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Q&A: Michael Rooker of 'The Walking Dead'

Just how much has Merle changed aside from his amputated arm?

By Mekeisha Madden Toby Nov 16, 2012 12:24PM

'The Walking Dead' '/' AMC

Alabama native Michael Rooker has a disarming way of making you realize he's not Merle, the racist, sexist and violent character he plays on AMC's "The Walking Dead."


Then again, Merle -- at least the one fans have come to know in Season 3 -- can be charming and is a lot more layered these days. But just how much has Merle changed aside from the whole amputated arm and gladiator thing?


Bing: More on 'The Walking Dead' | Michael Rooker


Rooker, 57, is tight-lipped about the new and possibly not-so-improved Merle but he did talk to MSN TV about the prosthetic he has to wear and how fans' enthusiastic reaction to Merle's return has been awe-inspiring. "The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.


Plus: 'American Horror Story: Asylum' photo gallery | TV's changing tides


MSN TV: Do you like Merle? Do you have to?

Michael Rooker: Merle is very likable. What do you mean, "Do I like Merle?" (Laughs) You know you love Merle. Say you love Merle. Merle's not a bad guy. He's tough. A little bad at times but he's not the same man he was on that roof.


How has he changed?

I can't tell you much because where's the fun in that? But as the season goes on, you will see how he has become better and how he has become worse and the roles the Governor (David Morrissey) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) play in that. 

'Michael Rooker' '/' AMC


How anxious were you to see what they were going to do with the hand in Season 3?

Once I came back for the new season, we had gone and done prosthetic molds and all kinds of stuff with my arm. So I kind of knew what it was going to look like. But I didn't know if it was really going to work or not. As it stands now, it works pretty good. It's a good thing to have in the apocalyptic era of our existence.


Are you right handed? Was that hard to get used to?

I am and at first it was a bit odd. Now when I reach to shake hands, even when it's off, I reach with my left hand. And people are looking at me going, "Dude, what's your deal? No, no. We do it with the right hand here."


Occupational hazard?

Oh yeah. And I'm a very hands on kind of guy anyway. I'll come up and hug you. Slap you on the back. Grab you and shake your hand. You know, I'm a very physical guy. So when I only do it with one hand, it's odd. You go to shake hands with your left hand and it's odd. The only person I did it to and he shook back was a fella that I met at a store that is an amputee. So, he always shakes with his left hand. It was like, "Look at you. You've got the real deal. I'm just pretending but you also have that whole left hand reaching out thing." Because your brain switches. It only takes a little while for your brain to get the message and adapt to the situation. I had it on and within a week of using it, putting it on everyday, I was doing all kinds of stuff with my left hand.


When you met that guy did you ask him any questions about what it was like to only have one hand?

Yeah and he was born that way. His limb stopped about right here (points to his arm just below the elbow) and there was no hand or fingers or anything. So he had been dealing with it all his life. But the whole right-hand shaking thing is odd for him too. But he turns his left hand down to shake people's right hands and I'm sticking out my left hand to shake their left hands. That's the difference.


That's interesting but that's because he's never known anything else.

He's never known anything else. He just flips and shakes the person's right hand. But I'm going for the left hand and people are freaking out.


'The Walking Dead Rooker' '/' AMCHow much of a method actor are you? Are you sleeping in that thing?

I take it off as soon as possible now. In the beginning, I had it on a lot and then it was like, "OK. Enough of this." So I take it off. Rest my hand and stretch my hand and my fingers, you know because it gets really cramped and it's not fun after a while.


There was no way you could've looked at the script in the first season and predicted any of this, right?

No way. I had a four-minute monologue in the first season in the scene right before he cuts his hand off. That was just me. On the roof. 115 degrees. I was sweating my ass off. Dying up there. That was real sweat. And everyone else was into it. We did maybe three takes and we were done. But we had so many cameras at different angles and we switched it three or four times. And we did it all the way through, from the first word to the last without any cuts. We worked on it all morning and after every take, there was a standing ovation by every crew member. So it was really kind of cool. Actors don't usually get that on set.


One of the coolest things at Comic-Con was when Merle came on the screen and the crowd went bananas. How did you feel about that?

Awesome. I was only in the first season and one scene in the second one and when fans reacted that way, it left me speechless. Before this season, I only had less than 10 minutes on screen on this show. Total. A friend of mine timed it. So it was quite interesting because I never expected to make a major impact on the show. Nobody knows when that's going to happen. You just do your work, do it the best you can and if it happens, it happens. And if it doesn't, it doesn't.


Season 3 of "The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.