Category Archives: Interviews

Interview: Michael Rooker talks ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

Like his acclaimed role as the anti-hero, Merle Dixon, in “The Walking Dead,” Michael Rooker is finding himself in the middle again – but this time he’s a blue-skinned alien in Marvel Studio’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” light years away from the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic Earth of the popular AMC series.

Rooker’s “Galaxy” character, Yondu, is interesting in that he’s not an out-an-out bad guy, and in some ways, he has a propensity to be good. Walking that fine line is something Rooker, 59, has not only enjoyed in several projects throughout his storied career, but his whole life, and director James Gunn wanted to tap into that experience.

“James wanted to write something for me that I’m good at — I’m good at doing bad things and still having people like me,” Rooker told me, laughing, in a recent interview. “Even as a 10- or 12-year-old, I’d be doing something bad, like climbing trees, and people would yell at me for doing it yet be smiling at the same time. I never understood what was going on with them. The great thing is, it still happening.  James wanted to me to have the ability to say and do anything on screen and still have people like me, and dig the performance and dig the way I do it.”

Michael Rooker in Guardians of the Galaxy (photo -- Disney-Marvel Studios)

Rooker brings a good ol’ boy approach to Yondu, a space pirate who takes Peter Quill from Earth as a young boy after his mother’s death. After growing up and learning the ways of Yondu’s group, the Ravagers, Quill (Chris Pratt) betrays his mentor and keeps for himself a mysterious orb he’s stolen from a powerful space lord, only to learn the sphere holds powers far greater than he ever could have imagined.

Like his fellow “Galaxy” cast mates (including Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel), Rooker has the unenviable task of portraying a beloved character whose origins date back more than four decades in the original Marvel comic books. And while he respects the fan’s opinions, Rooker said it was a necessity to make changes with the character of Yondu for the sake of the film.

“I don’t really worry about all of the reactions, but of course, it’s always there in the back of my head,” Rooker said. “I know there will be some people who will be disappointed that Yondu doesn’t have a big fin on the top of his head, but they have to realize the roof on my spaceship is pretty low. I would have had to duck when I was walking around for the entire production. The change was decided before I got there, and basically I had to take what was in the script and run with it.”

Interview: Dave Bautista talks Drax the Destroyer

For anyone familiar with his character in “The Walking Dead,” Rooker has been the subject of makeup artists before as a zombified Merle, so he knew was he was in for to turn Yondu blue.

“We’d start with a three hours of makeup, then we had a little break for food before more makeup and wardrobe, so in total, it was about five-and-a-half hours each time,” Rooker recalled. “That’s not so bad. For my role in ‘Slither’ (a 2006 horror comedy, which was also directed by Gunn), it took seven hours to put on and two-and-a-half to take off. Yondu’s makeup only took 45 minutes to take off.”

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And while extensive makeup is a part of the job that some actors dread, Rooker said he loves the process and has absolutely no complaints about it.

“When I go to work, I get to go to a set. It’s like a 12-year-old kid saying goodbye to his parents, running out the door and playing all day long, and coming back for supper at night,” Rooker enthused. “That’s my life now. When I go to the set, it’s like going to a playground and doing all kinds of stuff.”

And lucky for Rooker, those sets have been filled with a variety of roles in several different genres.

“With ‘Guardians’ I get to be a blue alien who whistles to use a great weapon. In ‘Eight Men Out’ I got to play baseball all day long and on ‘Days of Thunder’ I got to drive race cars. In ‘Henry (Portrait of a Serial Killer)’ I got to kill people,” Rooker said with a laugh. “You get to use your imagination all these sorts of crazy, creative ways. Some ways are quite dramatic, some are hokey and some are fun. You just get to go everywhere.”

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Interview: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ star Dave Bautista

Never mind the Transformers: There’s definitely more than meets the eye with the pale-green, tattoo-covered strongman Drax the Destroyer in the new Marvel superhero action adventure “Guardians of the Galaxy” — and the star who plays him, Dave Bautista, couldn’t be any more thrilled over complexities of the time-honored comic book character.

Bautista, who made his mark in the past 15 years in the WWE and MMA, told me in a recent interview that he loves doing movies and being given the opportunity to play a flawed, emotional  character who walks the fine line between bad and good. After all, Bautista noted, playing such a dynamic role is something few actors get an opportunity to do.

“That was cool thing,  giving not only Drax, but all of the Guardians range. It just makes the characters that much more interesting. It was really cool to see that story because, really, at the beginning, they were all A-holes,” Bautista said, laughing. “They’re a bunch of misfits and definitely not Boy Scouts. But I think that’s what makes them easy to relate to. They’ve all got baggage and chips on their shoulders. They don’t even like each other, but at one point they all bind together for a greater cause other than focus on their own problems and issues with one another.”

