I’m seated on a bus that is taking me to the far reaches of a distant world, both literally and figuratively. We’re on our way to Pinewood Shepperton Studios, which is a good 40-minute drive from downtown London. Not only am I in England for the first time, but I’m about to make a journey that few others will be able to brag about: I’m going to meet the Guardians of the Galaxy, on their own turf to boot.
Taking up no less than three soundstages at the legendary studio, Guardians of the Galaxy is taking Marvel Studios to places it’s only dreamed of up until this point. Giant space battles, intergalactic police forces, the severed head of ancient celestial beings, and talking “raccoons” with guns bigger than they are is just scratching the surface of this surreal and outlandish flick. The movie is filming under the title “Full Tilt,” which is printed in a style similar to “Heavy Metal” magazine, and while many people have rightfully compared “Guardians” to “Star Wars,” it’s just as much Marvel’s “Heavy Metal” as it is “A New Hope.”
Unlike Captain America and Iron Man, who at least had some name recognition prior to their feature film debuts, the Guardians of the Galaxy don’t have that luxury. The group consists of five characters, all more different and unique than the last, and though they’re the protagonists of this movie, they’re far from “good guys.” The first trailer for the film introduced audiences to the group, but just like Korath the Pursuer when he meets Star-Lord, the reaction was likely a resounding “Who?” That in mind, we wanted to bring you a bit of a different style of set report for the film and introduce you to the Guardians of the Galaxy as the cast and crew of the film see them.
Peter Quill aka Star-Lord
Played by “Parks and Recreation” star Chris Pratt, Star-Lord is the mostly human leader of Marvel’s ragtag band of misfits. The heir to the Spartax empire, and son of a single mother, Quill begins the film on Earth as just a 10-year-old kid, but he’s quickly taken to a world completely different from what he’s used to while still being very human at his core.
“I think at this point he’s definitely more informed by who he was on Earth,” Pratt said about the character. “The arc of the character is a very human arc. It’s really based on who he was and what was taken from him as a kid and something that he missed and lacks that he has to gain through the course of the movie, that’s definitely what we’re focusing on.”
Quill’s exit from Earth comes in the form of another group of aliens, The Ravagers, led by Michael Rooker’s Yondu. Quill will spend his formative years with this group among the stars, and they’ll be the primary influence on his fashion choices that we see in the film.
“His costume is a sort of derivative of (The Ravagers),” costume supervisor Dan Grace told us. “And we wanted from the comic book, also from what James wanted, we wanted to build lots of technology into his clothing. So we developed a whole system which will never be explained. But you get the feeling that these costumes, these clothes do something.”
Pratt confided in us that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige called what he was doing with the character “Han Solo meets Marty McFly” and what good is a Han Solo without a blaster? Well Quill’s got two of them, and without them not only is Quill defenseless but Pratt thinks his performance would suffer.
“All that stuff makes my job pretty easy actually,” he confessed. “Well it’s not easy, but it makes it easier because it’s doing a lot of the work. The props, the costumes, the masks, the guns, everything that distracts a viewer’s attention from me, I invite. So, just in case I f*** up, please, just look at the guns.”
The blasters were created by hand for the film and they’ve got a lot of functionality beyond simply looking cool.
“The guys, they produced a maquette from the original concept, and then we were asked to try and put as many moving parts into it as we possibly could to try and assist the visual effects team,” Propmaster Barry Gibbs said. “So the guys put in various motors and electronics to try and get as much practical movement into the gun as possible. So the idea is the top barrel would fire a lethal charge which is added in by visual effects and the lower barrel would fire something like a tazer round. So they’re rotating and moving mechanical parts in each. The thing that we didn’t consider when we took the project on was that we’d need to make more than one version because they’re left and right-handed, we had to produce left and right-handed guns.”
Quill’s rogue attitude will land him in hot water throughout the film, including in his relationships with the other Guardians, but it could also lead to potential romances.
“Gamora finds Quill interesting, but he’s such a douche,” star Zoe Saldana said with a laugh. “At first he’s very immature and it’s inconceivable for her I guess to even have a wet dream with him in it.”
