Tombstone has a seriously packed cast. It’s got Robert Mitchum as a narrator. It’s got Charlton Heston for about a minute and a half. It’s got Pedro Armendáriz, Jr. It’s got Wyatt Earp’s actual fifth cousin, also named Wyatt Earp. It’s even got Frank Stallone! But while it’s not the first place I saw Michael Rooker, as I’d already seen Eight Men Out by then, it’s the first place I remember him. He’s giving a relatively understated performance, especially by the standards of that movie—he’s not going to out-act Powers Boothe or John Corbett—but his quiet presence is important to the story.
He signed on to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer for a challenge. He’d been doing stage acting before then and had never been in a movie before; film was a challenge. And he sells the hell out of the role. The story the movie’s based on is probably not historically accurate; Henry Lee Lucas was a notorious liar. But that doesn’t matter to Rooker’s performance, given, you know, fiction is a thing. The accuracy of the story doesn’t matter. The performance does, and it’s an amazing performance.
Rooker doesn’t come up much when we talk about great actors. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard his name brought up in Oscar discussions. However, one of the things he does that cannot be said of all actors is that he always matches the tone of the part. McMasters needs to be quiet and introspective. Sheriff Walker of Rosewood needs to be frustrated at how events are spiraling out of his control. Yondu needs to be Mary Poppins, y’all. And no matter what role, he’s at the level he needs to be.
Some actors make you wish they could get a role that really sold them to the general population. Rooker has done some great roles, and goodness knows Yondu has made him more of a household name than he ever was before, but he’s, you know, blue. What I’d like to see is a role where he’s acting as an actual human and is recognizable in a major motion picture that makes people remember who he is, because even I took an unconscionable length of time to get to him even though I’ve recognized him since I was in high school. If you’re a movie buff, or even into TV, you’ve seen a lot of Michael Rooker around. He’s long been in the ranks of the Hey, It’s That Guy. It would just be nice to see him break out a bit.
Michael Rooker is multitalented. He can do comedy. He can do drama. He can do thrillers. I don’t know that I want to hear him sing, but he could probably handle a patter song, which Only Murders in the Building assures us is the song for people who can’t sing. Most of his career has been spent in the genre trenches, which I of course don’t mind but which is murder on the whole “recognition” angle. And since hardly anyone watched Crossing Jordan (or we’d be talking more about Mahershala Ali’s time on it), hardly anyone remembers his episode of it. But if you want to see him act in something a little less horrifying than Henry, it should be what you seek out.