Michael Rooker Talks Hypothermia, on DVD today!
We're huge Michael Rooker fans here, so when the opportunity came up to chat with him for a half an hour this past Sunday, we jumped on it. The actor currently has a lot going on in his career, including this week's DVD release of the creature feature on ice, Hypothermia. In it, Rooker stars as a family man forced to protect his wife and kids against a snow dwelling monster hellbent on consuming human flesh.
He also has Season 3 of The Walking Dead coming up in October, which finds him reprising the fan favorite role of Merle Dixon, not seen since Season 1. And he is playing one of the main characters in the popular video game franchise Call of Duty, which returns this November with Black Ops 2. And, just maybe, he will take on the voice of Rocket Raccoon in James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy.
Here is our conversation, where we talk about his heroism on the set of Hypothermia, his love of raccoons, and the return of Merle. Enjoy The Rook!
If you're still having meetings about the Walking Dead this far into shooting Season 3, I have to imagine Merle Dixon won't be taking the bite anytime soon?
Michael Rooker: (Laughs) Look, Merle is back this season. I am back! I start fairly early on in the season, but I can't assume anything. I don't think you should either. What I will say is that I will be a pleasant surprise for a lot of Merle fans!
The guy is a survivor, so that will come as both a surprise and a shock if this guy ends up tangling with the wrong zombie...
Michael Rooker: You know it! Yes, Merle is a survivor, that is for sure. Him and his brother, both. But in particular, Merle. This guy was tough as nails already, and then he lived through all that stuff that happened on the rooftop. All the stuff that has happened to him, and the stuff that he did in-between the rooftop and when we meet him again in Season 3...You will learn that it is very cool stuff. It's all very cool. I've been having a good time.
This impending reunion, and the resulting relationship between Merle and his brother is sure to bring forth one of the most interesting dynamics in television this year. How do you think their union is going to be affected by their recent past experiences apart?
Michael Rooker: You are right. A lot of people are intrigued by this relationship. It's because most of us have siblings of our own. This brings forth the question, what would you do in a zombie apocalypse? How would you relate with your family and your siblings, if you all survived the initial disease. As I see it right now, it's just him and me, from our family...I guess...Its kind of cool. Its cool that out of all these people in the group...Well, you have Hershel and his daughters...But, yeah...As Merle would call her, Blonde had a sister. But not anymore. So, the brothers are quite a treat for fans. And the fans will love this relationship that continues to evolve. They want to see how it will go, for sure.
How handy is this new wrist appendage of Merles'? Will we see him put it to good use in terms of slaughtering a few of the undead?
Michael Rooker: Dude, this thing is handy as hell, man! You can eat with it, you can sleep with it, and you can defend yourself with it, and kill zombies with it. You can cut through watermelons with it! All kinds of stuff.
How far into shooting Season 3 are you guys? Do you already have the first half completed?
Michael Rooker: No! We still have some big stuff to do. We have some big scenes left to shoot. We are working our butts off on this. We are probably around the half season mark. I don't even know. I don't even know what day it is. I think I completely missed Saturday. I think Saturday has come and gone, and I didn't even realize it! Though, I am enjoying this while I can. People are really digging this show. It's really a wonderful thing to be a part of. All the great writers, and all the really cool actors that are on the show, and everybody else, we all work so well together, and its kick-ass, man. It's an awesome, awesome time!
Are you going to return in the first episode of the new season?
Michael Rooker: I'm not allowed to say if I am in the first, second, third, forth, fifth...I actually reappear in the series. It is in Season 3. They will play it out. Our first episode begins October 13th, or 14th, whichever it is, but I am not allowed to comment on when I come back. Where it will happen. Which episode I come back in. I am not allowed to comment on characters and relationships, all the stuff like that. But everybody already knows that Merle is back in Season 3. I'll tell you what. It's going to be a fucking awesome time.
Entertainment Weekly gave some things up, I don't know if you read that article...