Even though Star-Lord is a big character in the comic book basis for the film, he’s still mostly unknown to the public at large, but Pratt believes that will help the film more than hurt it.
“I think it probably is helpful that people don’t know who he is, because it would be my intention to want to make this my own anyways,” Pratt revealed. “Keep it real and keep it close to who I am and maybe the fact that no one knows these characters, that will be helpful. It probably will be helpful, because if you look at the Star Wars prequels that came out, there’s a lot of expectation there, and to shoulder a project with preconceived notions, expectations and all these things, it makes it difficult. It makes it difficult if you’re trying to satisfy what people think they know about a character. The very first Star Wars didn’t have that problem because it was all brand new, you just take it for what it is. So what I’m saying is we’ll be better than Star Wars.”
The lone female of the Guardians, Gamora is a green-skinned assassin known throughout the universe as a fearless warrior and the foster child of big bad Thanos. Sci-fi veteran Zoe Saldana steps into the character’s boots for the film and says she learned more about the character from her 11-year-old comic-reading nephew than anyone else.
“He goes, ‘Who do you think Gamora is?’” Saldana recalled. “And I said, ‘She’s a warrior.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, but not only is she a warrior, she’s an assassin and she’s very lethal but what saves her is the same thing that can doom her. She has a sense of righteousness. She’s a very righteous individual…’ and that was coming from like an 11-year-old boy and I was just like that’s it. That’s gonna be like the overall like mojo of Gamora is her sense of always wanting to do the right thing, which is why she compels, she’s trying to ask the Guardians not to sell their souls for money, because if it means that a lot of people will lose their lives then it’s not really worth it, because she’s sort of like the one that kind of starts going in that direction and then everybody else kind of follows too, which is what I like the most about this movie is that we’re all starting like inmates.”
Having already appeared as the blue Neytiri in James Cameron’s Avatar, being green couldn’t be that big of a challenge would it? Saldana opened up about the process and that just being green wasn’t her primary concern.
“I think we had maybe seven or eight camera tests that we had to do. When it came to, you know, all the characters and for mine specifically was how alien do we want Gamora to look like? My thing is what I was thinking was she just needs to be pretty and that’s usually a thing that I don’t think about with other characters that I play, but for some reason because I was gonna be green and I was gonna be like the lead girl, I just wanted teenage boys to find me attractive. I don’t know why, but I really was while we were testing and that’s where I was coming from. Everybody else was just like ‘Do we dye the hair? Wig, no wig? What color hair? How long is it?’ I’m like ‘Pretty. Teenage boys, please.’ We gotta get their vote.”
Not only is Gamora the only female and only green member of the Guardians, but she also has an non-traditional space weapon choice: a sword.
“My wrists are very thin so I have this insecurity that I look wimpy with the sword,” Saldana admitted. “It’s so much better to have a gun. I’m more prepared. I’ve trained with SEALs. Like it’s fine, but the moment I’m like with a knife I’m just like ‘Oh, god. God, take it. It’s too heavy.’”
Like Quill’s blasters, Gamora’s sword was created by hand for the character by the prop department and includes an interesting feature that won’t be found in other swords: a hidden dagger. Should Gamora find herself in a tight spot in combat she can simple slide the dagger out of the hilt of her sword and toss it at an enemy.
Even though Gamora’s deadly reputation will follow her throughout the movie, it’s her connection to Thanos that hangs over her like a cloud and likely sows the seeds for a potential sequel rather than the upcoming film.
“I’ve learned now as I’m doing the movie of the importance that Thanos has with all these character in the Marvel Universe. And I thought okay, well she definitely does have an upper hand with a lot of the characters because she was raised by this individual. But in terms of how deep their blood ties are, that will probably put into question in the next movie, because it wasn’t really covered enough in this one.”
Drax the Destroyer
A group of intergalactic thugs isn’t complete without their own tattooed maniac, and Drax the Destroyer fills that role for the Guardians. Like the man playing the role, former wrestler Dave Bautista, Drax may look the part of a hardened killer but deep down there’s a lovable center.