Dave Bautista in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' 2

In “Guardians of the Galaxy” opening in theaters nationwide Friday in 2D and 3D, Bautista embodies Drax, a muscle-bound space warrior hell-bent on exacting revenge on Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a powerful, ruthless space villain who killed his wife and child.

Eloquent and sincere, yet sometimes maniacal and menacing, Drax, thankfully, is in good company. Deeply flawed like his fellow “Galaxy” outlaws — Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) — Drax is also willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good and willing to do whatever it takes to save the lives of billions of people if a mysterious orb they’re trying to prevent from falling into the wrong hands.

Interview: Michael Rooker talks Yondu

The interesting thing about playing Drax for Bautista is that in real life, the actor says he’s much like the character in terms of how he’s perceived. Feelings are feelings, no matter what body possesses them, he said, and the fact that Drax is from another world is almost irrelevant.

“That emotion is what gives Drax his soul. He’s not just a one-note strong warrior,R

21; Bautista explained. “When I compare him to me, it’s like this: When you look at him you think one thing, but when you talk with him, you think another. A lot of times people want to slap a label on you. When you’re with something like the WWE, they perceive you a different way, even though it’s not true to who I am.”

Of course, Drax’s outer appearance is quite a bit more jarring, Bautista admitted.

“When you look at him, he’s just scary,” Bautista said, laughing. “He’s scary, menacing and intimidating. But when you get to know his story, you learn that it all stems from the loss of his family. He really is heartbroken and not just out for revenge for the hell of it. He’s really doesn’t have anywhere else to channel that pain. ”

Since the history of Drax’s character in the Marvel comic book world dates back more than 40 years, Bautista said he had also had to weather the perception of diehard fans and their criticisms as the project was starting to come together. And while it appears the fan base has fully accepted him now, Bautista, 45, says that wasn’t the case at first.

“There was a bit of backlash not only when it was announced that I had the role, but even before, when word got out that I was in the running for it,” Bautista recalled. “When I was in the audition process, a lot of comic book fans who were not happy. They wanted a very serious, established actor playing their beloved Drax. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted their approval. It means something to me. I’m a fanboy the same way they are. I want them to be proud and think that I did Drax justice.”

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These days, Bautista continues to enjoy the fun byproducts of being associated with the character, including the ultimate fanboy boy honor — being turned into an action figure.

Of course, the burning question is, since Bautista has already had WWE action figures produced in his likeness,  will there be an ultimate showdown between one of those and his new Hasbro 6-inch figure of Drax? And if so, which figure has the upper hand?

“I have to go with Drax,” Bautista said with a laugh. “At the end of the day he’s a superhero – a knife-wielding superhero.”

And the way it looks of things, there’s bound to be more action figures of Bautista as Drax, especially considering the fact that in the film’s end credits, it’s announced that the “Guardians of the Galaxy” will return. Bautista said he’s looking forward to playing the Drax once again, and if he gets his druthers, the Guardians will be seen even more in an extended sort of capacity.

“Marvel has so much material to work with, and so many interesting characters, superheroes and stories that a lot of times intertwine,” Bautista observed. “Speaking just as a fanboy, I hope all these stories start intertwining. I’m looking forward to the sequel to see what happens to these characters from here. We’re all speculating, but I think everybody wants to get a bigger look at (‘Guardians’ villain) Thanos and see what he’s about. It’s cool, man. It’s fun.”

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Interview: Director Matt Reeves talks ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

Smack dab in the middle of a summer movie season where most of the films don’t require audiences to give their brains a workout, director Matt Reeves clearly has something different in mind for audiences of the sci-fi sequel “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

Much like “Dawn’s” predecessor “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and the classic films in the “Apes” franchise, Reeves said he wants you to think about what you’re seeing.

“The intent behind ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ was to try and honor the tradition of where these films come from,” Reeves told me in an interview Thursday. “We wanted to do a movie that was going to entertain you, but that also had ideas and emotion behind it.”

Opening nationwide Friday in 2D and 3D theaters, and on large-format screens, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is set 10 years after the end of “Rise,” when the Earth’s human population has been decimated by the human-made Simian Flu virus.

A group of survivors find hope, though, in the redwoods outside of San Francisco, where the chance of restoring power rests in the same area where the highly intelligent ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his large band of evolved primates live. First viewing the humans as a threat, Caesar begins to regain trust and allows the humans do their work — at least until ape and human detractors each find a way to incite a war.

Caesar Dawn of the POTA inset Matt Reeves
Director Matt Reeves (inset) on the set of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

A fan of the original “Planet of the Apes” since he was a kid, Reeves said the 1968 film to him was what “Star Wars” was to others. Finding the original film terrifying, thrilling and intellectually challenging all at the same time, signing on to direct “Dawn” was a no-brainer for the filmmaker. The bonus, Reeves says, was the story and technology that helped jump-start the franchise again in 2011.