Michael Rooker: Yeah, they gave some things up. (Laughs) They let everyone else talk about the show, but they don't let us talk about it. How funny is that shit? (Laughs) Entertainment Weekly gave it away so early, everyone has forgotten about it. People will still be surprised! This is an awesome show, and everyone is having a great time. I'm having a great time, even though it's been really hot over the summer. This summer was so hot! Shit, its just craziness! Craziness! Going from Hypothermia to Atlanta is extreme, the differences!
Jumping from Merle to Ray Pelletier in Hypothermia, we're getting two vastly different individuals here. In this new movie, you are the head of a family unit. We don't get to see you play the father figure too often, and this guy is a positive father figure to boot. He's trying to do right by the world...
Michael Rooker: Yeah, you know, we don't get to see this that often. I've done it a few times in my career. I have played dads. In a few of the past movies, I have had children, but you're right...I don't often get cast in that wholesome family, relationship thing. It's intriguing. Its fun. It was really fucking cold up there. If I remember correctly. It was quite cold. In one scene, they had me going in the water. That was a treat!
Where did you guys shoot the movie?
Michael Rooker: We were way the fuck up there...In Minnesota somewhere. We were near the northern peninsula. I'm not sure exactly which little community we were in. Maybe we were in upstate New York, someplace. I actually think we were in upstate New York. It snowed while we were there, and all of a sudden, we had two feet. They had to plow the lake just so that we could get back out on the ice. It was nuts. That ice was quite thick, and people were ice fishing all over the place. In real life. They were out there. We had a certain area, which was our area. No one was in there ice fishing. It was around the bend of the lake area. But from there, you could see people ice fishing on the other side. You never seem them in the movie, from our location. We wanted it to seem like we were the only two families on the lake.
That's what is so intriguing, and unique about this movie. Here, we have two family units working to fight this common cause. I can't recall any other recent monster movie that was about two families. Usually it's a group of teenagers, and if there is an adult present, he's a bumbling cop. There is no mom, dad, and no kids. Never...
Michael Rooker: Oh, yeah. And we are in an isolated area. The big question with these types of movies, really, is, like...Why don't you just drive off the ice, buddy? Why don't you just drive home? And I don't know why we didn't just drive off the ice. Yeah. Why didn't we just leave. The cell service is dead on the ice, apparently. Why! Didn't! We! JUST DRIVE OFF THE ICE????? I don't have an answer!
There would be no movie if you just drove off the ice. That's would be any fun!
Michael Rooker: I really don't know the reason why we didn't just go. There was something else going on. I don't know why we didn't just drive off the ice. That still baffles me. (Laughs) We were parked on the ice. That's why we weren't leaving. Because there was crazy stuff going down. You either run or you stay inside. These two families tried to stay inside.
I didn't ever think about that aspect of the film. Sure, you could have left that monster there to eat the next family that came along. But you give yourself over to this role. Maybe it's a B movie, but you are giving the performance of a lifetime. A lot of actors wouldn't be that commited to the material. We believe in you and what you are doing, so we, as an audience, don't ever question your motives. Were do you find that kind of conviction in regards to the genre? You never once look like you don't want to be here...
Michael Rooker: That is a good question, because it can be a bit silly at times. For instance, when I have to save the monster from drowning, and he is supposed to be eating my leg off. I have to go down and rescue him. (Laughs) That was fun. We had some fun times doing this! The first time the monster got in his suit, it was working fine, until he went underwater. So, when he was under the water, there was a leak in the head of the suit. It started filling up inside the monster's mask. The whole apparatus started filling up with water inside his head. He was going to drown, because the water was overflowing in his nose and mouth. He couldn't breath. He was drowning in this head. the poor actor couldn't get it off. I was in the water, and he was in the water, and he was supposed to grab me. But he grabbed me too weakly, and I remember looking down into the water, and I thought, "This doesn't look good." I didn't know what was going on. Man, we tied him off and swam him over to the side of the pool (laughs). We were in this deep pool at the time, doing that scene.
God, that sounds like a horrible way to die. Drowning in a monster suit.