“I keep like not only thinking this but I keep hearing this over and over, that I was really born to play this part,” Bautista admitted. “I love putting on the make-up and everything and especially the fight. You guys don’t get to see the context, but the context is really the icing on the cake. They’re really cool, but I can just relate to Drax so much, it’s not even funny. I mean, even just the simple things that we have in common. I mean, simple, simple things like the tattoos and the tragedy, because I had a bit of tragedy in my life as well.”
Drax’s tragedy stems from the loss of his family, his wife and daughter, who he honors not only in his quest for vengeance in the film but also in the elaborate tattoos and markings across his entire body. Though they may not appear to be significant to the naked eye, the tattoos Drax wears represent pivotal moments in his life, his “soul union” with his wife, the final day of his father’s life, and the day his daughter was born – “The only day he ever wept.”
“There’s a lot of comic relief to Drax,” Bautista added. “He doesn’t realize it, and I don’t want to give it away, but there is a little bit of, because he sees something in the tattoos that everybody else doesn’t see and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
The process of applying the tattoos to Bautista was an extensive one, which ran anywhere from four-and-a-half to five hours at the start of production, but on our day on the set the team had done it in the record time of two hours and forty seven minutes.
“Compared to four-and-a-half hours, that’s a big difference. I wish they were here because these guys are incredible, man, and they’re gonna be like the unsung heroes to Drax and I, and I kind of wish I could introduce them to the world because they’re just so talented and they’re such a fun group.”
The comedic relief of Drax is not only found in his over serious nature, but in other areas as well.
“When I first read the script, there was a few lines that weren’t in there, but it was regarding my distaste for shirts. And so I came to rehearsal one day and we’re reading through it and then one of the lines about Drax not really caring for shirts was in there. And I looked up at James and he was just sitting there laughing and I decided to say ‘I didn’t see this line in the script.’ He goes, ‘Cause I just wrote it in last night.’ So it’s all kind of little things like that that make Drax really interesting. I think a lot of that stuff, because he’s very literal sometimes he just doesn’t realize that he’s being funny, but he’s actually hysterical, you know? I think Drax steals a lot of scenes with that type of stuff.”
Drax’s personality not only leads to comedic relief but makes his relationship with the other Guardians even more interesting.
“There’s a scene between Drax and Rocket where Drax goes on about his wife and daughter dying and Rocket yells at him,” James Gunn revealed with a hearty laugh.
“I think Drax is such a drama queen,” Zoe Saldana said smiling. “Can’t shut up.”
“Drax is awesome,” Chris Pratt added. “Not only the character but Dave Bautista the actor. I really just adore him so much and he’s very, very good and so unique. I just really love him.”
“I can’t tell you about how good Dave Bautista is,” Gunn later said about the character. “Like there is nobody in the world who could do what he’s doing in this movie ‘cause Drax has this Shakespearean way in which he speaks and he’s this big broad character, and yet he’s also a very damaged and tender soul and he gets a lot of the funniest lines in the movie. And Dave’s able to do all of that and be a gigantic bald dude. I can’t even see how it’s possible that we found him you know and how that happened.”
Head over to Page 2 to learn about Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Nebula, and Ronan the Accuser!
Rocket and Groot
The most inhuman members of the Guardians are in fact the ones that everyone loves the most. Rocket Raccoon and Groot, though entirely CG members, are the heart of the team and the film.
“I think Rocket is a great character and not just in a way that you would think,” Chris Pratt revealed. “There’s a lot of heart there. James did a great job of looking at Rocket as a real character rather than a cartoon character. So when you see the story unfold, you should feel bad for anything that was created out of nothing. There’s a sense of loneliness and this inner pain that Rocket feels that hopefully the audience will empathize with that makes him a really sympathetic character but also so bad ass because he’s a raccoon with a machine gun.”
At the time of our visit, actor Bradley Cooper had just signed on to voice the role of the character, but someone else was taking on the role during filming, James Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn. Sean not only provided motion capture for the character on the set but also the voice, giving the other members something to work off of during a scene.