“Doing the film was a really special experience in many ways, especially  to go back into the world of my childhood because of how big a fan I was of those movies,” Reeves explained. “Then as adult, one of the things that I loved about ‘Rise’ was how the technology and Andy Serkis’ performance actually allowed you to become an ape. It changed the perspectives in whole new way. In the original film it was about watching Charlton Heston trying to figure out what was going on and being fascinated by the apes, but in ‘Rise,’ you actually become Caesar.”

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Unique new direction

While there are fewer homages to the 1968 “Apes” than there are in “Rise,” “Dawn” still refers to its original source material, including scenes of apes on horseback and the use of the iconic edict, “Ape shall not kill ape.”

Reeves said weaving  the classic material into the “Apes” franchise is exciting because it gives him the opportunity to create fresh stories while laying the groundwork for where the franchise is headed — the story that propels the 1968 movie.

“For me, the big thing  was to try and be aware of entering the ‘Apes’ universe, but at the same time try to do something we haven’t quite seen yet and go along the same trajectory toward the 1968 movie,” Reeves explained. “The world of ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’ is so different than the 1968 movie, so the fun of that is, is to try to imagine how our world becomes the world of the original.”

Unlike the reference at the end of “Rise,” “Dawn” doesn’t mention the manned rocket getting lost in orbit and losing contact with Earth. But Reeves, who is signed on to direct the next “Apes” film, said just because they’re didn’t talk about the Icarus in “Dawn,” doesn’t mean the idea of wayward spaceship is lost, well, in space. After all, the return of the spaceship to Earth is what sets the 1968 movie in motion.

“I still find it interesting that when I first got involved in ‘Dawn,’ somebody asked me if it was boring knowing what the end of the story was, as long as you know that it becomes the world of the 1968 film,” Reeves noted. “I said that knowing that world was the most exciting part.”

That’s because, Reeves explained, the stories being told through the “Rise” and “Dawn” movies “don’t tell you about what happened, but about how it happened.”

“The idea of exploring the how and the why through Caesar and future generations makes it like an epic, mythic and exciting generational ‘Apes’ story to me,” Reeves said. “I’m actually hoping that we don’t get to the 1968 story too soon because there’s a rich story to be told along the way, but I definitely want to get there. I think that’s the part of the fun of the story, knowing that the Icarus comes back down and the astronauts return not knowing where they are, only to discover the planet that Charlton Heston did in the original. That’s in our minds as we’re trying to figure out the trajectory and as we’re trying to figure out the next story.”

For now, though, Reeves is happy to focus mainly on Caesar, especially because of the conflicts he’s forced to confront in “Dawn.”

“Caesar is such a compelling and interesting hero to be because he’s got roots such strong roots in his human side and on his ape’s side,” Reeves observed. “The idea of having to reconcile that and engage in a war that he never wanted to be a part of, and how his son would react, is interesting. We were thinking, ‘Is this sort of the way to do ‘The Godfather’ with apes or something? Caesar is like Don Corleone, and as we know, ‘The Godfather, Part II’ was a father-son story with his son becoming  the next leader. It’s not like we’re following that pattern with the ‘Apes’ films, but we certainly have the same sort of ambition to do character-based stories.”

Toying around

While “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” tackles some very serious themes, Reeves said he’s been able to have a bit of fun as a fan of the franchise, too, enjoying “Apes” merchandising like the new set of “Dawn” action figures made by the toy and collectibles company NECA.

“I was really excited to see them, and to be honest, my favorite is Maurice (the baboon),” Reeves enthused. “Toys were such a big part of my childhood and imagination growing up.”

Noting how a lot of kids grow out of the habit, Reeves said was glad to find company in this writer, as he  learned we’re about the same age and grew up with the same interests — namely movies and action figures.

“A lot of times I think toys are just for collectors. It’s fun to think that the people who are most excited about it are the kind of people like you and me,” Reeves said, laughing.

In a way, Reeves said, the new “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” action figures are like a full-circle expression of what the Mego toy company’s “Planet of the Apes” figures meant to him as a child, when he filmed Super 8 movies that starred his favorite plastic playthings.

“I did a weird mash-up of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Planet of the Apes’ where I did a movie called ‘Galactic Battles,'” Reeves recalled. “It was a grand space opera, Saturday matinee kind of stuff. I used ‘Star Wars’ figures, and instead of aliens, there were gorillas.”

Interview: Kathy Bates talks ‘Tammy,’ Melissa McCarthy, more

Oscar winner Kathy Bates has done it all over the past three-plus decades, from comedy, drama and family films, to adventure, mystery  and horror — so you can about imagine how unique a film role has to be before she signs the dotted line. But when it came to the new comedy “Tammy,” it didn’t take her long to commit to the project, mainly because it presented her with a first.

