Actor Michael Rooker, who plays Merle Dixon on AMC's The Walking Dead, describes getting into fighting shape for his character's return and shares the name he coined for his prosthetic apparatus.
Q: It's been a nearly a year since you were on the show. Did you have to do anything to shake the rust off Merle?
A: I had already developed the character in Season 1, so that part was no effort at all. I wanted to lose a little weight, you know, so I concentrated on that kind of thing. Eventually I had dropped maybe 30 pounds. It was good preparation. A friend of mine timed the amount of screen time that I had before this season: It ended up being only about seven and a half minutes! So those minutes solidified that character in every fan's mind. It's pretty damn cool to think that something that just came from the page, this character, Merle, now has a life of its own.
Q: How eager were you personally to see Merle's return?
A: It was brutal! I'm a big fan of the show. It was just like how long are they going to play this out? It's like, "Guys make your mind up and let's get it on!" Finally they made the decision and I was like thank goodness. It was about time, in my opinion!
Q: Do you keep anything off set that helps you think of Merle?
A: I think it would be fun to have one of Merle's apparatuses just to put in a case and have. It's very cool the way they designed it; it's not like a modern prosthetic. It was designed after something an amputee had around the turn of the century -- a soldier. They found photos and images of this apparatus that this person had built for himself, so that he could continue to fight after he lost an arm and have one arm as a lethal weapon. It's like holding your sword in your hand.
Q: What was it like having to act with the stump?
A: It's not a stump; that's little Merle, you gotta watch how you talk about it! It's fitted to my arm. We built it so that it fits like a glove.
Q: You recently mused on Twitter that Merle hasn't gotten any romance on the show...
A: Merle tried. He was wondering why him and Blondie [Andrea] never hooked up. But unfortunately there's not a lot of luck with that right now.
Q: You grew up in Alabama. As one of the Southerners on set, are you a bit of a consultant for all things related to the South?
A: Sometimes my lines are written by an individual who might not be from the South. They are always colloquialized, and it's part of my job to keep it honest and real, and that goes for everything verbally. Say for example -- it wouldn't be "you guys," it'd be "y'all." Or if they do say, "You guys," it'd be with the right accent.
Q: Last time we spoke, we talked about Merle's altercation with T-Dog. Now you're a gladiator! Are you getting to be a pro at stage fighting?
A: No matter how you choreograph, and no matter how well you practice it, there's always going to be bruises and bumps in those scenes. If you're the person taking the beating, you have to sell it. Your body takes a beating just selling it, just flailing around, flipping your head back and forth. All that stuff is very hard on the body, everybody ends up sore. But come on: It's The Walking Dead!
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Q: What did the writers tell you about Merle going into this season? Has he changed at all?
A: We came in and I had a conversation with all the writers and they sort of gave me basic bullet points about the season, but for the most part everybody is kind of in the dark until the next episode comes out. We just don't know what is about to occur until the script is distributed. It's kind of funny; the writers have their overall understanding as to where they want to go, but then they get ideas from how we play it, and they riff on a little bit of that so that it can literally change the next episode to episode.
Q: Are we going to see anything else like the gladiator scene?
A: Well, I can tell you this: That was an amazing turning point. Goodness, that's a big deal, that scene.