“It turns out it’s kind of the same as it not being CGI,” Pratt said about reacting to ‘invisible’ characters. “You’re still kind of just standing there, looking at something and pretending and saying the words, you know? It hasn’t been that hard. I think it would be a lot harder if we didn’t have Sean Gunn playing Rocket…So much of what actors do is just listening and responding and so when you’re working with a great actor, even when they’re off camera it’s very easy, just to listen to what they’re saying, respond, understand that they’re listening to you, there’s this connection there that just happens when you’re talking to people. That’s been really great with Sean, like I said a lot of the stuff that happens with Rocket, there are moments of real drama and real emotion, and he has committed so hard to it so when he’s off camera I’m responding to someone that I feel really bad for rather than like a tennis ball.”
Though he may appear as a grizzled cartoon character of the group, Rocket is far from it.
“Rocket to me is really the heart of the movie,” James Gunn revealed “He’s this tortured little beast who’s completely alone in the world and has been torn apart and put back together and turned into this little thing and yet he’s still really funny. And so you need somebody who can do both sides of that.”
Gunn went on to reveal the extensive process the production went through in finding the right voice for the character.
“We auditioned a lot of actors for the role and we auditioned a lot of voice actors for the role, and we were completely 100% willing to go with somebody that was a no name. A no name’s a rude term, but somebody who was not a famous person. And the truth is voice actors usually seem too cartoony and seemed like somebody out of a Pixar movie. And the actors it was hard to get just the voice right and Bradley is really the guy. He is the guy, he is Rocket.”
Groot on the other hand, despite being another pure CG character, couldn’t be more different from Rocket. A sentient tree-like creature, Groot is the sweet and lovable member of the Guardians, who is only capable of saying one phrase: “I am Groot.”
“I think (Gamora) is intrigued by Groot,” Zoe Saldana said of the character. “At least I am. There’s something about this. He’s such a human and he’s the most inhumane physically character out of all of this but he has this sense, this compassion that really… I was reading the script and I worked with James in terms of how can we get them to kind of interact. I know the word ‘interact’ is very little with Groot or Rocket but there was something very interesting about Groot that if she needs to soften herself, then Groot is definitely a subject to study.”
Fans of the comics know that Groot takes on many forms, from tiny twig Groot living in a ceramic pot to giant Groot. Gunn revealed that we’ll be seeing some of this in the film, but don’t expect to see the tiny version of Groot on screen.
“Groot’s a little bit different. He’s able to grow in this movie. So he’s able to grow and use his limbs. He’s a pretty threatening, powerful dude and he’s also like a puppy. He’s more of an animal than Rocket is.”
Though he may have the role now, while we were on the set of “Guardians,” Vin Diesel had yet to sign on for the part which Gunn seemed hesitant about despite Diesel openly discussing the role in public.
“Vin’s a unique dude,” he said. “He’s his own kind of animal. And so I think that’s cool. I respect that. He’s his own thing.”
The pairing of Rocket and Groot is one of the core relationships of Guardians of the Galaxy, especially in the source material, and fans can expect to see that relationship play out on the big screen.
“The dynamic in the movie is similar in some ways to the Abnett and Lanning relationship and different in some ways,” Gun revealed. “Groot is really the only friend that Rocket has, but Rocket bosses him – he treats him like his slave, he’s not always that nice to him. But I think that Groot has an innocence that none of the other characters really have. They’re very co-dependent I suppose.”
Nebula and Ronan
Even though it’s chock full of intergalactic heroes, don’t be mistaken, Guardians of the Galaxy has its fair share of bad guys one of which is Karen Gillan as the cybernetic space pirate Nebula.
“She is a Lieutenant of Ronan the Accuser,” Gillan revealed. “And the daughter of Thanos and sister of Gamora and they are on this Holy Mission to kind of cleanse the Galaxy of all that is weak, and that’s kind of her ultimate objective and that’s what’s been drilled into her from when she was a kid. So she’s kind of brainwashed by these people. She wants to impress and achieve and be as strong as possible. That’s her ultimate goal.”
“I call her ‘Clint Eastwood onscreen. Hello Kitty off,’” James Gunn says. ‘Cause every scene is like ‘Okay I’m gonna kill you. Bla-bla-bla-bla-bla.’ ‘Cut!’ (high-pitched laughter).”
