Michael Rooker didn’t get into show business to entertain at comic festivals—but he sure loves being part of them.
The star of Guardians of the Galaxy and The Walking Dead, Rooker says appearing at events like May’s Phoenix Comic Fest are worth it.
“It’s about having a good time and meeting the fans,” he says.
Set for Thursday, May 24, to Sunday, May 27, Phoenix Comic Fest will also include appearances by the likes of Tim Curry, Ming-Na Wen, Sean Gunn, Greg Grunberg, Val Kilmer and William Shatner at the Phoenix Convention Center.
Rooker has several personal appearances this year, but he also takes in comic fests as a fan.
“When I started as an actor, I went to them just for the experience, just to see what it was like,” Rooker says. “I would mainly go now to see my friends. I’m sure if Stan Lee was there, I would be there. I would go see my pals. Actually, I would wait in line and be a regular fan—and then surprise them at the table.”
Keeping it fresh
Rooker is known for his complex portrayals of dark characters, ranging from the blue-skinned, loveable rogue, Yondu, in Guardians of the Galaxy, to the outlaw-turned-lawman Sherman McMasters in 1983’s Tombstone.
He made his film debut in 1986 playing the title role in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. He has since appeared in numerous films including Mississippi Burning, Sea of Love, Days of Thunder, JFK, Cliffhanger, Tombstone, Mallrats, Rosewood, The 6th Day and Jumper. Rooker also has a prolific relationship with writer/director James Gunn, appearing in his Slither, Super, The Belko Experiment and, of course, Guardians.
“I keep it fresh and as honest as possible, and have fun at the same time,” Rooker says. “Every day is different. Every day is new. Every film is new. Every scene is new. Even though you have a basic ‘through lines,’ it’s still fresh, man, because you don’t know what the actors were going to do part of the time.
“We rehearse, but we don’t know who’s going to happen day of.”
Rooker says most actors will change lines a bit, but the Guardians of the Galaxy script was a gem.
“When you have a great script like the script James wrote for Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, you don’t need to think or any other lines or words. They’re already there.
“We just need to make those lines as normal and natural for yourself as you can. That’s what it’s all about—making them feel natural and fresh.”
While he found success with Guardians of the Galaxy, Rooker cites a different film as his “dream job.” It’s Tombstone.
“It’s really beautiful,” he says. “I got to ride a horse, shoot guns and wear spurs. If you don’t walk up and down the stairs right, you look like an idiot when you fall on your face.”
Rooker has learned a few unexpected skills on the movie set beyond walking with spurs. In one film, he had to smoke cigars, which he called “gross.” He mastered the art of racing cars as Rowdy Burns in the 1990 Tom Cruise flick Days of Thunder.
“The driving in Days of Thunder was very, very important,” he says. “I had to learn as much as I possibly could. This isn’t just acting. This isn’t just a game. I was dealing with a 3,000-pound machine. It’s going fast. I had to get up to speed. That’s literally where the term comes from. I was going 205. It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re going that fast.”
In late April, he was the honorary pace car driver for the Toyota Owners 400 in Richmond, Virginia. He led the field to green in the Official Toyota Camry Pace Car for the spring Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race “under the lights.”
“I drove a Toyota Camry, which, by the way, is an awesome car,” he says. “It’s brand new and redesigned. I’m all into cars and that was a beautiful piece of machinery. That was fun. I’ve never driven a pace car before. I learn from everything I do.”
He even learns about himself and others at comic festivals, where he’s become a fan favorite.
“God forbid you choose your projects because you want to do conventions,” he says. “That’s the dumbest way to choose projects. It just so happens a lot of my choices and projects and characters really caught on to fans. They like what I’m doing, especially in Guardians of the Galaxy and The Walking Dead.
“For a lot of fans, they’re a vacation. Instead of going to Disneyland or an amusement park, they meet their heroes and villains and fellow actors. It’s fun and it was amazing to learn.”
Phoenix Comic Fest, Phoenix Convention Center, 100 N. Third Street, Phoenix, phoenixcomicfest.com, Thursday, May 24, to Sunday, May 27. For times and ticket information, visit the website.