Next week we’ll finally be seeing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and chatting with director/writer James Gunn and the cast without the extreme secrecy we dodged through last April when we visited the film’s set in an old, derelict conference center in Atlanta.
Our conversation with James Gunn on that set visit – the current gatekeeper of the Marvel cosmic – opened with a jolly good conversation where he and others straight up played mind games with us, dancing around the identity of Kurt Russell’s character. In the concept art in the Pinewood Studios war room and on Kurt Russell’s chair, he was named “J’Son” when we know from what James Gunn has stressed for years, there is no J’Son in the MCU because he hates the character name and story.
Of course, it was revealed at San Diego Comic-Con last summer that Russell is playing Ego the Living Planet – something I told everyone on set the night before we got there – but it wasn’t something they wanted to get out early. Or at least, something they didn’t want to have to start answering questions about while we were there.
I hate to put you on the spot, immediately, right-away but let’s just get this out of the way. After we had done some stuff and seen some stuff today we went back and were looking around – you had said on Twitter that there is no J-Son in the MCU – So when this eventually comes out and Kurt’s character’s revealed, how do we reconcile where that is?
James Gunn: I say the same thing, there is no J-son in the MCU.
So now we have we understand how that makes sense.
James Gunn: Think we aren’t prepared for you guys? Think anything we did today is real?!
James Gunn: We hate each other. [Laughs] There is no J-Son in the MCU.
So how does that statement reconcile with what we think we know?
James Gunn: It’s what you think. I mean, John’s [Pisani, Unit Publicist] standing right here, but I’ll just come out and say it, there’s no J-Son in the MCU. That’s for you.
That’s legit? Okay.
James Gunn: Yeah, that’s just what we’re using right now.
Unit publicist John Pisani: It’s like you said, that concept art is changing.
It was less the concept art. The chair, I think Kurt even used-
James Gunn: Oh yeah, I call him J-Son all the time. That’s what we do.
James Gunn: But I also want to make clear, here’s the thing you get stuck with, he isn’t J-Son. He isn’t named J-Son in the movie. That’s just flat out the case. But here’s the thing, we’ll probably all know who the father is by the time this movie comes out. ‘We’ meaning you guys, because the movie really isn’t about that. It’s not about this big reveal of who the father is. It really is about the story between the different characters, and so it’s not about that reveal. It’s not about there’s this big shock moment. We’re probably all going to know by the time the movie comes out. It happens pretty close to the beginning of the film. It’s not something we reveal at the end of the film. So it’s something that’ll come out eventually. I think it’s just we want to choose the time when that comes out. And hopefully we’ll be able to do that.
We were talking with Kevin Feige earlier today and he mentioned that you came in there with a 64 page treatment, something in that range-
James Gunn: Yeah.
How much has the script evolved since-
James Gunn: I’ll say one major thing that happened during the treatment phase, not even during the script phase, during the treatment phase there was another character that was a major character. That was a part of the treatment. Although it kind of worked generally in the story, I got to the place where there were to many characters. I think Civil War handles a lot of characters really well, but they’re minor characters, and in this movie every character has their own arc, their own thing. And I thought it was one character too many, so I took one of the characters out of the story about half way through the treatment phase. But the eventual 70-page treatment, which is what it was, is what this movie is, and it has changed very, very little. And there’s been almost no changes in the past three or four months before shooting; minor, minor lines here and there. We did rehearsals and some things I changed because of that. Now who knows, we may get into post and go “oh my God, let’s change everything,” I hope that isn’t the case, but I’ve been really fortunate.
And part of it is because I knew on the last movie we did do a lot of changes later on. We did some changes in production. We did some changes in post-production, and I knew this time I was really fortunate to have such a headstart on the script. And to make that story really strong so we could have that from the beginning. And so that was something I focused on, was really dialing in the screenplay, the dialogue, everything before we ever even came here to Atlanta.
It sounds like a big part of Nebula and Gamora’s arc is dealing with the residual trauma of being raised by Thanos. So why not have Thanos in the movie?
James Gunn: First of all, it’s about two sisters. It’s not about the sisters and their father. It’s about two sisters and what were the sisters’ problems with each other. And yeah, some of those things were caused by being raised by the ultimate abusive father. But it really isn’t about Thanos, and frankly I just wasn’t inspired to put him in the movie. I kind of go with my gut on these things and it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. It wasn’t the most fun part of the movie last time for me, and I just didn’t really want to do it this time. And again the relationship with Thanos has nothing to do with it. It’s not about their relationship with Thanos. It’s about their relationship to each other, and what is that. And that was interesting to me. And I thought that was important to our story, and that was important to our characters. What happened with them in the past. There’s a lot of stuff that happened in the past that affects our characters presently.
Same thing with Rocket. Rocket’s past is very important to the present story, but it’s not about how it affects him, it’s about how it affects his relationship with the other Guardians.
What new tech and tools are you able to use to shoot the sequel?
James Gunn: The rig we’re using is much different. The … fuck, what’s it called Johnny?
John Pisani: Well, it’s RED Camera-
James Gunn: Well the RED, of course, but really one of the main reasons we’re using the RED WEAPON is because it’s a smaller sized camera that can fit into the rig, and the rig is cross between… it’s hand-held and a dolly together. It’s like an advanced steady cam. That allows you more-
John Pisani: Stable-eye
James Gunn: Stable-eye is what it’s called, yeah.
Are you doing any IMAX scenes?
James Gunn: Yeah, we’re switching aspect ratios just like did on the first movie. This time it’s a little more planned out ahead of time, but we switch between 2:35 and 1:89 aspect ratios.