Gillan’s outfit and make-up is the most elaborate and impressive of the characters I saw on the set of the film. From her blue skin to her cybernetic arm, the entire piece is insane and makes her one of the most visually unique characters in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The process for getting Gillan into her make-up began as a five-hour-a-day trek that has since come down to about four-and-a-half hours. Not only does the role require her to endure hours of make-up application, but Gillan also shaved her head for the part.
“I was told before I even auditioned that the actress that got this role would have to shave her head,” Gillan recalled. “And I didn’t think I was gonna get it, so I was like, ‘Absolutely I’ll shave my head, sure.’ Then like three screen tests later, I was like, ‘Oh God, this might actually happen,’ and then I got the part. Then I sort of thought about it seriously, and I was like, ‘I absolutely want to shave my head for this because the opportunity is too good to pass it up.’”
As Gillan already said, Nebula and Gamora are sisters–not blood relatives, but they were raised by the same purple Titan–and this will lead to some interesting sequences in the film.
“It’s complicated,” Saldana said about their relationship. “I think to me that’s the biggest heartbreak I guess for Gamora is the fact she wasn’t able to save her sister. Gamora and Nebula have very, very similar paths. They were abducted from their families. Their parents were probably killed in front of them, so were Ronan’s, but Gamora wants to change. She’s just different. She’s never really had it in her. I think that Nebula definitely was born with a sense of wanting to taste blood, so for her she doesn’t want to move and that’s something that’s very frustrating for Gamora, because I guess there’s this big responsibility that she feels to Nebula and Nebula doesn’t see it that way, doesn’t love her back in the same regard.”
In preparing for a fight between herself and Saldana, Gillan admits that her constant practice, in a bit of meta-irony, turned her into a fighting machine just like Nebula.
“We’ve had a very, very epic fight sequence where I had to train for it because Zoey was shooting so she couldn’t train as much as me…I had to train for two months. Every day that I wasn’t filming to be able to do this fight sequence. So it was like an hour a day basically, and they were like, ‘In order for something to be second nature, you have to do it 6,000 times.’…So now I think I could fight only if they hit me with a Court request basically.”
On the other side of Nebula is another blue-skinned villain, Ronan the Accuser, as played by Lee Pace.
“He’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” Gillan admitted. “Oh my God, he is so intimidating and also, he is really tall. He’s just like one of the creepiest, scariest villains I’ve ever seen.”
Ronan serves as the primary antagonist for the film, and he rides around the galaxy in the Dark Astor, a Star Destroyer-like ship with a double helix design.
“It’s big, foreboding, and awesome,” producer Jonathan Schwartz told us. “It’s about three miles long, it’s massive. We’re going to see quite a bit of it in this movie. It gets involved in a lot of cool action set pieces.”
We were actually able to walk onto the bridge of the Dark Astor, which looks like a mixture of the Chamber of Secrets from “Harry Potter” and Ridley Scott’s Alien. A massive set, the Dark Astor bridge is unlike any set that has been constructed for a Marvel film and stretches the length of two soundstages. A throne sits in the middle of the room, a seat designated for Ronan, and along the side the pilots of the ship rest–the influence of Alien is seen even further as they all look like the Space Jockey from that iconic sequence. Though to fully take me out of being on this alien ship, I spot Ronan drinking from a juice box and I think maybe he’s not that bad of a guy after all.
Head over to Page 3 to learn about the planets and aliens we’ll see in Guardians of the Galaxy!
The Worlds and Aliens of Guardians of the Galaxy
If the team themselves wasn’t an indicator, the world of Guardians of the Galaxy is populated with a wide array of different aliens and locations. Marvel isn’t pulling any punches with their giant space opera. In fact, they’re fully embracing the oddity and otherworldliness of the series in the film.
“We really, really get the feeling of the scale and scope of the galaxy,” costume supervisor Dan Grace said. “We visit five planets, we see a hundred different races.”
One of the new alien races introduced in the series are the Sakaaran, which is actually a new name for the famous “Badoon” race whom Marvel was unable to use in the film because they’re currently owned by Fox. We were shown a number of concept art pieces for these aliens and they make The Avengers’ Chitauri look like “My Little Pony.” The aliens wear a mask that fully conceals their face, but when they take it off it’s a disgusting, almost decayed look.
“They are very gruesome underneath,” Grace teased.
