Michael Rooker opens up about 'beautiful' What If...? episode with Chadwick Boseman
"I think people are going to not just enjoy it, but also it's going to be meaningful in a lot of different levels," Rooker tells EW.
The premise is simple: What if his Guardians of the Galaxy character Yondu Udonta accidentally kidnapped T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) from Earth as a child instead of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)? The answer is just as simple: T'Challa becomes Star-Lord. But the ripple effects from that character swap are anything but — having T'Challa join the Ravagers has shockingly far-reaching consequences in this version of the MCU, and while Rooker won't spoil what they are, he can't stop praising how the story turns out. "It's just so wonderful, it's great stuff," he tells EW.
And while Rooker didn't work with Boseman in person while recording the voiceover work, he's touched that their adventure together is Boseman's final appearance in the MCU after the actor died of complications from a secret battle with colon cancer in 2020. "Oh my goodness, their relationship is beautiful," Rooker says of how Yondu and T'Challa bond in this new timeline. "This is an absolutely wonderful piece. This one, in particular, is beautiful. I think people are going to not just enjoy it, but also it's going to be meaningful in a lot of different levels."
Rooker will be the first to admit he had no idea what he was signing up for when he first got the call to join What If...? But once he had a better idea of what to expect from the Marvel/Disney+ animated series, he was all in. "I really love voiceover too, so to be involved with this was very special for me," he says. "And to bring back Yondu was a really beautiful thing."
Below, Rooker opens up about the episode and what he hopes this means for his own future in the MCU — despite his character's onscreen death in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This episode is Chadwick's final time playing T'Challa. Did you get to speak with him about the episode or record together at all?
MICHAEL ROOKER: We never got to hang out or speak together and work together on the project really. A lot of stuff is already shot and it's already recorded usually, and at the end of the day, it's all put together and where did all the time go? You do your part, and he does his part, and it's really quick. It took us several sessions but it was really a blast. I had no idea that it ended up being his last performance. Boy oh boy, what a shame. What a loss. It was terrible. But the work, the legacy of the work is there for everyone to see.
What was your reaction when you learned you were going to get to reprise the role after Yondu's onscreen death in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2?
When we got a [What If...?] trailer we could post [on social media] and everything, it was really fun to say, "Guess what? Yondu's back!" And it was like, "Yes!" I look even better as an animated cartoon in an animated story. [Laughs] I was like wow, they made me look good.
That's an unexpected perk of voicing a character in animation.
[Laughs] They can make you look really good. Better than you look in real life. Although my makeup people for Yondu, I've got to tell you, they are geniuses. That makeup was so good you just literally forget that you have it on. It feels like your regular skin, and it looks so rich and has depth. I did a convention this past weekend and a little boy looked really confused. He was very shy and he whispered to his mom and dad a question and they repeated it to me. He says, "Why isn't he blue?" I think he was about seven or eight. And I told him that this is my human makeup when I'm on Earth. And my fin is underneath my hat and my ship is on top of the roof of this building. [Laughs] And the kid's eyes were like big, giant saucers. It was a beautiful experience.
That's so sweet. You preserved the magic for him.
He was right at that age where he still wants it to be real. It was just so cute. I came up with that in the spur of the moment because I didn't want to be like, "Look kid, it's just a film, okay? [Laughs] I know I look better in blue but I'm stuck in this skin." He's totally going to remember that.
What did you think about the script for this episode when you read it for the first time?
When I went first to read it, I was like, "Oh, this is good. This is really cool. What a great take on it." It's the perfect What If…? story. It just felt very special, knowing what I know now. It was very heartwarming to be involved with it. I feel so blessed to get to bring this character to life.
How does having T'Challa as Star-Lord influence Yondu and the rest of the Ravagers in this timeline?
Honestly, my role, Yondu, didn't really change a whole heck of a lot from James Gunn's version onscreen. I still treat Star-Lord as my son. So I had it easy because I've already played the role. So having a different Star-Lord, it made no difference to me. It was beautifully written, and he becomes quite heroic. The Ravagers and Yondu are made better because of him. It's good stuff. And the animation is gorgeous. I mean, kids get to see all the really great stuff. [Laughs] When I was a kid the animation was like stick figures.
What surprised you about this episode?
That in itself surprised me! [Laughs] Literally, I didn't expect it. Someone called my agent or my manager and told them about it, and they told me about it, and I actually didn't know what What If…? was. I went back and I saw some of the comics and then I was like, oh okay, I get it. Just being involved with [the MCU's] very first animated series is just a joy. And the first episode has been dynamite, so I really hope our audience will enjoy the heck out of this one. I know I did while making it. And seeing it, it's like I wasn't even involved with it and I'm watching it for the first time and I'm a fan.
How does this episode open the door for you to return to the MCU in the future?
Well, I certainly hope it does. That would be a great "what if." [Laughs] I would jump on that bandwagon right away. It is a wonderful little niche in the armor to open it up and see what happened, what could happen. What if we told more of Yondu's story and the Ravagers? I bloody think the fans would go crazy over it. I think it'd be a blast for fans to get to experience that because you gave them a beautiful story and a window and now it can kind of be whatever you want it to be. We've got our fingers crossed. We want more!
What If...? debuts new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.
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