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James Gunn Guardians Of The Galaxy Interview

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With a love of talking trees and especially a particular raccoon, James Gunn has sat in the director’s chair for Marvel Studio’s biggest ever gamble, Guardians Of The Galaxy. Already after signing on for writing and directing the sequel James Gunn has got plenty to say

Q: Were you a fan of the Marvel franchise before you signed on?
A: I was a big fan of all the Marvel movies. As time goes on, I probably see less movies in the theater as I did when I was younger, partially because I’m in the film business and you get used to them, and partially because you have these great home entertainment systems and things like that. But I have seen every single Marvel movie in the theater over the past however many years.

Q: What was it about Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” that made you want to bring this story to life?
A: When I first met with Kevin Feige and Jeremy Latcham and Jonathan Schwartz, they brought “Guardians of the Galaxy” up as a possibility of something that I might want to do. At first I wasn’t certain about it but when I went home that night and thought about it, I could really see the movie in my head. I could see what it was visually—not so much from a story standpoint but visually. I just started writing how I saw this movie, what the visuals would be like, what would it look like, what would the shooting style be, and I wrote ten pages and I sent them back to them that night. That’s really when the ball started rolling about me actually being the guy that would direct this film.

Q: During the writing process, did you draw inspiration from a certain run of the comics?
A: Definitely. The Abnett/Lanning run on “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the one that’s the closest in tone to what we’re doing in the film. First of all, we’re using the characters basically that Abnett and Lanning used and there’s something about their tone that is humorous but with dark in places; very big but also light at the same time. It’s a very interesting mix of tones and we do that same thing with the film.

Q: Given that these characters haven’t been brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet, do you feel you’re introducing the audience to something special?
A: I think that when you make a movie out of a Super Hero that isn’t Spiderman, Superman or Batman, it is always a little different. When the “Iron Man” movie first came out there were maybe 20,000 people reading Iron Man comic books a month. If 20,000 people were the only people that saw that movie, that movie would’ve not made any money. So it really is about creating something that appeals to a broad audience, even if it may not have been known to a broad audience beforehand. I think that was true of most of the Marvel movies, but especially it was true of “Iron Man.”

Q: Do you think the characters being slightly unknown gives you a little more freedom?
A: I think “Guardians of the Galaxy” gives me a little more freedom simply because there aren’t as many rabid fans of the Guardians as there are of say, The Avengers, so I probably have recreated the Guardians a little bit more for this film than The Avengers were recreated for the film that they were in. Not only because of that, but even more so because there’s only so many Guardians comic books that have existed, whereas for something like The Avengers they have 500-plus comics that people can look back on; every single person has a different run that they think is the story that needs to be told, or this is the tone of Hawkeye that should exist within the comics or within the movie, even though the comics have changed over many years. So that gave me a lot more freedom to create these characters for the screen.

Q: Are you satisfied with how everything has turned out for you so far?
A: I’m really satisfied. I’m very blessed. Anytime you make a movie there are times when things are not as good as what you had seen in your head, and there are times that it’s exactly what you’ve seen in your head and there are times that it’s better than what you’ve seen in your head. I have to say in my career thus far that something I’ve written that has been turned into something better than what I’ve seen in my head has been very, very few times, but on this movie it’s happened a lot, in large part because of Ben Davis, our cinematographer, and Charlie Wood, our production designer. They’ve really helped create something that’s even bigger than what I imagined and I imagine pretty big things, so it’s been very successful in that regard and I’ve been very happy with what we’ve gotten. There are certain characters that come in and they’re better than what I thought, like Benicio Del Toro, who brought so much to his part, and even little characters like the scar-faced prisoner, who is such a great character on screen but who was barely anything in the script. Then also the other guys like Dave Bautista as Drax. I just can’t imagine anyone else doing that role but Dave; he is exactly what I imagined as Drax. He is able to do the emotional aspects of that character, the humorous aspects of that character, the physical aspects of that character and talk like a Shakespearean oddball. Dave is able to do all of that and it comes so naturally, plus he’s this physically big, huge bald guy.