Ronan will use the Sakaaran as his mercenaries in the film and assemble them in his fight to purify the galaxy. And speaking of Ronan, he, along with Djimon Hounsou as Korath the Pursuer, will be the introduction of the Kree race into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. James Gunn did clarify though that despite Kree being introduced into the film, their time in the spotlight will be minimal.
“We have plenty of Kree people in the movie, but the only thing we delve into is a little bit with like Ronan’s backstory, which he tells us a little about in one scene.”
With all these bad guys though, there’s got to be some good and that’s where the Nova Corps come in. The intergalactic police force of the film, the Novas all wear uniform outfits that, while similar to the comic book basis, are a little more militaristic in their appearance.
“They are pretty much identical,” Grace said of the Corps. “They have different ranks and different metal bars, but essentially no, they are not in any way a sort of mercenary force. They are very rigidly clean-cut. A well-run force. So there’s no real individuality.”
The group is led by Centurion Rael, played by Glenn Close, and Centurion Rhomann Dey played by John C. Reilly. The Nova Corps do have a base of operations which is the planet Xandar, one of the first locations we see in the film and also the point in the galaxy in which Peter Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot all meet each other for the first time. You might even remember hearing John C. Reilly mention it in the first trailer for the film.
“Xandar is the world that we would recognize the most as a sort of sci-fi, futuristic place,” Grace said. “It is kind of utopian, and it’s maybe the Earth that we can aspire to. The way we portray the galaxy in the movie is pretty rough and ready and there’s a lot of a ne’er do wells and bad people and whatever, but there’s also a really good side to it. So we wanted to make sure that there was a sort of part of the galaxy worth saving.”
Xandar will also be constructed on screen using a number of practical locations, such as the Millennium Bridge in London, of which a number of set photos surfaced during production.
“Xandar is the big, bright, pulpy, colorful world,” Dan Grace said. “It’s a big change for us to show off what our universe looks like.”
Another of the nicer planets we’ll see in “Guardians” is Morag, which was described to us as “Sixties chic” which Chris Pratt called “mind blowing.” However, the niceness of Morag and Xandar will highlight just how depraved another pivotal location in the film is: Knowhere. Yes, the base of operations the Guardians used in the 2008 comic series will be present and it plays a major part in some pivotal scenes in the film.
“Knowhere is the diametric opposite of Xandar. It’s the down and dirty, seedy part of the planet where it’s actually a mining community,” Grace revealed. “They actually mine spinal fluid of a sentient being because the planet of Knowhere is actually the skull of an ancient, vast sentient being that’s been killed, and his head has spun off into orbit and become a planet on its own. This place has got gangs. This place has got brothels. It’s got gambling. And it’s the other end. Our characters really are more at home here than on Xandar.”
Knowhere will also be the place in which we meet one very important character, The Collector played by Benicio Del Toro, who was previously seen in the post-credit sequence of Thor: The Dark World.
“He’s been absolutely amazing, an incredible intelligent actor who we’re also really lucky to have,” producer Jonathan Schwartz said. “We’re going to learn a lot about their world, their universe, from the Collector who has this amazing lab and museum with him, which I think fans of the comics will really appreciate.”
“The collector’s very connected to the overall universe and what’s happening in the movie,” Gunn later clarified. “But within this movie he’s a supporting character. Benicio’s the best. He’s really creepy in the movie.”
Knowhere isn’t the only seedy district we’ll see in Guardians of the Galaxy as we’ll find our heroes locked up in the Nova Corps prison, called “The Kyln,” for a good stretch of the film. Just like the bridge of the Dark Astor, The Kyln was a practical set constructed for the film and is one of the most elaborate pieces put together for a Marvel film.
“There’s this long dollying crane shot that’s on our backs,” Pratt revealed about the 360° set. “And then lifts up and then circles around and you see a fight break out and it pans down to a second level and you see these ominous prisoners grab someone and drag him into a cell and then it goes down even further and you see details that I don’t want to give away but you’ll know this shot. It was so surreal because the shot ends on my face looking around taking it all in and then it quickly cuts out.”
Another shot fans will notice during the scenes in The Kyln is one that James Gunn calls the “Locked Up Abroad” shot, of which he is clearly a big fan.
