If you're reading this, you know Michael Rooker as the red fin-wearing, Yaka arrow-wielding Yondu Udonta. There was once a point in time, however, the actor nearly played a much smaller role due to his prior commitments on AMC's The Walking Dead. In fact, the second he found out the series was killing off his character Merle on the hit zombie show, he took out his phone to call Guardians of the Galaxy James Gunn to spoil the surprise so that he could lock down his bigger role.
"I called James Gunn up and said, 'I can do Yondu now,'" the actor er said at GalaxyCon Richmond earlier this month. "I was at the airport and James and I had just spoken, and we were like, 'Oh man, sh-t, this Walking Dead thing is still going on. You're shooting the film, Guardians 1, right when we’re filming the season.' And so I was gonna play another role in Guardians of the Galaxy."
Later in the panel, Rooker revealed that character was going to be Korath the Pursuer, a character played in Guardians 1 (and later, Captain Marvel) by Djimon Hounsou.
"I looked at the dates, and they said to me, 'This is so top secret. Don't tell a soul. Don't let this out to anyone,'" Rooker added. "I said, 'Absolutely, no problem!' I left that conversation and I got out my cell phone, I said, 'Hey Gunn, guess what? They just killed my ass off, dude. I can do Yondu.' And he goes, 'Sh-t, yeah!!' And that's how it worked out."
As you know by now, Rooker's Yondu eventually sacrificed himself in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, effectively ending his run in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gunn himself has previously committed (as recently as December) to keeping the character dead on-screen. "Not to life no," the filmmaker said last year on Instagram. "If a character dies in my films they will likely stay dead. I think stakes are important."
Rooker and Gunn's friendship has been documented well and the actor has appeared in virtually all of the filmmaker's projects. In 2017, Gunn said he nearly passed on returning for Guardians 3 because Rooker wouldn't be able to take part.
"Michael Rooker, for all the crap I give him, is one of my closest friends in the world and the last thing I wanted to do was to make a movie without Michael Rooker in the future," Gunn said during a Facebook Live Q&A in 2017. "I almost didn’t do Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 because there was no Michael Rooker in it and I couldn’t see making the movie without him. He means that much to me and I love him that much."
Both Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are streaming on Disney+.