When my thirteen-year-old son heard that I was going to interview Michael Rooker, he asked me to pass on that he was left teary-eyed by Rooker's performance as Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
"That's my job! My job is to make little kids cry," Rooker says with a laugh. He laughs often during our hour-long conversation about Guardians, his acting methods, and his visit this weekend to the new Raleigh Supercon. He tries to get to as many fan conventions as he can when he's not busy filming or doing press for a project.
"I'm really into it," he says. "I'll sign autographs, kiss some babies, answer questions. It's fun."
Even if you didn't see the hugely successful Guardians films, you probably know Rooker. Fans of The Walking Dead know him as Merle Dixon. Others may recognize him as Rowdy Burns from Days of Thunder. If you're a movie buff, you will recall him from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (his first film, in 1986). He also has notable roles in Tombstone, JFK, Rosewood, and a host of other films and shows.
One of those, 2006's Slither, is where he first met Guardians writer-director James Gunn. Since then, the two have worked on multiple projects together and become great friends. (Check virtually any clip of them ribbing each other on a panel or red carpet for proof.) When Gunn began writing Guardians of the Galaxy, he knew exactly who he wanted to play Yondu, the blue-skinned leader of a group of space pirates and a father figure to protagonist Peter Quill.
"He wrote it for me," Rooker says. "Even the artwork was with my face early on. The artists could have put just any face in there at that point, but Gunn had them put my face in there."
This seems like an appropriate spot to clarify something: despite what you may have read, the line of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 came from Gunn's pen.
"It was not ad-libbed," Rooker stresses about his gleeful exclamation, "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all," during the film's climactic battle. "In my mind, I like everything to seem like it's ad-libbed. But sometimes people don't understand what I'm talking about and I get misquoted."
With any role, Rooker tries to reach a point when "it just becomes me, and [Guardians] was written so well it's even easier to become me. In my mind, it's no longer a line; it's just something that comes out. The director may still think it's a line. The script supervisor may still think it's a line. But I never say lines. I'm sorry, it's no longer a line, buddy."
Rooker laughs, adding, "If it sounds like a line, I've royally screwed up."
That's one reason Rooker doesn't like to rehearse. "Once I start knowing my lines I don't like to say them out loud," he explains. It helps make the words seem fresh. That's important in this age of CGI wizardry, when creating a scene that feels organic can be a challenge, especially when you find yourself having a dramatic moment with a tennis ball or a puppet.
"That's where you're getting your memory and your imagination in there," Rooker says. "It's very true that you're talking to a tennis ball, or a puppet, or a stick, or nothing at all. But it's got to be as real as talking to someone you love."
Of course, actors are used to similar approaches on non-CGI films. "When it's our closeup, many times, we're looking at a piece of tape so we have the proper eye line," Rooker explains. "You learn the technique; then you forget the technique to keep it as real as possible. We do it all the time."
Don't expect a lot of "the actor's craft"-style talk at Raleigh Supercon, though.
"I love doing Q and As," Rooker says. "I'm pretty open to any sort of question. I just move on if I don't like them. If you hear me give three straight answers you've been to a very unusual event. I mean, oh my god, another actor up on stage talking seriously about their craft—how boring is that? I have fun at these things, and that's what I want the audience to come away with. They had fun and didn't fall asleep. If anyone walks out of my Q and A, they better be heading to my table."
FIND YOUR FAN CRUSH AT RALEIGH SUPERCON
Raleigh Supercon is a three-day cornucopia of activities designed to scratch almost any pop culture itch, whether you geek out over comics, TV, movies, or professional wrestling.
Besides Rooker, guests include Star Trek actors LeVar Burton, Tony Todd, and Brent Spiner; former wrestling pros Ric Flair and Amy "Lita" Dumas; comics legends Mike Zeck and Neal Adams; Good Times' Jimmie Walker, The Flash's John Wesley Shipp, and The Six Million Dollar Man's Lee Majors—the list goes on an on.
There will be a celebrity autograph area, and some guests will be available at specific times for a "professional photo opportunity." If you have your heart set on telling specific celebs how much you love their work, check the Supercon website for the times they're available. Also, be aware that some of them may not be appearing on all three days, so be sure to plan your visit accordingly.
Other activities at the convention include arcade-game tournaments, a comic book grading area, screenings, cosplay contests, board gaming, and other pop pleasures. Some events, such as The Cosplay Dating Game, Drunk on Disney Live, and a Bad Fan Fiction Dramatic Reading, are only for people eighteen and older.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Rhapsody in Blue"