“Instead of sleeping in single cells, only the protected inmates are in single cells and (Peter) is in this cell with a bunch – he’s asleep with the people’s feet next to him and on the floor with all these people. And there’s a scene in there where he’s just surrounded by these aliens of different types and having to snuggle up with them. (Laughs) I love that one shot.”
One detail that fans might notice in The Kyln is the uniforms the characters are forced to wear, which will reference all of the crimes they have committed in the form of “Crime Bars” on their sleeves and pant legs.
“Gamora has got a hundred of ’em going down her leg,” Grace told us. “And Drax has got various crimes. Rocket’s got loads, ’cause he’s always up to no good. It’ll never be explained, I don’t think, but you know, it just gives more flavor and texture, and we want to make it as believable and as real as possible.”
Head to Page 4 to learn about the unlikely director behind the unlikely heroes!
The Man Behind the Misfits, James Gunn
The unlikeliest of heroes needs the unlikeliest of directors at the helm, and Marvel Studios got that with James Gunn. Gunn has had a strange career which began with Troma film’s Tromeo and Juliet, lead him to scripting both live action “Scooby-Doo” films as well as the Dawn of the Dead remake from Zack Snyder. His directorial efforts have been even more bizarre, including the gross-out horror flick Slither and as anti-Marvel a superhero film as one can imagine with 2010’s Super. His journey to getting the job of directing Guardians of the Galaxy, however, is a little more simple.
“I met with them I think in July of 2011,” Gunn revealed. “I went down there and I had a meeting in Manhattan Beach and I probably just thought I would get in and get ‘em to make a Hit Monkey movie again, which I tried to get them to do a few months beforehand. So I went down and they’re gonna be meeting with me about ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ I went and I sat down with Jeremy Latcham and Jonathan Schwartz and they really pitched me pretty hard on ‘Guardians.’ And I really thought they were meeting with like a lot of people and that it wasn’t as serious as it was at the time, but they pitched me pretty hard and they showed me the art that had been done for Comic-Con that year and that really spoke to me. I really liked that art work and what Charlie Wood did. And so I kind of thought about it a little bit while I was sittin’ down with them, and then I went home and then I really thought about it. And then it just sort of came to me. Not the story at all but the visuals of it. I really saw how I visually could see this film. How I could add my own voice to that and really create something different with it that was still – you know had some familiarity.”
From there Gunn created a 15-page document describing the visuals of the film and how it would appear tonally on screen. The folks at Marvel Studios read it and liked it and asked to meet with Gunn again. This time Gunn brought with him a presentation on his iPad including storyboards for sequences.
“I have often attributed my success to the fact that I really don’t give a sh*t,” Gunn said with a laugh. “Like if I get a gig or I don’t get a gig, I really have never ever, ever cared. And this is the first time in my career I know that I cared, which was terrifying to me.”
It worked though, as it wasn’t long after his self-described “dog and pony show” that Marvel hired him to bring the world of the Guardians to life. Before he got the job though, Gunn shot an email to a close friend of his, Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon.
“I wrote him an e-mail and said, ‘Hey, you know I’m trying to get this job. Can you help me you know?” Gunn said, once again laughing out loud. “And he said, ‘You’re f***ing late. I already talked to all of them guys about you.’”
Gunn sought out Whedon’s help once again after he had secured the position, to get the lay of the land about what his experience had been like working for Marvel Studios.
“After I got the gig, then I called and I talked to him a little bit more about what it was like. But I also knew that Joss was the easiest experience Marvel ever had, because they pretty much agreed and saw things from the same way every step of the way. They aren’t always like that with the directors they work with and that’s been my situation so far as well. I have not had a single – you know any small disagreement I’ve ever had with Marvel has been completely like for the benefit of the movie.”
Whedon even offered some advice to Gunn which producer Jonathan Schwartz mentioned briefly in our interview.
“Joss was involved a little bit in the writing process, he and James go way back and have a great relationship, and everything we do is sort of crafting the same kind of tapestry and cinematic universe. So Joss and James got to work together in putting this together. It’s certainly James’ script, but Joss was able to be involved in I think a really fruitful way.”
