the only way Merle Dixon could have gone out. You build this character up to be the toughest motherfucker on the face of the earth, at this time, so he’s gotta go out in an appropriate way. It would have been such a downer, if all of a sudden, he sat down and just gave up. He started out a fighter, and ended up a fighter. He went out like he should have. It was an awesome way that we set it up, and it was great writing on everyone’s part, and great performances, all around, by everyone, to make that happen.
When James Gunn told you that he did, indeed, have a role for you, did he tell you how big it would be, or just how juicy of a part it was going to be?
ROOKER: No, not at all. I knew he was writing something for me, but he didn’t say what. And then, all of a sudden, it just started happening. At first, I couldn’t do Guardians of the Galaxy because I was on The Walking Dead. Literally, three-quarters of the way through The Walking Dead, I found out that I was gonna be part of the dead. So right away, I was like, “Hey, man, what’s up? Are we still on for this?” I ended up being a very fortunate, very lucky actor.
You’ve done all sorts of roles, but how challenging was it to wear that Yondu make-up, day in and day out?
ROOKER: It wasn’t that bad. You forget about it, after awhile. You forget that you even have it on. It becomes part of you. You get used to it, even the teeth and the contacts, which bothered the hell out of me. It ends up being something that is part of the role, and part of the thing that you’re doing. After awhile, it just feels pretty damn awesome.
Was the final product of the film pretty close to the script that you first read, or were there quite a few changes during production?
ROOKER: It’s very close. Gunn runs a tight ship, in the writing department. There are things that come up, and there are surprises that happen, and there are fun ideas that develop on the day, while you’re shooting. Anything that makes it better is better, and he’s open to that. But when you look at the finished product and you look at the original script that he wrote, it’s very, very similar.
Did you do anything specific to make this role your own? Was there room to play with certain things?
ROOKER: Oh, with everything! There’s always room. That’s what the directors usually want. They want the performer to bring themselves and give what they have to give for the role. The smart ones allow that to happen because then it becomes even more organic within the performer’s imagination. It becomes even more real. It’s not always a given in other films, but when Gunn works, and we all work together in a collaborative way like that, it becomes a given that you bring it. It becomes a lot of fun.
ROOKER: Well, it is a very detailed project, and it’s a big project. As the actor, you can’t be worried about the scene that you’re going to playing two days from now. You think about what’s going on, right now and in the moment. That’s what you worry about. Everything is right then and there. In the end, all of the pieces come together, thanks to the editing and James Gunn. Actors basically do their thing on the set, and then you put all the pieces together, switch them around, and maybe put them a different way that looks better. We just give him everything he needs, and then he goes in and does his thing.
Did you have any deleted scenes that you’re hoping people might get to see on the Blu-ray/DVD?
ROOKER: I don’t think there are any deleted scenes, whatsoever, but there are deleted moments. I think I ended up being very, very fortunate. My character is pretty much all there. There are some tiny little elements that were there, that are not, but you’re not going to see a lot of Yondu in the missing scene department.
With as awesome as this movie was, it was great to learn that there would be a sequel that already has a release date. Do you have any idea what your role will be in the sequel?
ROOKER: Yeah, my role is gonna be a character by the name of Yondu. And there’s gonna be more of Yondu. Yondu is gonna be even more handsome. Perhaps maybe Yondu will add some more bling to his teeth and wear some more jewelry. I don’t know. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ll flush out the character even more.
It seems like a given that the relationship between Yondu and Peter Quill will be more deeply explored in the sequel. Are there things you’d like to see in that relationship? Have you thought about how you’d like to see things evolve between the two of them?
ROOKER: I have not. I don’t really worry or think about too much that’s that far in the future. Right now, I’m embarking on a movie called Bolden, which is a totally different character, altogether. But when I think about Guardians and where I want the character to go, I think it’s apparent that they’re gonna flesh out this character a bit more. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with. At this point in time, I don’t really have any input. I get it, then I look at it, then I have questions and they have answers, and then I have more questions and they have more answers, and then it starts developing.