Michael Rooker: I know, on a movie set? That is a bad idea...Ooh, you know, it is part of my natural history, though. I was a lifeguard for two summers. I can tell when someone is having problems in the water. This guy was having problems in the water. I got him over to the side of the pool. I held him up above the water, but I realized he was still in distress. I realized, "Oh, fuck!" The water is inside his helmet. It's in his face thing. He can't breath. So I tried to rip the son of a bitch off, and all this water comes pouring out. This is crazy shit. This is behind-the-scenes stuff. This was really bad, which is drama in itself. But at the same time, you have to play, "Oh, my god, the monster is coming!" It was fun, though. You have a good time doing it. You use your imagination. You make it as believable as you possibly can. I am glad that it comes out looking like I am invested in the reality of the moment. In this situation. That is what I do, that's my job.
I bring it up because I see a lot of these Drive-In, B style horror movies, and sometimes the actors look like they are in pain. They are hating every moment of it, and it reads on their face. Its clear that you are having a good time here, which in turn, allows me to have a great time with a movie like this. I love it. And speaking of watching a lot of B movies, I just got Netflix...Do you have that?
Michael Rooker: Yeah. I have Netflix.
Every time I watch a horror movie right now, the first thing in my "Because you watched so-in-so horror movie" queue is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. How happy are you to see that resurface, and really start gaining fans all over again. Its like, in the streaming world, if you are into watching horror movies, you are going to see this particular movie. You can't help it!
Michael Rooker: Dude, I have been loving that so much. It just brings everything to a new generation. I have noticed this going on for a few years, now. When I go and sign autographs, and talk to people, because I like doing that, I will get a number of generations of fans. They will come out for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and it is always very cool.
A lot of your older movies are just at my fingertips. I love this technology. The one that always gets me though is Tombstone. Just the amount of people that are in that. Even most of the extras are big name actors now...
Michael Rooker: Oh, I know, dude, I know. There are some older ones streaming, too, like Days of Thunder. If you want to look at the horror genre, there would be George A. Romero's thing. There is the one with the birds...God, what was it called?
Was it Birdemic?
Michael Rooker: Uh? Uh-uh...I have never done any "demic" movies.
I didn't think you were in that. I just don't know of any other recent bird movies...
Michael Rooker: That is one thing I haven't done. I have not done an epidemic one. (Laughs) I have done a meteor one. Where meteor showers are destroying the earth. Those kinds of movies? I have done a few of those...I think I have worked in every darn genre that there is.
I think you have too...
Michael Rooker: When I think about it, I've done everything. I've worked in games...Actually, I am working in games right now, I have a big one coming out, and its one of the biggest franchises our there right now. I am in Call of Duty: Black Ops II. I play a big role in that. It comes out November 14th. Yeah, that is a big game. And I play a big role. I play Mike Harper, who is a US Navy Seal. He is part of the Seal Team, and we are saving the world. We are saving America! Saving America as we know it!
You keep pulling me off track...Saving America as we know it...I know you as an actor who is a constant survivor. If we can count on one man to be left standing when the smoke clears, its Michael Rooker. What do you take from these experiences on set? Are you ready to stand up and fight when the shit hits the fan in real life?
Michael Rooker: (Laughs) I've already done it! I have saved numerous victims from almost drowning. You know? This guy in the monster suit, that was just my latest. When I was a lifeguard at the beach, good gosh, I ended up being rookie of the year. I probably saved about half...I had thirteen to fourteen jumps that summer. It was nuts.
What beach did you start out on?
Michael Rooker: North Avenue Beach, at Lake Michigan.
Jesus. That is light years away from being a lifeguard on the beach in California.
Michael Rooker: Yeah. A lot of times they go down in the middle of the lake, and you have to get there fast. The water is a little murkier.
In terms of who you play in Hypothermia, I kept going back to your character in Slither. You play a genuinely nice guy at the beginning of that movie, up until his transformation. Was it Slither that alerted people to the fact that you don't always have to play the heavy. That you can play the positive father figure, without loosing the edge that makes you Michael Rooker?
