A Grudge Almost Kept Michael Rooker Off 'The Walking Dead'

The Walking Dead and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 star Michael Rooker took over the Main Stage at New York Comic Con Thursday, the charismatic character actor participating in an outrageous hourlong question and answer session with fans. The rambunctious Rooker discussed his iconic roles as blue space pirate Yondu Udonta and one-handed hillbilly Merle Dixon -- a role, he reveals, he almost missed out on because of a producer’s longstanding grudge.

The roughneck, loudmouthed racist and older brother of Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) would cut off his own hand to escape imprisonment and eventual death, later replacing his lost limb with a hand blade.

"When the casting person described that to me, that’s why I wanted to do the role,” Rooker said. “She said ‘and this, and that, and he’s such an ass, he cuts his own hand off,’ and I’m like, ‘whoa, whoa. He does what? I want to do that role! I like that guy already!’”

Rooker would win the role he’d occupy for three seasons until Merle’s death, but a conflict with an unnamed producer almost kept him off the show entirely.

“She goes, ‘ah, yeah, but there’s… there’s one little issue.’ And I said, ‘what? It’s not an offer?’ And she goes, ‘nah… the producers have a hard on for you.’ And I’m thinking, it’s not a good one. I said, ‘well, what do I do to change their mind?’ She said, ‘dude, I don’t know. But something happened like years ago, and he still has some issues.’ And I’m going, ‘what was it? I don’t remember, what did I do to him?’ And I won’t get into the whole story, but something had happened, and I pulled out of a project, and it was their project, and it was like there was this grudge sort of held for a long time since, and I didn’t know that.”

After penning a letter to the producer explaining himself and passing it along through the casting crew, Rooker joined The Walking Dead.

“The producer read the letter, and I was a good writer, he believed my letter, he believed it,” Rooker said. “He believed it because it was true! And so hence, I ended up having a second chance at getting the role of Merle Dixon, and I ended up getting the role of Merle Dixon because I was able to explain myself from like, maybe 19 years ago -- that far back. 19 years ago something had happened and there was a grudge being held for 19 years, and I did not know anything about it. And I finally found out, and then I explained myself through a letter via the casting director, and I ended up being able to do The Walking Dead.”

Rooker will resurrect Merle in The Walking Dead Robot Chicken Special, airing Sunday, October 8. The Walking Dead returns to AMC with its 100th episode Sunday, October 22.

The Walking DeadSunday at 9PM EST on AMC

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