Q: What was your reaction when you first saw the sets?
A: From the beginning, one of the driving forces for me was to be able to create a gritty world that was still very colorful. There have been a lot of science-fiction movies that have come out over the years, but I think that when “Blade Runner” came out in the ’80s, it changed everything in terms of making science-fiction movies very dark. That was really a great thing at the time, but I miss some of the color palettes of the ’50s and ’60s science-fiction films when things were much brighter. To be able to intermingle those different looks from the past and create our own look out of that was very important from the beginning. So being able to see that come to life has been really a good feeling. Charlie Wood and I, from the first time we sat down and talked, understood exactly where each other was coming from and what this movie was capable of being, and I think we’ve been able to achieve that together.

Q: What was the challenge in connecting all of these different planets?
A: The delicate balance with this movie is not making all the different planets connect because there’s a real flow to the way we go from one location to the next. That’s something that is fun in the movie because the locations are so different, and going from one big location to the next is something that’s somewhat familiar to audiences, especially if you play a lot of video games, like I do. The delicate balance in the movie is really between the drama and the comedy and the action and finding the right balance between all of those things. I see the movie overall at its center as an action-adventure film. That’s what it is. But within that there’s a hell of a lot of comedy and a hell of a lot of drama. People see the comedy coming but I don’t think they realize the dramatic aspect to this movie and that’s going to be a big surprise for people.

Q: Was the goal to keep the film grounded in reality despite its cosmic scope?
A: That was a thing for me from the beginning; to be able to have a movie with a talking raccoon and if a talking raccoon existed, how would he really exist? What would have to be done to make a talking raccoon exist? That’s where we started with Rocket. Rocket is not the happiest guy in the world; he’s a sad, little, malformed creature that’s been taken apart and put back together again; he has had a lot of pain in his life, so I think that creature is sort of grounded and that’s the reason he’s the heart of the movie in a lot of ways.

Q: Set up the Guardians of the Galaxy team.
A: The first person we meet is Peter Quill and we meet him very early on when he’s a young child and he’s losing his mother. We feel something for him because he seems like a good kid and he had a bad run in life. He’s abducted by aliens and we meet him again 26 years later when he’s stealing things from other people and not such a great guy; he loves female aliens but is not the nicest guy with them either. He’s a guy who has a lot to learn, both about the world around him and about himself. He meets up with Gamora, who’s the daughter of Thanos, so she’s about as bad as bad can get. She’s an assassin. But in some ways she starts out as the nicest character in the movie because she’s the only one who’s really trying to do anything good in the film at all at the beginning of the movie. That said, she’s come from a life of killing people and murdering people and compassion is not something that she has learned, and etiquette is something she definitely hasn’t learned. They meet up with Rocket who is a little Raccoon who’s just a mercenary and out for his own benefit and is mean to the only creature that’s nice to him, which is Groot, a talking tree. Groot is kind of like a big old puppy. He’s muscled; he’s very tough, but he’s got a certain sweetness to him. He seems not so smart but then he can fly a spacecraft, so he’s smarter than we think he is. And then they all meet Drax, who is in some ways the worst of them because he’s a mass murderer, but he’s doing it because he wants vengeance for his wife and daughter who have been killed. Drax is very pompous and very angry and very self-righteous. So we have all these people and creatures that come together from different parts of the galaxy and, through being with each other, learn a little something about having to care for something other than their own private interests for the first time in their entire lives.

Q: Discuss the villains and Nebula’s relationship with Gamora.
A: On the other side of it, there are the bad guys—Korath and Ronan and Nebula, and Gamora, who starts out as a bad guy. They have their own little sick society. Nebula is Gamora’s sister and she’s sort of the left-out sister; she’s the Jan Brady of the Thanos family, who’s thought of as second class because Gamora’s the good daughter who does everything right and Nebula’s sort of tweaked. She has her own set of issues. Then we have Ronan who’s about as bad as bad can get. There are bad guys in movies and then there’s Ronan because he’s a complete and utter sociopath who enjoys the pain of others, and there’s not really much nice to be said about him in this film.

