‘Guardians of the Galaxy': Michael Rooker finds life after ‘Dead’

Aug. 01, 2014 | 11:45 a.m.
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Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), left, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) in "Guardians of the Galaxy." (Marvel)

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The Collector/Tanaleer Tivan, played by a white-haired Benicio Del Toro in "Guardians of the Galaxy." (Marvel)

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The fan-favorite character Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) in "Guardians of the Galaxy." (Marvel)

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Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) in "Guardians of the Galaxy." (Marvel)

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Gamora (Zoe Saldana), left, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). (Marvel)

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Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) in a scene from "Guardians of the Galaxy." (Jay Maidment / Marvel)

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Gamora (Zoe Saldana), left, Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). (Marvel)

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Actor Chris Pratt photographed at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills hotel in March. Pratt plays a charming trouble-maker in Marvel's new space action comedy "Guardians of the Galaxy." (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times).

Rarely is there an upside for an actor to have his character killed off one of the most popular series on television. But when Michael Rooker received the news that his role as Merle Dixon on AMC’s hit zombie series “The Walking Dead” was coming to an end, he took some comfort in knowing that another opportunity was waiting in the wings.

The popular character actor has a pivotal role in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Marvel’s epic space adventure that arrives in theaters Friday, playing Yondu, a bandit who is something of a mentor to Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord.

“Yondu is a responder, he’s a doer,” Rooker said recently. “He’s the leader of a group of interstellar piracy-type guys and a very paternal figure for Peter Quill. He’s his kid pretty much and he taught him how to get along with alien creatures in space that will eat you.”

Ravager Crew Member (Sean Gunn), left, and Yondu (Michael Rooker) in "Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy." (Marvel/Disney)

Ravager crew member (Sean Gunn), left, and Yondu (Michael Rooker) in “Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.” (Marvel/Disney)

In the comics, Yondu is one of the founding members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, alongside Major Vance Astro, Captain Charlie-27 and Martinex T’Naga — who first appeared in “Marvel Super-Heroes” No. 18 in January 1969. The film’s lineup, however, comes from a newer group that was launched in 2008 by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.

In the film, directed by James Gunn, Peter Quill finds himself hunted by an aristocratic outer-space bad guy named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) after he comes into possession of a mysterious orb. Before long, he befriends misfits that include Zoe Saldana’s assassin, Gamora, Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer, along with raccoon Rocket and his pal Groot, voiced in the movie by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively, who ultimately join forces to stop Ronan from launching a genocidal attack.

Michael Rooker onstage during Marvel Studios' "Guardians of the Galaxy" presentation at Comic-Con International 2013. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / WireImage)

Michael Rooker onstage during Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy” presentation at Comic-Con International 2013. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / WireImage)

Rooker has a sizable fan following — one amassed during a decades-long career that stretches back cinematically to his breakthrough role in the chilling underground film “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” The grisly low-budget movie established Rooker’s bona fides when it comes to projecting an air of charismatic menace, a skill set he’s employed for a range of roles in film and on television, including parts in two of Gunn’s earlier films, “Slither” and “Super.”

It was Merle, though, that elevated Rooker to a new level of celebrity, despite his being one of the least approachable of the survivors who populate the bleak Southern landscape in the series, adapted from Robert Kirkman’s acclaimed comic book.

“It was like the A-bomb went off [with Merle's popularity],” Rooker said. “Rowdy Burns [from 'Days of Thunder'] was popular. Hal Tucker in ‘Cliffhanger,’ all of these films were popular, but doing a TV show is like doing a film every week. The impact on your fans and followers is remarkable.

“I think Yondu is going to be a fan favorite in the film as well. We have a lot of cool characters in this film that my buddy Gunn directed. I’m very happy that I got to be a part of this.”

For his “Guardians” turn, Rooker — like many of the cast members — spent hours in the makeup chair in order to be transformed into the blue mercenary, but he had no complaints about the process.

“A lot of people pay a lot of attention to that. I don’t,” Rooker said. “I’m much more intrigued by my internal character. That influences everything. You’ve got to have your core internal handle before any of that stuff matters. You can put it on, but it ain’t going to be grounded anywhere. You’ve got to have a base for your pyramid.”

That introspective nature spills over into Rooker’s take on comic books and their relationship with film. He’s read his fair share, and is a fan of both DC and Marvel — the villains and the heroes.

It’s the medium itself, and its method of storytelling, that impresses Rooker.

“I love the fact that you can take a comic and you really don’t even have to know how to read every single word to understand the comic,” the actor said. “It lends itself to filmmaking so readily. Thank goodness that we are at a stage in our business where, technically, we can reproduce these amazing visuals that most all superhero comics already have.”

– Jevon Phillips | @storiz | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


One Response to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy': Michael Rooker finds life after ‘Dead’

  1. Benjamin Cain says:

    Love Rooker's work. always have. He's a fantastic actor.

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