Interview: James Gunn, Chris Pratt, and the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Cast

By July 30, 2014
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A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California, to attend the press junket for Marvel Studios’ newest film, Guardians of the Galaxy. The film was absolutely incredible: a mixture of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark as a hilarious space quest wrapped in pure joy and filtered through director James Gunn’s sensibilities. Kate will have a full review here on the site for you very soon, but if you’re like me, this could become your new favorite Marvel film.

During the press conference, Gunn and stars Chris Pratt (Star-Lord), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Vin Diesel (Groot), Yondu (Michael Rooker), and The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) spoke about their experiences making the film, the freedom of working with mostly unknown characters, their favorite songs on the movie’s killer soundtrack, and much more. Check out the highlights below:

On whether bringing new characters to life was daunting or liberating:

Gunn: It was, frankly, liberating. For me I think I would have had a harder time trying to fit into the regular Marvel scheme of things and this gave me a chance to take what I loved about Marvel movies and Marvel comics and create a whole new universe which is really what has been the most exciting thing in my entire professional career. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the different planets in the solar system and I — we used to create for every single planet a different alien race with a certain kind of pet and a certain kind of house and a certain kind of water system and everything. And I would draw these pictures and I had hundreds of these pictures and had them in a box, and really to me this was like going back to that childhood box and creating this fun universe.

On who’s more of a badass, Merle (Michael Rooker’s character on “The Walking Dead”) or Yondu:

Rooker: They’re so much — they’re very similar in their nature. They’re true believers in tough love, you know, Merle with his brother and Yondu with his lovely son. (Laughs) Surrogate, okay, surrogate daddy, okay. I’ll put it that way…I will answer your question and I’ll make it real quick. Yondu is pretty damn powerful. Merle inside – close inside maybe. You gotta go with Merle, but Yondu – I mean I don’t think Yondu would let Merle get close to him.

Star-Lord

On having to gain and lose weight for parts and whether Chris Pratt relates to his female colleagues and what they go through with media scrutiny:

Pratt: Do you mean like – are you saying that I might be responsible for giving men body image issues? (Everyone laughs) Because if that’s what you’re saying, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. (Everyone laughs) No, I’m sure I can’t relate to what females go through in Hollywood. I’m sure I can’t relate. But I do know what it feels like to eat emotionally and to be sad and make yourself happy with food. And then be almost immediately – almost immediately again sad and now ashamed. And then to try to hide those feelings with more food. I know what that’s like and it’s a vicious cycle and it’s a very real thing, so I know what it’s like to have body image issues. And I also know that if you just work hard and enlist the help of good coaches and be coachable and be willing to work hard, you can actually change that. And I offer a course – it’s like $4500 up front. And anyone who’s, you know, has these issues, just get a hold of my people and we’ll set it up and I’ll walk you through it. I don’t really offer a course. It’s a bit.

On finding the attitude of Star-Lord:

Pratt: You know, in terms of the attitude, that was something that like, you know, in kind of the whole process for me on this one was just trusting James really. And taking big swings and sometimes falling flat on my face and just like the big challenge for me was just trying to ignore the embarrassment of being an actor. It’s a pretty embarrassing thing to do and you got people pointing cameras at you and hundreds of people watching you as you’re trying to be great and often – almost every time, you’re not. And then there’s one moment where you are and the editor will dig through all the shit to find it and then put it in the movie. So the challenge is not like finding the attitude, it’s really just, like, being open and willing to go for it and try different things and having a director that you can trust. And so the attitude is not something that I intended or created. It’s something James intended and created by getting me to try different things, and so that’s really what that was about.

James Gunn

On casting Pratt in the lead role:

Gunn: We had screen tests of at least 20 people, actually screen tested at least 20 people – big stars, no names – looking for the right person, because I really wanted somebody who could embody this character and take it beyond what was on the page in the same way Robert Downey, Jr. did for Iron Man, essentially. And nobody blew me away. Plenty of people were really good; maybe the people were great, but nobody blew me away. And this – Sarah Finn, our casting director really deserves the credit for Chris in a lot of ways because she kept putting his picture in front of me and saying, ‘you know, what about this guy? Why don’t you meet with him?’ And I was like, ‘The chubby guy from Parks & Rec? (everyone laughs) You’re stupid!’