Q: What was it like to get some of these A-list actors to sign onto your project?
A: It was incredibly exciting. All the names were incredibly exciting in different ways. Chris Pratt was exciting because I never thought we’d find the right guy. We screen-tested a lot of people before we came to Chris and then, boom, I knew within a minute of his audition that he was the guy. Michael Rooker as Yondu was exciting because he’s my good friend; he’s been in all my movies. I wrote the role for him to play and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to push him through and get him to play the role, but he did and I’m really excited to have him around. Benicio Del Toro is truly one of my favorite actors and to be able to get him to come in and do The Collector was exciting. Same thing with Glenn Close and John C. Reilly; these are actors whom I’ve liked and admired for a long time and the reason they’re in this film is because I was fans of theirs and I had never met them. I was fortunately able to get them to agree to do this film.

Q: What has Zoe Saldana brought to the role of Gamora?
A: Zoe has brought a lot to the role of Gamora. Zoe really has influenced her role in a lot of ways more than any other cast member. Zoe signed on very early on and she went through a couple of the drafts with me in terms of trying to create a character that was both a strong female but also very flawed. Female characters in movies, especially female characters written by males, are sometimes nothing characters who have no personality other than they’re the girl. If you see most comedies today, there’s a bunch of interesting male characters and then there’s the girl who’s the object of affection and really doesn’t have any personality on her own. Or they’re these strong females who are females who are too perfect for words, and the main attribute they have is just being strong, which is also sort of a no-personality character, and that’s considered an icon in some ways, and I find that a little offensive in a different way. The idea for Gamora was to create a character who is a strong female character because that’s her personality, but she is also very flawed. Zoe brings a sort of fearlessness to her role because she doesn’t need to be liked every second. A lot of actors in Hollywood really want to be liked and they want their characters to be liked. Gamora is noble and she has a vulnerability but at the same time she is really not cool through a lot of the movie. Zoe really helped me to bring a lot of the texture to that role from the first time we talked.

Q: The actors seem really committed to their roles, from Chris Pratt getting into shape to Karen Gillan shaving her head. Can you comment on that?
A: Karen Gillan shaving her head was the greatest. We talked to a lot of actresses about the possibility of playing Nebula, and a lot of them didn’t even want to consider it because of shaving their heads. Then I saw Karen audition in London. I had seen “Dr. Who” before, so I was interested in seeing her audition, but I really didn’t think that she was right for the part because in “Dr. Who” she’s this girly girl. When I saw her audition, I could tell immediately that she’s a real actress. She came in and, to me, she turned in the best screen test of anybody who auditioned for this movie, and I loved her. I still love her. I love her as a person, but I think of her as Clint Eastwood on-screen and Hello Kitty off, because there’s nobody that is more different from her character than Karen.

Q: What role does music play in this film?
A: One of the main story points in the movie is that Quill has this compilation tape that he got from his mother before she died that she made for him. It was of songs that she loved, all songs from the 1970s, and that’s the only thing he has left of his mother and that’s the only thing he has left of his home on Earth. He uses that as a connection to his past and to the sadness that he feels of having left all that and lost all that. At the same time, it also works for the audience as being that thing that connects this outlandish universe to something that’s very us and very modern and very current, and it’s something that separates our film a lot from other space-adventure movies because it is very much in our own time that this film is happening. The music plays a very important part in bringing us back to what we all know and are familiar with. The score is also very important because I’ve worked very hard early on with Tyler Bates, our composer, whom I’ve done three other movies with, and we write part of the score ahead of time so that I’m able to use it on set for big emotional sequences and big action sequences, and we can actually play the music on set and the actors can really understand where we’re going with it tonally. Our actors have a much better idea of what this film is because of the music that we use, both score and soundtrack. It’s a pretty cool thing to have everybody be on the same page and it also just makes shooting a lot more fun.

