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Fan Expo Canada Interview: Michael Rooker Talks Fandom, Playing Yondu in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Working with James Gunn

August 26, 2022Ben MK

Whether you know him as Star-Lord's adoptive father, Yondu Udanta, from James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy movies or as Daryl Dixon's older brother, Merle, from The Walking Dead, there's no denying that Michael Rooker has a distinctive screen presence. From playing a husband who unwittingly becomes infected with an alien parasite in Slither to playing a father desperately trying to stop his daughter's ex-boyfriend from becoming a contestant on a dating game show in Mallrats, Rooker has gifted audiences with a lengthy list of memorable film and television roles dating back to his breakout performance as Henry in 1986's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. And with the 67-year-old actor appearing at Fan Expo Canada this weekend, fans can be assured that he'll have more than a few stories to share about his long and storied film career.

I caught up with Michael Rooker ahead of his appearance at Fan Expo Canada to chat about what he loves the most about the fandom, his contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, his experiences working with his good friend, James Gunn, and more. The following is an edited version of that conversation.

What has it been like doing these conventions again, given that the pandemic put everything on hold a couple of years ago? And what do you enjoy the most about meeting and interacting with the fans?

Rooker: Well, that's it. Meeting and interacting with the fans is the best part of it. Each individual person that comes to my table gets their own individual Michael Rooker at that moment. [laughs] And most people come up to find their favorite film and to see if I have an image from that movie, and that's what we do. I'll sign some autographs and hug babies and all kinds of stuff. It's like greeting your extended family.

You're best known for your role as Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, and you also returned to voice the character in the recent What If...? series on Disney Plus. For you, personally, what makes Yondu such an endearing character, and in what ways did you and James Gunn try to differentiate your on-screen portrayal of Yondu to set him apart from his original comic book incarnation?

Rooker: I remember when I first got cast, I was like, "Oh man, I better read these comics. I haven't read this stuff in years and years." And [James] said, "No, no, no, don't read the comics." And if you've seen the comics, that would have taken several years [for me] to get as buff as the Yondu in the comics. So we changed it around a little bit, and rightly so. His project ended up creating this role of Yondu Udonta, and writing it for me, with my sensibilities and my physicality. All the stuff that I bring to projects he knows very well, and he was able to write this character with me in mind, and tailored to my abilities and my sensibilities as well. And it ended up being a beautiful, beautiful piece. Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, I basically see as one movie. If you had the time to watch them back to back, that's the best way to watch those two movies. Because they go together seamlessly, and I had a blast doing them. And Gunn and I are friends off-screen as well, so it made it even more fun to get to work together.

I don't think it's any secret, I'm gonna be in the second season of What If...? So it's gonna be cool to do that and to know that you possibly can come back and do some more. It's been a lot of fun doing the voice. I don't have to do any motion capture for these. They already have the animation, they already have what Yondu looks like. Yondu looks very similar to how I looked in the film. And we've been having fun with those.

As you mentioned, you and James Gunn are good friends and have worked together on many occasions. What is it about his style of filmmaking that makes his projects such a draw for you?

Rooker: His writing is any actor's dream. There are many films that you get into, and you're like, "Oh, I gotta adjust this, you gotta rewrite this, this is a little too on-the-nose, or this is a little much." You have to adjust stuff. With James Gunn's writing, you don't have to adjust anything. Nothin'. You try your best to do it word for word because it's so exquisite and perfectly written for you and for that character. And he likes that. He likes researching the individual that he's going to cast, and he loves working with people that he's got a relationship with. That's why there are so many of his friends in his projects. There are other guys that he knows and he puts in roles, and then he asks if they want to do this character or that character. And he writes those characters in such an exquisitely precise way, it's so great. You just want to work on the project and do the script. You don't get into one of his projects wanting to change everything around. It's already there, it's perfect, it makes it easy for the actor.

Aside from playing Yondu, you've also amassed quite a number of memorable film and TV roles over the years, from Mallrats to The Walking Dead. What has been your favorite of all the roles that you've played, and why do you think that one has had such a lasting impact on audiences?

Rooker: Well, Yondu, obviously. What a beautiful, beautiful character, [especially] the whole daddy relationship [with Peter Quill]. I like to tell people I had the most spontaneous outburst of laughter and the most spontaneous outburst of grief and weeping, all the in the same movie, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. And when you look back at those moments, really, I am the punch line. "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all" is a prime example. Without Chris Pratt setting that line up, I don't think it would have made quite the impact that it did. But he sets it up perfectly, and I bring it home, I knock it out of the park with the line. And the line was perfectly written by Mr. James Gunn, I might add. Although we did do it several different ways and chose the best one. It came out great.

You also appeared in the last Fast and Furious movie, and you're in the upcoming (and final) installment, Fast X. What has it been like working on that franchise, and what made you want to be a part of it?

Rooker: I'm friends with Vin [Diesel]. And I love the director and everyone involved. It's such an iconic [franchise], and it's been going on forever and ever. It's completely unbelievable, and I love it. How could you not? It's ridiculously fun, and everybody that does one or two or three [of those films] ends up having a blast. They're cool and pretty awesome, although I like doing small [projects] too.

Last but not least, do you have a message for all the fans who are coming to Fan Expo to see you?

Rooker: Have a blast. I'm coming to Toronto and bringing all my circus performers. [laughs] I'm gonna bring some really cool photos with me, folks are gonna hopefully enjoy me, and a good time will be had by all for sure. I hope everyone who comes to the show enjoys, enjoys, enjoys [it]. Cuz we're there for the fans. That's basically it. We're there for the fans, we're there to have fun. And I hope they have fun as well.

Fan Expo Canada runs August 25-28 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

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