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Michael Rooker On How Yelling at John Sayles' Casting Director Got Him the Gig

Michael Rooker Michael Rooker spoke with The A.V. Club for their latest "Random Roles" Q&A, and the veteran character actor explained how he was cast as Arnold "Chick" Gandil in the film Eight Men Out by firing his agents, lying, and shouting at the casting director.

Rooker said that he had just fired his agents in Chicago when he got a call offering him an audition for Eight Men Out. He borrowed $40 from his sister to drive to the audition in Indianapolis, where he was scheduled to have a reading with director John Sayles. Rooker said:

I was one of the last ballplayers to be cast. They couldn’t find this guy, Chick Gandil, anywhere. They had called up several theaters around town. They got my name a few times. So they called my house after getting my number from some of the theater directors. They wanted me to send in a tape for this role. I think it was one of the smaller roles. But I said, “Where is [the production]?” It was in Indianapolis, Indiana. I said, “Well, my God, I’m going down there on a family barbecue this weekend. Why don’t I just try to swing by and do the reading when I get there?” They said, “Okay, yeah, we’d love that.” Of course, I lied through my teeth. I don’t know anybody in Indianapolis, Indiana. But at that time, video sucked, and I would do anything to get in to do the audition physically without doing a video...

And so I went down there the whole time thinking “I’m going to have a reading with John Sayles!” So I get there and I’m talking with the casting lady, and there’s no John Sayles to be had. He’s not there. I didn’t notice at first, and we were talking, and we start arguing about, “Well, where’s John Sayles? I mean, I drove all this way to meet the director and read with the director.” “Well, you can’t do that.” She wouldn’t tell me he wasn’t in town. So we have this whole row about it. We have this big argument about auditioning and “Where’s John Sayles?”, and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. And so finally she yells. We’re yelling in the office, and I’m a little upset because I drove this whole way. It’s my last $40 in the world, and it wasn’t even mine. I had borrowed it from my sister.

Rooker was told that he would have to read for the casting director first anyway, so she handed him the sides with three lines for the role of "some thug or something." But as they walked down the hallway, Rooker stopped and said:

“Well, you know what? If I was going to play anyone in this stupid movie, I’d play this fucking guy here.” And I smack the photo. And it’s Chick Gandil. I smack the photo of Chick Gandil, who is the only ballplayer they couldn’t find. Everybody else had been cast. They couldn’t find Chick Gandil, and lo and behold, and she stops and looks at me, because when I smacked it, it made a loud noise. She turned around, and she looked at me, and she looked at who I smacked and she said, “Here, read this. Give me that.” And she took away the old sides and gave me the Chick Gandil sides. [Laughs.]

And we went into the room, and I fucking did the audition and blew her away, and the rest is history. She asked me to stay for the weekend, and I said, “Yes, of course.” And then I slept in my car until Monday morning to meet John Sayles. She wanted me to read for John Sayles. She invited me out to dinner and wanted to get to know me, make sure I wasn’t some crazy person and I was a real actor. And I got to read for John Sayles that Monday, and ended up being his first choice...

I did everything you should never, ever do to get this role. I fought with the casting director, I was an asshole. I was upset. I mean, I was everything Chick Gandil was. Hence, Eight Men Out.

An extreme example of why everyone tells actors, "Don't take 'no' for an answer."

Plus, Rooker talked about staying in character while he was filming Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and learning how to get out of character after the performance was over:

AVC: There are stories about you being in character for a fairly extensive period [in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer].

MR: I stayed in character all day. Once I went in to work, I stayed in character all day long. So after the cut, I would leave the set and go to my room, close the door, and not talk to anybody. I wouldn’t talk to anyone all day long during the filming of it. I would just do my work and go away. Come in, action, do my job, do what I needed to do, and then go away. And that’s what helped me through the entire piece. It was way too difficult to go in and out of character, especially then, because I was young as an actor. I didn’t know how this film stuff worked. In a play, you stay in character pretty much almost all the way through until the evening’s over. So that’s what I did here. I used that technique. I stayed in character as much as I possibly could all day long, or all night long, whatever the times were on the day we worked. People thought that was a little weird, that I’d just go away, that I wouldn’t talk to them and stuff. Then they saw my room, and I had all my mirrors covered up, taped up. I didn’t want to see images of myself, and I kept the room dark or black. And I just stayed in the room and just prepared for the next scene. So yeah, it was kind of weird and crazy, but that was a technique that seemed like it worked.

AVC: Did you ever do anything like that again in the future with that kind of—

MR: Intensity and commitment? Like that? Not really. I learned a lot. That’s what I learned so much from doing Henry. I learned how to turn it on and turn it off. You learn that in theater, too, but for film work, I learned from doing Henry, I learned how to leave work at work and go home. There’s always spillover. Actors speak of this. I don’t know if the normal everyday person knows about this. There’s psychological spillover and physical spillover into your daily life as an actor once you start preparing and you get into your roles. But there could be no spillover for Henry, plain and simple. I had to learn really how to turn it on, turn it off. And even with that, there’s spillover.

Read the full interview at The A.V. Club.

-- Daniel Lehman

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