Former The Walking Dead star Michael Rooker says that he thought the show would fail, and that "middle America would hate it." While that's obviously far from what ended up happening, it's hard to blame Rooker for doubting that TWD would take off. After all, nobody knew that a serialized drama about the zombie apocalypse could even work, as it hadn't been attempted previously. Genre TV had certainly featured zombies in the past, but not in the long-form, serialized way TWD was going to.
Of course, The Walking Dead did the polar opposite of fail, quickly becoming the highest rated scripted series in all of TV. Before TWD hit, the thought of a cable drama so effortlessly topping the numbers of its competitors on the big four broadcast networks was unheard of, but that's the been status quo for so long as this point that most don't even question it anymore. Despite some ratings dips here and there, TWD still has a long way to fall before it's in much danger of losing the top spot.
Rooker made his initial worries about The Walking Dead's success - or potential lack thereof - known during a Q&A session at the recent New York Comic-Con event. Here's his full quote - via ComicBook - on the matter, which lays out why exactly he thought TWD wouldn't catch on with the masses.
"It’s guts and blood and chewing and eating. It’s like, really weird. When I first read it, I’m thinking, ‘Dude, I’m digging this, but middle America is gonna hate it — it’s not going anywhere. This is obviously not going anywhere. But I’ll do it because I need to pay the rent.’ I got to pay my rent for a couple months."
While Rooker has been a consistently working actor in both films and TV for decades, it's amusing to learn that he thought of playing Merle on The Walking Dead as a paycheck gig that wouldn't last. He clearly believed in the material from a creative standpoint, but also thought when he took the role that it wouldn't be something he'd be attached to for that long. That just goes to show that one never knows what professional decisions might lead to an important turning point in life.
In many ways, the horribly flawed yet not entirely immoral Merle Dixon is now the character Rooker is most known for, with the possible exceptions of Yondu in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and his breakout role as the titular murderer in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. While Merle is long-since dead and buried, one wonders if Rooker might ever reprise the character again for flashback purposes. As dastardly as he could be, many fans would likely be quite glad to see him.
The Walking Dead season 8 airs Sundays on AMC.