Michael Rooker on ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ and Yondu’s New Look
Pop quiz: What’s the highest-grossing non-sequel Marvel movie after The Avengers? Surprisingly, it’s not Iron Man or Captain America or Doctor Strange. It’s the first Guardians of the Galaxy, which made an impressive $773 million worldwide. Its success can be attributed to a couple of different factors, but the most important in my opinion is writer/director James Gunn, who managed to merge Marvel’s house style with his quirky sensibility to create an irresistible action comedy. Even with Infinity Stones and Thanos running around, Guardians looked and sounded like no Marvel movie before.
A lot of that personality came from the casting of great character actors like Michael Rooker, who’s worked with Gunn on every one of his movies, starting with his terrific 2006 horror film Slither. There Rooker played a guy infected with an alien parasite who grows into a monster, suggesting Gunn gets off on making Rooker spend hours upon hours getting slathered with prosthetic makeup. In the Guardians series, Rooker plays Yondu, a space pirate with a complicated relationship to Guardians leader Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt), who Yondu kidnapped from Earth at an early age and raised as his protégé. Yondu’s comics-inspired look — bright blue skin, jagged teeth, and a red robotic fin used to control his deadly magic arrow — required Rooker to spend an enormous amount of time in the makeup trailer, both having it applied and then removed. I asked him how he dealt with the strain.
“The secret is to drink whiskey as you're taking off the makeup,” he told me. “It's very difficult. It causes me great stress. I deal with that by going to sleep when I'm putting it on. But taking it off, you don't really go to sleep, you just want to get it off. And you drink whiskey.”
Back in his own skin, Rooker told me how much of Yondu’s evolution in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 he knew about back when they were making the first film, whether he performs his own arrow-controlling whistles, and dodged a question about whether all his social-media teasing about Avengers: Infinity War meant we’d see him back as Yondu in the near future.
We learn a lot more of the relationship between Yondu and Peter in this movie. Did James give you all of that information to use when you made the first movie or was this news to you?
All of this stuff was sort of known in the first one. This is just the moment where he decided to bring it forth and have it play out.
Was the making of the sequel different in any significant way, or did it feel more like just a continuation of what you guys had started with the first Guardians?
It was somewhat of a continuation, but we got way more into the characters. That’s what we do as actors. As we just said in that first question, a lot of this internal information was known in the first one. Now, come full circle and we get to actually play out the inner monologues, so to speak. Our inner feelings are put out there on the screen.
How good of a whistler are you?
Not too bad. [Rooker gives a Yondu-style whistle]
That’s pretty good actually.
That’s not so bad! I know people that can whistle louder, but I like the melodic ones. The ones like in the first one. Remember when the air was coming up and it’s circling around and then I blow harder and change the rhythm and the pitch and it goes out? I like that. I like the melodic ones.
Doesn’t sound like you had a whistle double then.
I did not have a whistle double. They used my whistling. They enhanced it with, you know, the volume and echoey kind of sound, to make it louder and quicker because, my gosh, I mean, the music was wildly crazy and powerful in some of those scenes.
It’s amazing, some of the technical things that we have to deal with as actors. “Can you whistle loud?” Or, you know, “Can you talk louder? Can you talk harder and faster?” You know, go “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” but that’s the way it is, man.
It’s such a memorable part of the character. Do people, when they meet you on the street now, do they whistle at you? Do they want you to whistle?
I have never had anyone whistle at me. I wouldn’t mind a good. [Does a Tex Avery wolf whistle] That would be like “Yeah, thanks!”
Okay, I guess it would be a little different if people were whistling at you.
That’s true, that’s true. But many people want to know if I did the whistling and they love it, absolutely go nuts. You see it in their faces and their eyes when I actually whistle for them. I’m like a trained monkey now. I’m like a parakeet. “Whistle for daddy! Whistle for daddy!” There I just did it. Are you happy?
I enjoyed it. Your character gets this much bigger mohawk in this movie that looks more like the one comic-book fans would recognize from the Yondu of old Guardians comics. What was your reaction to seeing this new gigantic mohawk you would be sporting in this movie?
If I did not know any better, I would be like “Why the hell didn’t we do that in first one?” I know why we didn’t do it in the first one, but it was so natural and so cool and awesome. You look at it and you go “Wow, now that’s Yondu.” You know?
What was the reason you didn’t do it the first time?
One ship was ... the ceiling was too low. There was a couple of vital scenes that we’re doing and it was a little too ... I would have hit my head. I would have had to duck down and scrunch over.
[laughs] Is that true? That’s really the reason?
Yeah, that’s the reason! Dude, at least that’s the reason they told me. They lie to actors all the time. You know these directors and producers lie to us all the time. “No, no, no, we can’t do that because of this and this.” But in reality they just don’t have the money in the budget to make the ceiling higher, okay? Yeah, that’s what they had mentioned. It was low.
So did they elongate the set this time? If we compared the two Ravager ship sets, would the ceiling be higher in Vol. 2?
The Ravager ship was okay, but I was in another ship that was low, you know, and I had to do that whole sequence. But the Ravager ship had big ceilings, lots of air, lots of space. But there was one sequence that had the lower ceilings that would have been disastrous. I would have knocked myself out several times over.
Your Yondu is different than the one that was in the original Guardians comics of the 1970s. After the first film, everyone absolutely loves this version of the character but comic-book fans, when they think that they’re characters are being futzed with, can get a little nervous. You know, they can get upset.
As well they should, as well they should.
Did that cause any trepidation on your part?
No, no, no. We went in with the understanding that it was different than the comic-book version, you know? The Marvel Cinematic Universe is different. Some characters were there that were not there and some are not there that were there and we look different. Even though I’m Yondu in name, the whole concept of being space pirates and that kind of thing really played heavily in the writing and the wardrobe and all that stuff.
All right, last question. I’ve seen on your Instagram account you sort of teasing; hanging around in Atlanta, wearing Avengers Infinity War hats and so on. Will we see Yondu again?
What do you mean teasing?
Well, you’re wearing hats with names on them. You’re covering the logo, but not very well.
I know. It’s fun stuff, isn’t it? I don’t know if that’s true or real life, you know? I love hats and every now and then someone will come up to me and put a piece of tape over me. That’s all I can say.
Okay, so the answer is “I love hats”?
I love hats.