By Sherry Lipp
Michael Rooker is one of those guys that has been on the Hollywood scene for a long time. He’s not a superstar, but chances are you’ve seen one or more of his films. He’s appeared in supporting roles in movies as varied as Days of Thunder, Cliffhanger, Mall Rats, and Tombstone. He earned acclaim for his lead role in the 1986 indie film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. These days he’s reached a new level of stardom with his role as Merle Dixon on the AMC show The Walking Dead. Rooker took the stage at Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon 2013 to discuss The Walking Dead and his long acting career.
If there’s one thing Michael Rooker isn’t lacking, it’s charisma. The 57-year-old actor clearly relishes the attention he’s receiving from the success of The Walking Dead. Answering questions partially in the tone of Merle, Rooker discussed the evolution of his character on the show. When asked if he ever thought he would come back after only appearing on the first three episodes of season one, he replied he wasn’t sure until he was asked back for a single episode in the second season. In that episode he was merely a hallucination of his injured brother Daryl (Norman Reedus), but he had a feeling his character would make a return for real at some point.
Now that Merle is back full time for season three, Rooker has spent a lot of time exploring the motivations of his character. He describes Merle as angry and ready to strike out at anyone who crosses him. He also describes the character as being fiercely protective of his younger brother, which sparked a lively debate with an audience member who argued that Merle was emotionally abusive of his brother. When asked about being back in Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) camp on the show and what he thought of Merle’s failure to carry the orders of the Governor (David Morrissey), he said curtly, “Merle isn’t a part of any group,” clarifying that Merle didn’t fail at anything. “If Merle attempts to kill, he kills.”
Rooker was a part of two panels during the convention. The first one was a solo appearance, while the second one he shared with Walking Dead costar Danai Gurira (Michonne). The two were later joined by Walking Dead comic book artist Charlie Adlard (the moderator didn’t seem amused by this impromptu addition). Gurira has a very serious take on her character of Michonne. The actress compares the character to the women warriors of Liberia. It’s a subject very close to Gurira, who has produced a documentary on the subject of women overcoming the devastating traumas of the war to rise up and fight. She explains that Michonne’s silence is due to trauma she suffered during the outbreak, and that Michonne needs to relearn how to trust and connect with other people.
Interestingly, both Rooker and Gurira described The Walking Dead as “a family show.” Gurira even said it was the “new’ Cosby Show Rooker added, “They did that little dance [at the beginning of The Cosby Show]. I think we should dance!” While the content may seem extreme for young kids, there was no shortage of pre-teens in the audience. The actors explained that families like to sit down and discuss what they would do if the situations presented on the show were real. The show is about Rick trying to protect his family, which is a relatable element for families.
A few of Rooker’s other projects were brought up, including a question about working with Oliver Stone on JFK. “Oliver Stone doesn’t like rehearsal and I don’t either,” Rooker explained, “I prefer to surprise the other actors. I like the scenes to be uncomfortable.” When asked by a fan if he’s scared to eat chocolate-covered pretzels (a reference to his character’s bad experience with the snack in Mallrats), he shot back, “I love chocolate-covered pretzels! Why, do you have some, you bad girl?”
Rooker also said his character wants to preserve his relationship with his brother. However, he was not about to answer any questions about what’s to come on the show. “Why would you want to know?” is what he said anytime anyone tried to get spoilers out of him. He did say that if people want to know more about the Dixon brothers, the upcoming video game The Walking Dead: Survival Extinct is about Merle and Daryl prior to the events of the first season. Rooker has a lot of pride for his role of Merle, saying it is one the favorite parts he has played in his career. When asked if he was worried about being typecast as a tough, abrasive character, Rooker addressed all young actors in the audience, telling them that they should be so lucky to get typecast in order to keep working.
(Photos: Sherry Lipp)