“The main reason for doing it was Melissa McCarthy. I had seen her in ‘Bridesmaids,’ and I wish I could be as clever, wonderful and physical in comedy as she is,” Bates told me in a recent interview. “I wanted to get to know her — I really wanted to understand her secret. I wondered, ‘How can she stay so real yet push the envelope the way she does, physically and comedically?'”

Bates said she still doesn’t have the answer to the mystery, but she at least has a better understanding of who McCarthy’s gifts mirror.

“I can see a comparison in her and Lucille Ball in the way Melissa fearlessly goes places that a lot of actresses wouldn’t go,” Bates said. “She’s nimble, quick and fearless. ”

Bates added that being around McCarthy encouraged her to up her comedic game — or at least try to up it.

“It was wonderful to pretend for a while that you can be as funny as she is,” Bates said, laughing. “When we were all doing our improv scenes for the film, we were just shameless trying to be as good as Melissa because she raises the bar — but of course, we fell short.”

Kathy Bates in 'Tammy' (photo Warner Bros)
Kathy Bates in ‘Tammy’ (photo: Warner Bros).

Opening in theaters nationwide on Wednesday, “Tammy” stars McCarthy as the title character, a down-on-her-luck fast-food worker whose day starts off with a deer-car collision and quickly spirals out of control from there. There appears to beacon of hope, though, when her hard-drinking, foul-mouthed and sexually liberated grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), bankrolls a well-intended road trip that quickly detours into disaster.

Bates stars as Lenore, Pearl’s cousin who provides safe harbor to Tammy and her grandmother when Tammy runs into trouble with the law.

Apart from working with McCarthy, another first for Bates working on “Tammy” came with throwing a Molotov cocktail, which is featured in a scene where she’s helping conceal some evidence connected to one of Tammy’s many misgivings.

As Bates discovered, tossing the flammable firebomb was fun — and a bit dangerous.

“That was really a blast, I have to say,” Bates said with a chuckle. “I held one a little too long and it exploded in my hand. It was sugar glass, so you really had to throw it quickly once the end of the cloth was lit.”

Fortunately, Bates wasn’t hurt in the incident (“It caused a tiny nick from a sharp corner of the sugar glass,” she said), making her Molotov cocktail-throwing endeavors all the more enjoyable.

“It was fun to blow up shit or pretend that you were blowing up shit — and not be arrested,” Bates enthused.

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In addition to playing opposite McCarthy, Bates said she was also excited to work under the direction of Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband and co-writer on the film. Falcone, of course, has also worked often with McCarthy as an actor, too, in such films as “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat” and at the beginning of “Tammy” — and Bates believes his experience as an actor was not only beneficial to his creative partner, but to the whole cast.

“Ben had been with the script for six years and he knew how he wanted to shoot the film and the story he wanted to tell,” Bates said. “Being an actor is really a major plus in his makeup as a filmmaker, because a lot of younger writer-directors haven’t a clue how to talk to actors. But because Ben knows acting so well, he knows when to say something and when to shut up. He also knows when he’s got a shot. He doesn’t have to play it over and over from the beginning until the actors are exhausted and don’t know what the directors want.”

Bates, who stars with Sandra Oh as a lesbian couple in the film, also appreciates the way Falcone presented the healthy relationship of the couple, which is revealed in a pivotal scene where Lenore in a tough love sort of way explains the hardships of life.

“In the scene, I wanted Lenore to talk about the difficulties 20 years ago of being in love with a woman, starting a business , trying to get to know people in the community and have a normal relationship with them,” Bates, 66, recalled. “Straight people in those days were probably ill at ease, of course, and others more accepting. So in the case of this film, to have two gay women build up this business and have the healthiest relationship of all of them, was inspiring. There were no caricatures. There was tremendous love.”

Another relationship examined in the film is the family dynamic between Lenore and Pearl — and Bates said she couldn’t have been more excited than to play cousins opposite Sarandon.

“I was very gracious to have scenes with her. The film really gave me my first chance to do scenes with Susan, even though we were both in a film with James Spader called ‘White Palace’ where I played Jimmy’s boss,” the “Misery” Best Actress Oscar-winner said. “I was very green as a film actor back then and was very much in awe of Susan. Still to this day for me, ‘Thelma and Louise’ is right up there as one of the most wonderful movies ever made. Susan’s and Geena Davis’ performances in that movie really get to the heart of women’s rage.”

Apart from Sarandon’s screen work, Bates said she loves how Sarandon “puts her money where her mouth is, politically, when it’s not fashionable to do.”

“She’s very well-versed about what’s going on in the world with global issues, so I’ve always admired that trait in her,” Bates said.