As Rooker steered his Ford F-150 pickup truck along Interstate 5 near Los Angeles Sunday afternoon, he answered questions via cell phone about the unaccountably captivating anti-hero Merle Dixon that he portrays on the wildly successful, over-the-top science fiction action series.
“How many fingers do you have on your hands,” Rooker said, when asked to count Merle’s character flaws. Oddly, Rooker said, the character’s profound political incorrectness and general irascibility are part of what makes him interesting. “He’s got a heart; you know it’s in there somewhere. But the things he says and does are not to our liking,” Rooker said. The acting challenge “is bringing out those flaws and making them real.”
Merle’s cult character status is based on compelling but brief appearances. In the first two seasons, Rooker said, Merle was onscreen a mere seven minutes. Walking Dead fans met Merle in a desperate moment during season one, as an army of cannibalistic zombies stormed a department store where a band of fleeing humans had taken refuge. Merle, the gun-toting, methamphetamine-snorting, unrepentant, redneck bully of the group, did not handle the stress gracefully.
The character, Rooker said, is finding more time in the spotlight during the current third season of the show.
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