Michael Rooker: You know what? I do think people always recognize me from the more intense parts that I play. The tough guy roles, and things like that. But I have done numerous roles over the years that weren't like that, besides Slither. The guy in Cliffhanger was a pretty good cat. I have played several detective roles, and a few cops. I have played a lot of roles where I am not the bad guy. Look at The Dark Half, that is the George A. Romero movie I did. I am not a bad guy in that. I have played a lot of regular guys. I am just a regular cat in an extraordinary situation.
Yeah, but you have a reputation for being a little bit scary. You sound like a very nice man on the phone, but actors can be deceiving...
Michael Rooker: (Laughs) We were just talking the other day about a couple of these scenes...It depends on the role, it depends on the script, it depends on the way you say something...What the motivation is behind the lines, which will dictate your physicality, your face, your body, how you are carrying yourself...Some of those more intense roles affect my body. They affect my facial expressions. My vocal tone. That is what people see. They are watching this, and seeing this...When I play the regular guys, its not as intense...But still, even in those roles, they have their moments...
Even in Hypothermia...You are a loving family man, yet you manage to scare me quite a few times...Now, I assume you will say, "No comment!" On this next question. I bet you know what is coming next?
Michael Rooker: No, I don't know what is coming next...
Let me wade into these troubled waters by asking, "What do you think of Raccoons?
Michael Rooker: (Laughs) I love raccoons. Raccoons are my friends (Laughs)!
You have one of those iconic voices. It's up there with Sam Elliot. Rocket Raccoon, Michael Rooker...That sounds like perfect casting to me...
Michael Rooker: Oh, yeah! I know that James Gunn is doing it. He is directing it, and he is re-writing it. He is a very loyal director. He is a very loyal writer, when it comes to working with people that he knows and loves. He really appreciates the efforts that each actor puts into these roles. And I would be very honored and pleased to work with James Gunn again...Whether it will happen or not, I don't know. But he is a dynamite guy, and we have remained friends ever since we worked together on Slither.
Have you looked up Rocket Raccoon? Are you familiar with The Guardians of the Galaxy?
Michael Rooker: I haven't done much research on it at all. Because I don't know what is going to happen with that film. I'm really crazy busy with The Walking Dead right now. But you know what? Write this up. Tweet the fuck out of it. If the fans want me as Rocket Raccoon, Marvel will listen to you guys, I think, sometimes...Perhaps I will be lucky and blessed enough to go in there, and go at it with Mr. Gunn again, who knows?
I would assume the character would be all CGI. Have you done something like that before, where you wear a body motion capture suite?
Michael Rooker: I have done a bunch of motion capture for Call of Duty. For the last ten months, I have been working on Black Ops 2, as Mike Harper. We've done many hours of motion capture and voice over stuff. All of my movements and facial gestures will be in the game. Expressions, voice, even my likeness, because it looks like me. He's just younger.
That sounds awesome. I'm clueless about video game culture. I don't play them, because I get mad at them...
Michael Rooker: Yeah. Look, this is a major deal. They have really gotten into this motion capture for these games. The voiceover is just one section of it. Motion capture is a big part of bringing these games to life. And bringing the character to life. In Black Ops 2, we had a lot of people who lent their voices to different characters within the piece. There are multiple levels on these games nowadays. The are quite complex.
Are you working with the other actors while shooting the different stages of the game, or do they have you quarantined off by yourself?
Michael Rooker: Oh, yeah, I am working with the other actors. My first gig I did for Activision and Treyarch was part of Black Ops 1. I played myself. You get to play as Michael Rooker in a zombie map pack. That is part of Black Ops 1. They do different map packs over the run of the series, so they asked me to do one of them. My map pack was me, Danny Trejo, Robert Englund, Sarah Michelle Gellar, George A. Romero...We all did this game. It's awesome. A very cool game. You get to play Michael Rooker, so it really looks like a game version of me. That's when we first developed our relationship, me and Treyarch, and Activision. Then they asked me to do Black Ops 2. So now I am not just a game pack. I am in the whole game. I have been involved with the whole game now for about ten months.
Okay, can't wait! Kill a zombie for me!
Michael Rooker: All right, brother! I will kill many for you! It will be my pleasure! Thank you, my friend!
Hypothermia is on DVD today!