Isn’t it cool that Yondu is also a character where there’s so much to learn about both his history and his present?
ROOKER: That’s very cool. Absolutely! You want to know where this guy came from, but you also want to know about the relationship between him and Quill, and how they ended up living together, for the last 18 or 19 years, without killing one another. He’s a strong young man, and it’s because of Yondu.
ROOKER: I’m open for anything. It would be fun to do Yondu in other environments. We’ll see what happens.
What have you enjoyed about the collaboration that you’ve shared with James Gunn?
ROOKER: It’s been really a lot of fun. I’ve been in this business a long time, and I’ve worked with a lot of different directors now. It’s cool to get the chance to work with the same guy, several times. And of course, it’s going to happen again with Guardians 2. I’m looking forward to that. It’s a good working relationship and we’re good friends, so it’s working well.
Do you have a favorite bit of merchandise for one of your characters, whether it be Guardians of the Galaxy or something else, like The Walking Dead?
ROOKER: There’s a lot more Merle merchandise than there is Yondu merchandise. Marvel better get on bandwagon and start getting it done. The Walking Dead is extremely popular. Even though he’s been dead for over a year, Merle Dixon is even more popular now than he was when he was on the show.
The relationship between Merle and Daryl (Norman Reedus) is going to be something that The Walking Dead is always remembered for.
ROOKER: Indeed. When we actually did scenes together, that’s what the episode was about. All people talked about was what Merle and Daryl did, on that episode. I could see the writing on the wall. The show was not about Merle and Daryl, so something had to give. You could not have us on the show and not have us talk to each other and not have us do scenes together. That’s what was going on, if you noticed. I don’t know if you noticed or not, but me and Norman Reedus noticed. We were like, “Okay, we’re in the same fucking prison together, but we’re not even having a scene together. What’s going on?!” There was all of this getting back to his brother and finding his brother, and there was no material there. That’s because I think that, every time we did something together on the show, it became the Merle and Daryl show. It’s really weird and odd and funny, but it ain’t the Merle and Daryl show. I don’t think they knew what to do with us, honestly. They didn’t expect it, that’s for damn sure. I don’t think anyone expected it, but it was there. It was crazy!
ROOKER: I play a fellow by the name of Pat McMurphy. He’s an individual who works in the district judge’s office, alongside the district judge. All of the things that we do, physically and politically, are a the scheming of things in the New Orleans area. The main story is the Buddy Bolden story. He was a jazz musician who was a cornet player, back in 1906. He was the King of Jazz. He was the cat to go watch and listen to. Even today, he’s considered the grandfather of jazz. He was the first. I hope that we can film it and make it worthy of that story.
Are you shooting that now?
ROOKER: It will be shooting in September, and I’ll be in and out. It’s gonna be interesting.
If you look at Bolden, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Walking Dead, you couldn’t pick three more different projects. Is that the kind of thing you’re looking for now, when you’re choosing projects to get involved with?
ROOKER: Well, I think that’s been my career. I always choose stuff that’s the same, yet different. These projects just happened. I didn’t plan it out that way. I just happened to be free, and the director, Dan Pritzker, decided to do his film again. I say again because we did it seven years ago. A lot of the actors were not available, so he just couldn’t wait anymore and he recast everything. Me and two other characters are the only people involved with the new one, who were involved with the previous one. There are scenes from the previous one that I’ll be matching. Luckily, I have good genes and I look the same as I looked, seven years ago. We met a couple years ago in Atlanta, and at that moment, I realized that he realized that I looked the same. I could tell that he was thinking, “Well, he has no hair now. He shaved his hair off for Guardians and kept it off. But I could wig him and, if I wig him, he’ll look exactly the same.” And that’s what we’re doing. It’s gonna be amazing. It was beautifully shot then, and I’m sure it’s going to be beautifully shot again. In addition to the scenes that are still going to be used from the first one, we’re going to be adding to it. It’s going to be a beautiful project. It will be cool.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is now playing in theaters.