I don’t know about other interviewers and whether they have a favorite interviewee, but mine, hands down, is Michael Rooker. The guy is the total package: hilarious, serious about his craft, a goofball at times, but always willing to talk about his latest or upcoming projects. And he’s just SUCH a nice guy!
So, when “The Walking Dead” started, I knew I had to interview him for that as his character quickly became a fan favorite. Then, I got the bonus of discussing Rooker’s directorial debut, also in the horror genre, Pennhurst. The interview that follows took over two hours to conduct and a few extra days of back and forth to clean things up, but it was one of the most hilarious interviews I’ve done in quite a while.
Read on for Part One, focusing on “The Walking Dead”, and then head over to Part Two, all about Pennhurst, for more.
DC: Hey, Rooker! Let’s just get to the nitty-gritty and talk us some Merle and “The Walking Dead”. What can you tell us about where Merle has gone and when we might see him again? He’s definitely become a fan favorite.
MR: Girl, first I have to say I am so excited and honored to be a part of “The Walking Dead”. And I’m flabbergasted at how quickly it seems to have become the biggest thing on earth. (Ed. Note: “The Walking Dead” was the cover story of the December 3 issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine, who declared it The Best New Show on TV). It’s not just a show about zombies but about the survivors. There’s action, horror, sensitivity; plus people really dig how (Robert) Kirkman leaves every story with a cliffhanger.
About Merle…well, when we first meet him, he’s high on coke (we didn’t want to go too far with that fact so Deputy Grimes just makes a throw-away comment), but you don’t really know much else about him. He’s a survivor as well as a survivalist and gets religion when the shit hits the fan, but don’t we all? Man, that monologue I had in Episode Three was the BEST!! No one gets four-minute monologues on TV!! I had fun with that. Frank (Darabont) just let me go with it!
It’s gonna be fun to see how Merle develops. We already know he killed two zombies after losing his right hand and a lot of blood so he’s one mean motherfucker (laughs). I love getting down and dirty with roles, and I REALLY dig it when people love my work.
DC: Speaking of “heat-crazy”, just how bad was it shooting on that rooftop in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave in leather?
MR: I called it “frying time” because you probably could fry an egg on my forehead (laughs). We spent about a week up there shooting Episode Two, and it got pretty rough for some of the actors, what with the fight scene and just being up there for a week. That fight scene was like a big dance between the actors and the cameramen: it was choreographed, well-orchestrated, and you discover it is MUCH harder to NOT hit someone when doing a scene like that.
In Episode Three, for my “heat-crazy” monologue, it took just about half of the morning to shoot that, but it’s the best Rooker you’ll ever see! After seeing my performance in Episode Two, Frank Darabont went back to LA and got together with the other writers and wrote that four-minute monologue for me. I was VERY proud and honored when I found that out. And I have to give HUGE kudos to the post-production folks because I had to ADR the scene, what with all the street noise from below the building, but the sound mixers saved the scene. What you see on that screen is all me, no ADR. Those guys are geniuses! Post-production geniuses!!
DC: So, fans can assume that Merle will be back? We need a “More Merle” page on Facebook (anyone care to tackle that on “The Walking Dead” FB page?).
MR: (laughing) A “More Merle” page! That would be great. AMC really loves fan feedback so that would be a great idea. Get on it, girl!!
Actually, now that AMC has ordered 13 more episodes, it’s anybody’s guess when Merle MIGHT turn up. He definitely needs to teach his baby brother Daryl how to squirrel fight (laughs). And Daryl is pronounced “Derle” no matter what anyone says or how they spell it (laughs).
DC: Did you ever read the Entertainment Weekly review of “The Walking Dead”? Where the reviewer refers to you as a “human god”?
MR: (laughing) A “human god” (something I’ve known all along [laughing] – just kidding)! I owe that guy Ken Tucker dinner!
DC: Do you have ANY idea when you might be returning to Atlanta?
MR: Girl, I love not knowing what’s next. When my next job might be coming. When and if Frank or Gale Anne (Hurd, pictured below with Rooker) call, I’m there. But I’m so happy right now, I can’t WAIT to get back to Atlanta so fingers crossed.
