“I don’t approach a role by saying I’ll be unsavory or unlikable. I think all the roles I’ve done have been very passionate people who go to absolute extremes to make their points.”
Michael Rooker was born in Jasper, Alabama on April 6, 1955. He has eight brothers and sisters. His parents divorced when he was 13 years old, and he moved with his mother and siblings to Chicago, Illinois, where he studied at the Goodman School of Drama as well as studying the Japanese martial art of Aikido with Fumio Toyoda Shihan.
Rooker made his film debut in 1986, playing the title role in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, a film based on the confessions of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. He was acting in a play when the director of the play, who was going to do the prosthetics for Henry, told him about the film. Rooker did not care if the script was good or bad, he just wanted to act in a film as it would “challenge” himself. Henry was a critical success and got Rooker noticed in the film-making industry, which led to his receiving more film roles.
“I was doing a play called “Sea Marks”, an Irish play, a two-person play. The director was doing the prosthetic work for Henry, and he turned me on to what was going on. “They’re casting this guy. You should go and audition”. I did, and I ended up getting the job. That’s how it came about. That was my first real film role that had any sort of beginning, middle, and end. I was there throughout the whole piece. I started reading some books and material. Nothing really helped. I saw a couple of interviews with [Lucas] with a state trooper or something like that. So I got a little handle on it from that. He’s very soft-spoken, and very shy and introverted. So I hooked into that, and that was my handle for the role. Everything else was just our imaginations, and my imagination. That was a really kind of crazy piece for me, because I was scared shitless. It was my first real role in film. I had done plays, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be good at this film stuff, so I really worked hard to make sure that I was there, I was bringing it that day and that minute. I stayed in character all day. Once I went in to work, I stayed in character all day long. So after the cut, I would leave the set and go to my room, close the door, and not talk to anybody. I wouldn’t talk to anyone all day long during the filming of it. I would just do my work and go away. Come in, action, do my job, do what I needed to do, and then go away. And that’s what helped me through the entire piece. It was way too difficult to go in and out of character, especially then, because I was young as an actor. I didn’t know how this film stuff worked. In a play, you stay in character pretty much almost all the way through until the evening’s over. So that’s what I did here. I used that technique. I stayed in character as much as I possibly could all day long, or all night long, whatever the times were on the day we worked. People thought that was a little weird, that I’d just go away, that I wouldn’t talk to them and stuff. Then they saw my room, and I had all my mirrors covered up, taped up. I didn’t want to see images of myself, and I kept the room dark or black. And I just stayed in the room and just prepared for the next scene. So yeah, it was kind of weird and crazy, but that was a technique that seemed like it worked.”
He unofficially reprised his Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer role for the music video, All Wrapped Up, by heavy metal band, American Head Charge.
Televison roles followed in The Equaliser, The Outer Limits, Tremors, Stargate SG-1, amongst others as well as more dramatic roles in films such as Eight Men Out, Mississippi Burning, and JFK, but he became widely known for his roles in action and thriller films such as Sea of Love, Days of Thunder, Cliffhanger, and Tombstone:
“I learned to shoot in Tombstone. I’ve been shooting ever since. As a matter of fact, I’m a co-owner shareholder of a shooting range outside of L.A. I shoot at least once or twice a week.”
He also starred in Mallrats, Rosewood, The 6th Day, Slither, Jumper, Hypothermia and Super:
“It was mayhem. No, not really. James Gunn tried to keep everything really organized. He had a good AD department. Everyone was professional, by which I mean all the actors of course had a lot of good experience, and the crew did as well. So even though the budget was small, everybody was dead-on and worked real hard. You have to when you do a little one like this, because you don’t have time to waste. And there is no time. There’s no money. In these kinds of productions, time is definitely money, so if you screw up a day or a shot, you may not get a chance to go back and get that shot and redo that day.”
In June 2010, he revealed via Twitter that he was to appear in the AMC television series The Walking Dead as Merle Dixon, one of the survivors of a zombie apocalypse. He guest starred in two episodes of the first season and one of the second season before finally becoming a series regular for the third season.
Rooker is also known for his roles in video games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops (where he played himself), Mike Harper in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 in November 2012, and voiced Merle in The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, the video game based on the television series.
Rooker played Yondu in the Marvel Studios film Guardians of the Galaxy, which was directed by James Gunn. Rooker announced at the Wizard World Tulsa Comic Con that he will reprise his role as in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in 2017.