The summer’s biggest hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, is out on DVD today and Tribute had the opportunity to speak with cast member Michael Rooker, who plays space bandit Yondu Udonta. We spoke about Yondu as an atypical father figure; the connection between Yondu and Rooker’s most well known character, Merle, from The Walking Dead as well as what he hopes for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy 2. ~Kelly Townsend
You’ve had a long history working with James Gunn, starting with Slither – what was your experience this time around with the pressure of a big budget film like Guardians of the Galaxy?
For me there was no pressure. I mean he was thinking of me for this character and he wrote it sort of specifically to bring out things that he knows, just character traits that he likes about me and stuff. So I had no pressure. He had all the pressure, you know, because it’s a big budget and he’s at the helm and he’s directing this project. But I like to think that his casting abilities and his skills as a director/writer really came to play and coming from the lower budget realm and building up and building up and building up until he’s doing major major projects like this.
All that experience just made it great. I’m sure there was a lot of pressure but you know what, you don’t feel it as the actor, usually. You’re free to do it the way you want to do it and you’re free to go onto the set, not worrying about the budget. That’s not even in my mind when I’m working.
What do you feel are some of your biggest similarities to Yondu?
Yondu and I are both, as you can tell, quite physical. As Yondu, I wanted to bring out the commitment to Peter Quill and the fatherly image that was there. That moment when you’ve had just about enough of this kid, taking the car and running it out of gas and you have to go pick him up again. It’s that kind of relationship where the kid is always out there causing problems and you have to go either pick him up at school and you’ve got to lecture him on the way home, it’s that kind of relationship.
It was very clear, even though it’s not, he’s taken the car keys without asking. He’s taken the spaceship without asking and he’s taken it some place and he’s doing something that he was not supposed to do. He was supposed to wait for me to do it. That’s the opening of the movie. And then my response is the natural normal response of any parent really [laughing], except as an alien, Yondu, his idea of discipline is a wee bit different than the idea of discipline here on Earth. But it still correlates and I think that’s why people ended up connecting and Yondu became a big fan favorite was because of that understanding that, “Yeah, yeah. Oh my God. I think I’ve experienced this.” Some father is thinking, “Yeah, Yeah. It’s not my spaceship, it was my car he took.”
I also heard that Yondu was a little bit connected to your role as Merle in The Walking Dead. Are there any connections between Merle and Yondu that you can think of?
Merle and Yondu and Michael, we’re basically, we’re there. I like to talk about my characters and the very strong connection with who I am. I don’t like talking about them in the third person. It’s interesting, I see that happening all the time with actors when they do interviews and it’s hard to talk about your characters in the third person. For me it is, because there’s such a connection. To me there’s almost no split. Merle Dixon, Yondu Udonta, Michael Rooker – we’re kind of all the same and all mixed up except when you’re in the chair, in character, doing the role. You’re doing things as Merle Dixon would do them, not as Michael Rooker would do them but they’re based on what Michael Rooker would do and my fantasy or my imagination. Well, if this were to happen in real life I would call the police but, you know [laughing], there’s no police.
So in The Walking Dead you have to make due with your own abilities to take care of yourself and the same thing with Yondu. Yondu is very much an amalgam, a mixture of who I am. James kind of explained Yondu to me this way – he was writing this role and it wasn’t completely written yet and he said, “I’m thinking it’s like a combination of you as Merle Dixon and you as Michael Rooker. It’s a combination of you guys except we’re doing Yondu now.” Now my creativity adds in a combination of the real Yondu from the comics. So that mixed with a little bit of myself, a little bit of Merle Dixon, we shake it up in a big mixer and we come out and here we are: we get a full fledged alien man here, who has his own way of doing things. Yondu is very distinct and very much his own person. There’s no one in the universe like Yondu.
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is officially confirmed and you’ve already said you’re going to be a part of the movie. What do you know about your role so far in it?
I know nothing. Everything I have is [the first] Guardians of the Galaxy. Yondu and this version of Yondu will just continue and we’ll find more and more nuances and interesting aspects about Yondu. I’m very excited to get an opportunity to expand on this role. My fingers are crossed it will be just as good or even better than our first endeavor.