DC: And speaking of returning to Atlanta, is it true that you DRIVE to all of your locations when shooting a film?
MR: You got that right, darlin’. Back in 2000 I bought myself a 1999 Lincoln Navigator, and that sucker currently has almost 300,000 miles on it. I love to drive. I use the driving time to prep for a role, and after the shoot I use the time to clear my mind…defrag. I only fly if there’s just not enough time to drive there between jobs.
DC: When we first meet Merle, he is one sumbitch racist. Was it hard to use the “N” word?
MR: As Merle, it was not a problem for me to say it as that’s what he would say. I WOULD have had a problem if I had been told to be more politically correct because Merle is anything BUT politically correct. Hell, I grew up on the north side of Chicago, this little kid from Alabama, so I’ve dealt with racism. I’ve had to delete some people from my Facebook page who made racist comments or jokes or were spewing their politics. Personally, I can’t stand racists, but it’s fun playing one.
We discussed Merle having tattoos but decided that would be gilding the lily and axed the idea altogether. Which was fine with me as I’m a “wash and wear” kind of guy – not into all of that wardrobe stuff. I would go nuts sitting in a makeup chair, day after day, having tattoos applied. All Frank told me was to “keep it real” as Merle, and I think I did him proud.
DC: Any other projects you have coming that you want fans to be aware of?
MR: Bolden will be out in 2011 as well as its companion, the silent movie Louis. Doing a silent movie was great – loved every minute of that! And it was hard work keepin’ MY mouth shut!
Then there’s this little monster movie I did called Hypothermia – sort of a Creature from the Black Lagoon on a frozen lake story, but I have no idea when that will be released. Also, Cell 213 where I play this sadistic prison guard influenced by Satan who tortures the souls under his “care”.
DC: And there’s James Gunn’s latest, Super, with you, Rainn Wilson, Liv Tyler, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Nathan Fillion, and many other familiar “names”. What can you tell us about that film?
MR: Ah, Super. You know, I have NO idea how Gunn got that cast. He offered me sexual favors for my participation so that was a no-brainer (laughing). Super is the story of this guy, Rainn Wilson’s character, whose girlfriend, Liv Tyler’s character, is “stolen” away by this handsome strip club owner, played by Kevin Bacon. Rainn becomes The Crimson Bolt to try and get his girlfriend back, and he is assisted by this young girl, who is a bit psychotic, called Boltie, played by Ellen Page. Nathan Fillion also makes an appearance as The Holy Avenger, and even James Gunn has an interesting cameo (laughs).
My character is one of Kevin Bacon’s goons who, if they were the Three Stooges, my character would be the “Moe” of the bunch. None of them are too bright (the other two “goons” are played by Sean Gunn, James’ brother, and Steven Blackehart), but I’m the least dumb of the three so I’m in charge (laughs). And my character has a little tenderness in him (awwwww; laughs).
The film is a dark comedy. An ill-conceived, weirdo, bizarre comedy (laughing), but it was a lot of fun to do. We shot in Shreveport, Louisiana (just before I did “The Walking Dead”), and two of the producers also did the film Dead and Breakfast so that might give you an idea of the type of comedy we’re dealing with here. And I believe it is set to be released April 1, 2011, so watch for it. Also, about 40-50% of the “making of” was shot on my flip camera, but people got tired of me shooting them with their mouths full of food so others started bringing THEIR cameras to set (laughs).
DC: As always, it has been hilarious talking to you, Rooker (and spending at least 30+ minutes uploading your Merle picture to your computer so you can post it). And anyone NOT already watching “The Walking Dead” may just receive a visit from Merle to induce them to START watching. Am I correct?
MR: You are indeed, darlin’ (laughing). Always a pleasure talking to you, and I will keep you posted on things.
DC: You sweet thang (both laughing). And folks, stay up-to-date on all things zombie at the official “The Walking Dead” page on AMC.com. Merle would appreciate it.
Our thanks to Rooker for taking the time to speak with us, and as mentioned, keep your eyes peeled for Part Two of our epic interview! In the meantime stay entertained by following @Michael_Rooker on Twitter.
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