You don’t interview Michael Rooker as much as you just kind of try to hold on for dear life while he takes you wherever he wants you to go. Rooker has been in a lot of movies that are still n constant rotation on your local cable provider — Days of Thunder, Tombstone, Cliffhanger – but it’s his role as Yondu in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies that has broken him through as a comic book movie icon. It’s not just that he plays Yondu, it’s that it’s so obviously just how much he enjoys playing Yondu.
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we get a lot of Rooker’s Yondu – and we see some sides of him we didn’t see in the first film. Before, he just kind of seemed like a guy who was around to make trouble. In this second installment – after the Ravagers stage a coup that lands a discarded Yondu with Rocket, Groot and Nebula – we see a much softer and introspective side of Yondu. Director James Gunn told us he considers Yondu the main character in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and it’s hard to argue with that.
Ahead, if you dare, Michael Rooker bucks his way through an interview in which one too many references to Cliffhanger and Days of Thunder gets me called a “little geek.”
How are you?
Michael Rooker here. How are you? Where are you from? Your accent’s interesting.
It is? I live in New York but I’m originally from St. Louis.
Oh, right on. You know, James Gunn’s from St. Louis. It sounded very familiar. Well, you know what? I can see the readers’ eyes becoming all glazed over. We better get to the questions because you only get a certain amount of minutes.
After this movie I have new appreciation for Yondu.
Just for that, you get 30 more seconds.
When you first read the script for this were you like, I’m in this a lot more than I’m in the first one?
Well, yeah, you know what? I’m in the first one exactly the amount I should be in it. In this one, I think we could lose a couple of scenes, and we did lose a couple of moments and stuff and scenes, and it did not hurt the role at all. It made the role better. I got a lot to do in this and a lot more introspective kind of things going on.
You do a good job balancing this new introspective side we are meeting with the hardass from the first film.
Well, that’s what it’s all about. One minute, you see a vulnerability, and the next minute you see the hardass – and it’s a big façade for my guys. I mean, you can’t run a space gang like this without being a hardass. You’ve got to be the hardest ass amongst hardasses. And if you’re not, your ass is going to be taken over easily, quickly. And that’s kind of what happens in this. That’s what they try, anyway.
Yondu was a surprise to me in this movie because it was not what I was expecting. I thought he’s here to cause trouble again. And then by the end of the movie, I’m feeling a lot of sympathy.
Right on, man. That’s great. We tried our best to manipulate you in a positive way. We wanted you to think, yeah, well, you know Yondu from the first one, but do you really know Yondu? You don’t really know Yondu. Nobody does. He keeps that stuff hidden. And other people now are starting to get glimpses of his vulnerability and his softness, if you will. And so, hence, they pounce and it doesn’t take them long to try to take him down.
Do you get recognized on the street as Yondu? Because in the movie you’re in all that makeup. Or when you get recognized is it Rowdy from Days of Thunder?
Days of Thunder is almost never, ever mentioned.
If you walked by right now, I’d mention Days of Thunder.
Yeah, they recognize me as Yondu. The makeup is done so well: It’s my bone structure, it’s my skin, it’s my wrinkles. There’s no extra prosthetics in there. It’s what I look like, but blue. And a fin on my head. And some really, really fucking bad teeth.
James Gunn thinks you’re the main character in this movie.
As well he should.
I think I have to agree.
He wrote that role very specifically to show off my talents and Yondu’s story.
You are in so many movies I loved when I was in high school. With this role, I’m so glad you get so much attention now. Do you feel that? Like when you went on stage in character at Comic-Con?
I do feel that. Yeah, I feel that, and James Gunn, he wants the same thing to happen. He wants people to understand and to know what you’re look at, is, well: What you’re looking at is 30 years of honing my craft and skills and actually getting better as I get older. So yeah, yeah, it’s good stuff! And he writes so well for me, and hopefully one day we’ll do a good movie.
Oh, come on.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I know. I’m teasing you.
You have a scene with Stallone. We get a Cliffhanger reunion.
Oh, yeah, we do. Yes, we do. We get a Tombstone reunion [with Kurt Russell] as well.
Do those movies come up when you see those guys?
No! You know, we’ve moved on. We moved on! We’re far beyond Cliffhanger and Tombstone. But, you know, actors are like that: We’re able to drop it and pick up someone else.
So it’s people like me that can’t drop it.
Ha, that’s true! Yes, you little geek, you. I love it. I love it. You’re the one, you are people who keep me relevant, my man – and me doing as many other different things as I feel capable of doing. And I thank you. I thank you for it.
I don’t quite believe you that no one brings up Days of Thunder, because I bet a lot of people do.
[Laughs.] Sure. People bring up Days of Thunder every single day.
Okay. I choose to believe that.
And they come out here and they say, “Oh, Rowdy! We love you, Rowdy! You’re the man!” 51 Exxon, baby!
See, this is much better.
I am all for Rowdy Burns, man.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.