And she kept doing it and kept doing it and finally she like really — I don’t remember ever agreeing to see Chris. I just remember her saying ‘okay and after this guy, Chris Pratt’s here’ and I was like ‘I thought I…’ and I was a little mad. I was like ‘I thought I didn’t wanna see him.’ But then Chris came in and he started to read and this is a hundred percent true that within 20 seconds I was like, ‘holy shit, that’s the guy.’ That’s who we’ve been looking for. He had this thing that was himself and sometimes a role and a person are meant for each other, and that’s what I felt this was. And I turned around to Sarah Finn was sitting behind me and I’m like, ‘He’s the guy.’ And I’m like, ‘Chubby or not, if he’s chubby, the world’s gonna have to be ready for the first chubby superhero (everyone laughs) because he’s still gonna be better than all the other people we had.’

On the emotional journey of the characters:

Gunn: First of all, to me, what the movie is about a couple of things. Number one, the movie’s about a son’s relationship to his mother and how it manifests itself throughout the rest of his life. That to me is an emotional thing. The second thing is, the movie, you know, we live in a world where everybody’s supposed to be cool and act tough and put up fronts and everybody’s so cynical and there’s a cool contest on the internet who can be the most snarky and whatever. And this movie is about actually allowing yourself to care; allowing yourself to give a shit. And so that’s a naturally emotional thing for me. And then thirdly, I fell in love with these characters as I was making the movie. I fell in love with these actors as I was making it and I think that just my natural sort of sensitivity to that – to the characters, to people, to emotions is just something that automatically expressed within the film. It’s a film about family.

Gamora

On the differences between Gamora and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana’s character from Avatar):

Saldana: I feel they’re very different. Neytiri grew up in a household where she was loved and she was held as a child. Gamora was taken sort of like the lost boys of the Sudan. She was taken from her village, from her planet and forced into a life of violence and crime. So there’s this pain that follows her wherever she goes, but there’s this last hope that she has that she can possibly get away. So I did try to find some similarities between them, but I don’t think they would play together in a playground. They just — Gamora’s a hustler. Neytiri doesn’t even know how to lie. And I wanted her fighting technique to be very, very different…I just didn’t want Gamora to look like any typical action person that’s just like very martial artsy and just does that Underworld jumps and lands and the ground breaks and shit. I wanted her to be a little more graceful, very classy in the way that she fights.

On coming into the Marvel universe:

Bautista: I didn’t look at it so much as, you know, the Marvel thing. I was very familiar with Marvel obviously and I realized they had a winning formula in movies where they’re very well done. But I really looked at it as something new and completely on its own because it was original and fresh, and also I looked at it from strictly the standpoint of Drax because once I realized who Drax was and how much of an emotional roller coaster his character would be, I just kinda fell in love with him.

Del Toro: You know, I’ve done a lotta movies. You never know. You really never know. You can do a movie you think is great and then you see and it doesn’t work, and this is something that is the opposite. This is a movie that I did, I loved working with everyone, and then the final product was like a great movie that I really enjoyed, that I saw myself as the character of Chris, even though I’m The Collector. (Everyone laughs) But I got pulled in, you know, and I got pulled in and I think the credit is to everyone involved and James ’cause he just really did an emotional thing. You know, I told James, he hit me on every sense. I even felt hungry in the movie even though no one eats. I mean all the senses were tapped and I really enjoyed it. I really, really did. So you never know. You do movies and I’m very happy to be in a good movie – any actor will say the same thing. You’re really happy to be in a good movie.

Diesel: Yeah, I’m new to Marvel. I guess this whole thing started for me with a kind of a social media wave that was adamant about me doing something with Marvel. And there wasn’t really a six month window to do a character at Marvel. So when Kevin Feige called me and said that him and James were talking about me playing a role, I had no idea what role it would be and they sent over a book of conceptual art and I went into my living room with my kids and I opened up the book and I asked the kids what character they wanted daddy to play. And they all pointed at the tree (everyone laughs) And I knew that was a good sign. For me, it was at a very important time when I did this movie because it was in December and it was the first time I was coming around humans again and the first time I was working again. And there was something very therapeutic about in my personal life – I guess in my professional life, too – dealing with death and then playing a character that celebrates life in the way that Groot celebrates life.