Gunn however elaborated on Joss’s input, which seems to be solid practical advice of “just be you.”
“After I wrote the first draft of my screenplay everybody seemed to be very excited. They seemed to really love the screenplay and Louis D’Esposito and Kevin Feige and everybody was coming to me and telling how great it was. Then Joss came in and Joss was happy, but he wasn’t as happy as everybody else and I was like, ‘Whoa man!’ and he’s like, ‘Well I really loved this and this is great, and the story’s been cracked, but you know I just really want there to be more ‘James Gunn’ in a script. There’s things that are too conventional and I want more James Gunn in it.’ I was kinda’ like sittin’ there and then Kevin and Lou were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah’ and I was like, ‘All right, your funeral.’ Then went home and I swear to God, I wrote a a 7-page scene where the guys are in the spaceship arguing about something and it’s all dialogue and we’re about to shoot it on Friday.”
Gunn has not only impressed his bosses at the studio, but the actors that he’s working with on the film, particularly Chris Pratt who says Gunn’s trademark humor not only kept him sane on the set but will be everpresent in the final cut of the film.
“James is really funny, it’s really rare that somebody makes me consistently laugh out loud and he really does,” he revealed. “This is ultimately his movie and his voice and you’ll definitely see that humor through the course of this movie. I think it is important, and I think it is a key to making this movie work, because it’s not just a straight action adventure type of movie. I think all the best big adventure movies have good comedy.”
The fast-talking director clearly has a vision for Marvel’s “Island of misfit toys” and it’s not the bleak and dreary sci-fi that has become so common place. Gunn revealed that although the film is definitely influenced by the likes of Blade Runner and Alien, it’s not entirely an homage to those classic films.
“When ‘Blade Runner’ came out and especially when ‘Alien’ came out, it kind of changed how all science fiction movies were designed after that. That was a really great thing. But I think that now we’re watching a lot of movies that are you know xeroxes of xeroxes of xeroxes of xeroxes of ‘Blade Runner’ and, you know, the way that you can be a serious science fiction movie is by being dark and then sometimes kind of Japanese. It’s just been too much stuff like that and then there’s a certain sort of white look that’s like the utopian science fiction that’s a completely different thing, and that’s gotten sort of equally boring. I wanted to keep the grittiness of those movies ‘cause I like that, but I wanted to bring back some of the color of the you the 1950’s and ’60s pulp science fiction movies and inject a little bit more of that pulp feel into things.”
The space setting and alien protagonists of Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t the only things setting it apart from the previous Marvel Studios films. According to Gunn it boasts the most amount of Marvel characters in a single film, ever.
“There’s a ton, a ton of characters from the comics in this movie in little tiny roles,” Gunn said. “But we have to clear everything with legal because it’s like if I use their name then I’m screwed in that scene. So we have just tons of reference to Marvel cosmic throughout the movie, and I’m certain the most Marvel Comics characters ever in one movie….I would imagine times 4 really. I mean, you know if you think about ‘The Avengers’ there was you know a few S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and then all of The Avengers and then be kinda’ done. With us with have almost every little character is named after somebody in the comics, and some of ‘em are far stretches from what they were in the comics. But you know we try keep those little things in there for the fans and they can go and they can look ‘em up and see who they are in the Marvel Wiki page and stuff like that, but there’s a lot of characters in there.”
Guardians of the Galaxy might seem like a hard sell to some. A strange collection of alien warriors and thuggish raccoons don’t exactly invoke the same feelings we get when seeing Captain America or Thor on the big screen, but they’ve got heart, and hopefully audience’s will see that. The outer space setting and talking trees might convince some that it’s a complicated film, but Gunn assures us it’s really simple at its core.
“This is a story about a group of people who are finding out that they’re not the pieces of sh*t that they think they are and it’s really that simple. They all think they’re pieces of sh*t at the beginning and throughout the movie they learn that maybe they’re a little bit different than who they think they are. I think that’s a nice thing to learn, and that’s really what’s it’s about. So as long as it can keep it centered in those emotions and in those relationships, then I think the celestial head becomes a little bit easier to deal with.”
Guardians of the Galaxy will open in wide release on August 1.