One of the greatest things about this season of THE WALKING DEAD is the return of actor Michael Rooker. Seeing him on the small screen again made me realize how much I missed the dude, which got me to thinking about all the awesome movies he’s made over the years, and… BLAMO! I decided to take a closer look at the dude’s filmography and see just how awesome the guy is in pretty much everything he does. With over 100 projects under his belt, the guy’s been busy as hell over the last 30 years, and yes… we’re all the better for it. So sit back, relax, and let’s visit the career of the great Michael Rooker!
Rooker pretty much started his acting career with greatness with HENRY: PORTAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, which was only his second on-screen appearance behind an episode of TV’s Crime Story. Rooker’s portrayal of Henry was daunting, uninhibited, and surprisingly real, which made it more haunting and scary than anyone could have possibly imagined. Seriously, the guy made you believe he was this ruthless serial killer who just didn’t give a f*ck about nothing. Part of it is the film’s down and dirty gritty feel, but the other part is Rooker’s low-key intensity, a trademark he used again and again over the years.
But he didn’t stop with the awesome HENRY. He escalated and rocked some really fantastic and memorable roles in the years to come, including side-by-side with Sylvester Stallone in CLIFFHANGER, the action flick UNDISPUTED, and even Kevin Smith’s hilarious MALLRATS. He tackled a shit ton of TV over the years as well, making him one of those actors that most people recognize… even if they don’t necessarily know his name. My favorite role of Rookers goes Hal Tucker from CLIFFANGER. He’s such an asshole, but he’s an asshole who has his heart in the right place and ends up seeing the errors of his ways by the end. He rocks some seriously fantastic one-liners and his report with the sinister John Lithgow is nothing short of perfect.
With over 100 roles in movies and TV over the years, there’s undoubtedly going to be no shortage of shitty roles… or, if not roles, just plain shitty movies under Rooker’s belt. But much like other classic character actors like Rooker, no matter how bad the movie may be that he’s in, Rooker himself always does a great job. The unfortunate thing is, many of his worst films are when he co-stars alongside some really big action stars of the time, with Stallone and CLIFFANGER the only exception when it really worked.
Specifically, I’m talkin’ about THE 6TH DAY (with Arnold Schwarzenegger), REPLICANT (with Jean-Claude Van Damme), and THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS (with Chow Yun-Fat). None of these are good movies. Upon their release, each of them had their share of fans due to the star power involved, but those who have ever revisited any of these flicks knows that they are all complete piles of poop. Rooker is always the “bad” guy hot on our hero’s tails, and for that I’ll give him props because he plays the “bad” guy so well. But… I say “bad” in quotes because he’s usually a cop or some sort of agent whose job is to track down the hero and bring them in. Does that make him a bad guy? Nahhhh… especially when you consider that Rooker is probably the best thing about those movies. Oh, and I almost forgot… JUMPER. He’s in that. F*ck that movie.
What makes the great Michael Rooker be the great Michael Rooker? We alluded to it earlier, but it’s essentially the way he can be a total and complete asshole, and yet retain a level of charm hidden underneath that asshole persona that makes it hard not to like him… even if he is a mean motherf*cker. He’s great at playing the villain for this trait, but he’s also just great at playing the asshole friend. His role in DAYS OF THUNDER is a good example of what Rooker does best, as well as his role in TOMBSTONE. Rooker is the guy you love to hate. And it’s because of this love that he’s entertained us with top-notch performances over the years. I mentioned MALLRATS earlier, and while it’s a slap-happy comedy, he essentially plays “classic Rooker” the entire time… priceless!
But what may be the epitome of Rooker’s crass but likable “good” bad characters is his role as Merle in THE WALKING DEAD. In Season One, Rooker was racist loose cannon, a guy who was more or less a wild animal among the group of survivors trying to take on a zombie apocalypse. People hated Merle and it was applauded when Rick and T-Dog left him to rot on the roof… but maybe even moreso, people were stoked when they came back to check on him and he was gone. Because, even if we didn’t like Merle, he was damn fun to watch, and made for a much more entertaining show. Now we’re deep into Season 3, Merle’s back, and everything is right with the world. He’s still down and dirty, and yet there’s this subdued attitude about him, where you can tell he’s trying to keep himself under control… he’s still an asshole, but he’s doing his best to hide it. All while rockin’ a sweet knife-arm thingy. Awesome.
One of Rooker’s wildest and most horror-centric movies is James Gunn’s SLITHER. Rooker is absolutely fantastic in it, playing another crazy asshole, but this time, one that starts mutating when an alien being takes over this body, growing into one of the most grotesque and disgusting blobs of slime, skin, and tentacles ever. And yet, beneath all the gross special effects, there’s Rooker doing what he does best. Plus, he’s trying to nail Elizabeth Banks the whole time, which takes some serious balls when you look like a man-sized booger straight from the nose of an alien being from Uranus. I love me some SLITHER, and I love Rooker in it. People should do themselves a favor and sit down to some SLITHER… you won’t be disappointed!
Because of his popularity on THE WALKING DEAD, Rooker is keeping himself as busy as ever, getting gigs in movies and TV, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Not only is Season 3 of THE WALKING DEAD keeping him busy week-to-week, but he also has the recently released horror-on-ice flick HYPOTHERMIA, a flick that he made a while back but is coming out for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s a little scary that the flick sat on the shelf for so long, but hey… I’ll take my Rooker where I can! He also has CHAPEO, BOLDEN!, BROTHER’S KEEPER, and a voice-only gig with THE WALKING DEAD VIDEO GAME coming in 2013 and beyond. Yeah Rooker!
Michael Rooker has been the raspy-voiced asshole in movies and TV for the last 30 years and is one of the great character actors working today. From his role in THE WALKING DEAD, to how he handles starring opposite Hollywood’s biggest action stars from CLIFFHANGER to THE 6TH DAY to REPLICANT, there’s no one out there quite like Rooker. He started out fast and strong with a haunting portrayal of a serial killer and hasn’t looked back, giving us a plethora of memorable movies and characters over the years. What’s even better is that he’s starring in one of the greatest TV shows on air right now, ensuring his place in the forefront of cool projects well into the future. And here’s a final thought to ponder about Rooker’s greatness on THE WALKING DEAD…. Season 1 was great (with Rooker), Season 2 was OK (without Rooker), and Season 3 is even better than Season 1 (Rooker is back), meaning that THE WALKING DEAD + Rooker = excellent television. Go team Rooker!