It’d be wild to actually see my script because I don’t think anyone’s seen my script. It was on the left hand side of the page it said, “I am Groot.” And then on the right hand side of the page it could be a whole paragraph about what “I am Groot” meant. So when I walked into that situation, I saw somebody that cared so much about every little nuance of that character, it was so refreshing for somebody that didn’t think that being a perfectionist was a bad thing, it was so refreshing. And unfortunately now in Hollywood there are those directors that have some contempt for actors. We’ve all experienced it in one way or another. To have a director that loves his actors is something that you can see the film, the fruits of that labor. You could see that translated in the film. And when you watch this movie, you could see a director who loves his actors and it shines through the movie in my mind and in my eyes.

On their favorite song from the film’s soundtrack:

Gunn: My favorite, you know, listen, one of my favorite songs of all time is I Want You Back by the Jackson 5 which is in the movie. My favorite song in the movie strangely is Come and Get Your Love by Red Bone, which I really think is when the whole idea of the mixed tape started cementing for me, so that’s my favorite.

Pratt: That was one of the first things I requested…because this is such the emotional center of the character and of the movie, this tape, and if Peter Quill has been listening to this thing nonstop in his entire life, you know, I have a few albums like that in my life that like I know all the words to every one of them. So I wanted to be that familiar with the music by the time we shot the movie and so I had them send it to me and while I was working out, I just listened to it in order on repeat over and over, this album. So some of the songs I really love and some I really fuckin’ hate because I’ve heard them so many times and then I incorporate like sweating on a Stairmaster to like, you know, If You Want Pina Coladas. I was like oh dude. I’m gonna blow my brains out. But one song that really worked for me was that “Ooh, child…” That was like – that has a beats per minute that’s perfect for my running pace, so when I was running and that song came on, it put me at a nine minute mile which at the time was like my mile. I’m like, “Oh finally, this fuckin’ song. I don’t have to listen to the Margarita song again. Or pina coladas or whatever. So, “Ooh, child…”, that’s the one. I think that’s what it’s called.

Saldana: For me, it’s Cherry Bomb ’cause I was such a fan of the Runaways. And right there in the montage when they’re finally getting like their courage – their chutzpah – to do something about it, to do something to save the day and save Xandar, that’s just such a great song for them to kind of prep up, like prepping up the motley crew. So I thought it was Cherry Bomb.

Diesel: I loved all the music. I had so much fun with the music. I thought it was such a testament to the movie. It’s so – I mean you could almost – this is the closet Marvel will ever get to a musical. It was that much fun for me…we listen to the songs at home. My daughter’s going, “Oooh, baby, give me one more…” It’s remarkable how a soundtrack could be so important, so important to the storytelling, so important to the experience…I think the music is gonna make people see this movie a lot. I think the music’s going to make you want to go. You have so much fun in the movie and it’s music that you wanna share with your kids anyway. And it’s just – it’s great because of that. So I love all the songs. I love Come Get Your Love. I wanted Peter Quill’s soundtrack!

Bautista: Actually my favorite song in the film is Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and I think it’s just because where it is. It’s such a feel good song to begin with, but also in the scene it’s such a feel good scene. We finally come together and we’re a family and we’ve all found each other and we survived and we’re kinda, you know, out to find some other trouble to get into. It’s just such a feel good moment and the song just fits perfect for it.

Del Toro: Yeah, I liked them all. There’s a Bowie tune there —
Gunn: Yeah. Moonage Daydream. Yeah. Yeah.
Del Toro: Yeah. I like that one, too. I think you introduced The Collector with that one.

Guardians of the Galaxy arrives in theaters this Friday, August 1st, 2014.

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Ben is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. His work has been featured at ScreenRant.com, FirstShowing.net, MySpace.com, GeekTyrant.com, and many more sites across the web. Some of his favorite movies include The Rocketeer, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Tombstone, Lucky Number Slevin, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Collateral, Double Indemnity, Back to the Future and The Prestige. Follow him on Twitter: @BenPears.