Michael Rooker made it hard Friday to tell where he ended and Merle Dixon began.
The veteran actor swaggered onto the Emerald City Comicon stage opposite Seattle TV anchor John Hopperstad and took over the show. From beneath a pair of shades and a fedora, Rooker kept the crowd entertained with a gruff, practiced demeanor, while refusing to disclose anything – anything – about future doings on AMC’s comics-based zombie drama “The Walking Dead.”
“Without giving anything away,” Hopperstad began, “what can we look forward to the next several -”
“I’m not telling you!” Rooker snapped. “… Why would I say that? AMC are my friends.”
Beyond Rooker’s unspoken contractual obligations, there also appeared an unwillingness to disclose tidbits that would dull the experience of viewing the show. “Why would you want to know that?” Rooker asked of one of many spoiler-fishing questions lobbed at him.
“I want to know if Merle is going to survive the season,” Hopperstad said.
“HAA HAA HAA!” Rooker laughed boomingly.
“… And those are the kind of answers I get,” Hopperstad grumbled.
Rooker’s character Merle is among the few featured in AMC’s “The Walking Dead” that has no analog in the long-running comic book series created by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. Appearing in just two episodes of the original season, he was AWOL for the second and returned full force — minus a hand — in the third. Merle proved a popular component of the drama – a leathery son of the Georgia backcountry who knew more about survival than the more sympathetic survivors led by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln).
Rooker credited the show’s writing staff with keeping Merle “alive” during the period when most – perhaps even his devoted brother Daryl (Norman Reedus) – thought him a goner. Elements of Merle were salted throughout the second season until his reemergence, he said.
Asked about Merle’s feelings toward his brother after their reunion, Rooker said, “Well, y’know, the poor guy’s been brainwashed. He’s living with the city folk. … He probably can’t even run a trout line at this point.”
Rooker taps his Alabama roots to approach the part. Raised in that state from a young age but relocated to Chicago in his teens, Rooker first caught public notice with his characterization of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas in 1986’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” Hopperstad gave him a free-association challenge by spooling off some of his better-known movie titles.
“‘Tombstone,'” Hopperstad said.
“Horses. Sore ass. Next.”
“Italian food. Cappuccino. Italian women. Beautiful. Romance!”
“‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.'”
“‘Yeah, I killed my mama.'”
Rooker also starred as the sympathetic but alien-infested Grant Grant in James Gunn’s “Slither” and called it “One of the hardest movies I ever did. The makeup took seven hours to get on. It was quite painful.”
He turned aside questions of whether he’d appear in Gunn’s upcoming film take on “Guardians of the Galaxy,” saying, “Just because you’re friends with James Gunn doesn’t mean you’re gonna be in his movie.”
Rooker has often been recruited for hard-case hillbilly roles, leading to questions of whether he ever feared typecasting. From beneath his hat and shades, he said it’s a moot question.
“Young actors who are out there right now, you can only hope to be typecast,” he said. “Because then, you’re working.”