Q: Talk about the stunt work on this film. How much are the actors doing themselves?
A: Chris Pratt, in particular, moves in a very certain way and I found that he moves more Quill-like than most of the stunt people. Even though he’s in that mask a heck of a lot, I still find it a lot better to put Chris in the mask. Dave Bautista of course is very athletic; he’s an ex-wrestler and he’s able to do a lot of the stuff himself, and that’s always been a really good thing. Dave’s a strong, tough guy and he’s got a particular fighting style that’s very much him as well. Zoe’s a ballerina, so there’s a certain gracefulness to the way she moves. Our stunt double for Zoe is amazing but then there are other things that Zoe does that she can’t do. So it’s really about using our stunt people and our actors in the right places. One of the things people do a lot is overstate how much the actors do in terms of the stunts. We have a great stunt team here who do a lot of great things and I don’t want to give that impression at all, but there are certain times when you really want to focus on the specific movements of the actors.

Q: Explain the connection between this film and “Marvel’s The Avengers.”
A: We see Thanos at the end of “Marvel’s The Avengers” and then Thanos is in our film as the boss of our group of bad guys and you see him a few times. He’s very important to our world in that way, and he’s the one who everyone is trying to impress.

Q: How are you marrying the practical with the digital?
A: In filmmaking the greatest thing you can do is a marriage of practical and computer effects because that’s when people don’t know what it is. When people see things that are purely computer it looks like computer, and when people see things purely practical it often looks cheap. But by marrying the two and doing certain things where you’re using a lot of elements of both that’s really how you can “trick” an audience, to put it in a certain way. We do it even with some of the makeup effects. Our Sakkaran, our bad soldiers in the movie, are partially prosthetic effects on top and their faces are green and that’s going to be a visual effect but we merge those two things together so that people won’t know exactly how we did it, if we do it right.

Q: How did you go about casting for the voices for Rocket and Groot and what made you choose Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel?
A: We auditioned a fair amount of people for Rocket. We auditioned a lot of voice actors, all of whom were either too cartoony or couldn’t pull off the dramatic points in Rocket’s story. We auditioned a lot of regular actors—famous and otherwise—and they often couldn’t pull off the comedy. Bradley is able to do both comedy and drama and able to create a character both real and unique. Once he was interested in the role, I felt strongly he was the one. The first time I heard him do Rocket, I knew he was our guy.As far as I’m concerned, Vin brings as much to his role and to the movie as any other performer. With just a handful of lines and hundreds of grunts he creates a character completely out-of-this-world that we still love. I can’t imagine anyone able to balance gruffness and sweetness like Vin—and that’s really what’s at the core of Groot. Sometimes I watch Groot on screen and—even though I stood beside Vin through every moment of his recording—I can’t believe the voice is coming out of a human being. He truly channels the character in an almost supernatural way.

Q: Talk about creating the final looks for Rocket and Groot.
A: Rocket and Groot are pretty much purely visual effects, and that’s just been a long, long, long process of developing what they look like and how they move. An important part of how those characters move is how the actors that we’ve hired to portray Rocket and Groot move. So Bradley Cooper has a great deal to do with how Rocket moves, but my brother Sean, who plays Rocket on set, has a great deal to do with how Rocket moves as well. I have a great deal to do because I’m the one who tells the animators what to do and of course every individual animator brings their own personality to how Rocket moves. So Rocket’s an amalgamation of a lot of people and the same thing is true with Groot.

Q: What was your overall experience like working on this film?
A: For me it’s been a very smooth ride. I’ve been very surprised. Marvel has let me do pretty much what I’ve wanted to do and I’ve been very excited about that. I have been utterly stoked by the whole process. I honestly couldn’t have had a better group of people around me in terms of the crew and the actors and all the people who are behind the scenes helping out. We’ve built this movie on these people and they’re the ones that are there at 7 o’clock in the morning before I am and are there at midnight after I’ve gone and are helping to build this movie. I’m very, very appreciative and blessed that I have all those people around me.

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The Movie Bit: James Gunn Guardians Of The Galaxy Interview
James Gunn Guardians Of The Galaxy Interview
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