What was the inspiration at the beginning, because the first movie ends very open ended, Guardians are back. And we know it’s not about Peter’s father, but it’s about the relationship that they have, Gamora and Nebula, so there’s family things. Talk about, a little bit, when you first sat down say I have to write the second movie. What you wanted it to be about.
James Gunn: Well I mean, the first [film] is about becoming a family, the second film is about being a family. But I also think I had more science fiction concept around [Peter] Quill and his relationship to his father, that’s a little bit of a bigger idea, and I think knew where the characters needed to go and I felt extremely freed by not having to set up so many major characters in 20 minutes like I did in the first movie, which was by far the biggest pain in the ass.
Not only have you never done a sequel before, but it feels like most of your movies and projects have been departures from each other. So you’re following up a movie, it’s your first sequel. Do you feel like you’re doing another departure? Is this a departure from the first film? Is it the same thing?
James Gunn: I think it’s a departure from the first film. I think one of the things that worked about the first movie was that people went into the movie expecting one thing and they got something that they like more than what they expected. And it was different then what they expected, and I think the second movie is the same thing. I don’t think it’s going to be what anyone expects.
In terms of the new characters, there was an arsenal you could have chose from, and there was obviously a lot of fan opinions about who they wanted to see join the movie. How did you land on Mantis and these new characters?
James Gunn: Shit, I don’t know. I really wish I could remember how I landed on Mantis, but I just felt like she served this aspect of the story the best. I can’t remember.
Mantis is really complicated in the comics. There’s a lot of different versions of her, and she’s done a lot of different things. Is your version a clean slate? Is it your version of Mantis, or are there other elements of the comics?
James Gunn: Both. It’s both. It’s my version, there’s elements of the comics as well. I think that, frankly, some of these characters that do have the various pasts, and various different origins are a little bit easier in Guardians movies, because they don’t come with as much expectations. I think adding alien elements to some of these characters a little easier. From the beginning I say, for the time being, Quill is the only Earthling superhero member of the Guardians. So, that was part of what I had I in mind with her, and that’s probably part of why I landed on her as well.
Kurt mentioned that he’s never had so many people that he has to take a role as he had with this, and it just seemed to be fate willing this to happen. Was there ever a Plan B, in your mind “it’s gotta be Kurt,” and we’ve got to try and find a way to make it work because he’s just perfect.
James Gunn: He was perfect, but I felt like the script was good and if Kurt Russell said no we would have found somebody else, I would hope. So, I never want to say there’s no Plan B, because that would just be a lie. There’s a lot of great actors out there. There’s a lot of great sixty-ish old actors out there. So yeah, I think we would found another. One of the great things about doing this one was we’re under pressure to have a name actor in that role, and we actually auditioned a lot of no-name actors for the role. So, that was pretty cool. And with Pom, she came in and she had done some things before, but she doesn’t have a huge track record, but she came in and she nailed, just completely, completely nailed the role. In a way, that honestly, nobody else has ever done for this movie. On either this or Guardians One, and that’s pretty incredible.
Can you talk about the music, and choosing the songs, and what inspired your choices?
James Gunn: I think that the soundtrack is an evolution from the soundtrack to the first movie. I think the first movie was made for a child that was a couple years younger than the child that this music was made for. So it’s slightly more complex songs. I also think that we have a wider variety of songs. You guys heard, probably, one of the songs today. We have a couple of songs that are enormous songs, which we didn’t have on the first movie. We also have a couple songs that are almost completely unknown, or not very well known at all. So there’s a bigger gamut between the popular and unpopular songs on the second album.
We all met and fell in love with Baby Groot today. Was there any consideration of ever having him be more full grown in this movie?
Totally, a hundred percent. I started out thinking of him as full grown, and I didn’t, you know, of having him grow up. Then all of a sudden I thought, that’s what you would think you would do, really, and I’m like really don’t have to stick with that. It could be baby Groot, and baby Groot is very different. He’s a unique little fella, and he’s pretty great in the movie even though he’s not even there. But all the time Chris is like “God dammit, he’s gonna steal the fucking movie.” And it’s nothing. It’s nothing there, but he’s funny even in the dailies we’re watching. And we got the guy on a stick, and people are laughing. There’s something really cool about him, and he’s funny in the movie. He’s a little jerk too.
He’s strong, right? He can kick some ass too?
James Gunn: Yeah he can kick some ass. He’s also an idiot. He’s a baby. He’s not very smart. So, he’s stupid.
It’s still Vin doing the voice, right? Or are you going to recast?
John Pisani: I think that’s unknown at this point.
James Gunn: We’re figuring that out.
What’s easier to shoot with baby Groot or the Groot you were working with last time?
James Gunn: Quite honestly, I’d say baby Groot, but the reason for that is unknown. A lot of times on the first movie we were like “are we even putting Groot in this movie?” Because Sean [Gunn] plays Rocket on set, and he’s so present as Rocket that you’re very aware of Rocket as a character. The guy playing Groot was a stand-in on the last movie and so he was there we just kind of always forgot he was there. He doesn’t talk very much, so you’re doing all these scenes and when we have the scenes in the movie where they turn to Groot and Groot’s like “why are you forgetting me?” That’s really what we felt like while we were shooting the first film. And I think also, the whole personality of Groot and who he was, it was there on the page and then you forget about it while you were shooting the first movie. But now everyone knows Groot so well that we have a much larger awareness, me and the cast, of a baby Groot being there at all times. And him being one of the members in the scene. So it’s been much easier from that respect, but I’m not sure if it’s because baby Groot is –
I’ll say, yeah, I think he’s a better written character then the first Groot in some ways. Not that he was poorly written at all, but I think he’s just more complete character.
Going back to the music, when you said you put the songs that you want in the script, has there ever been a scene were you had a song and when you were doing the scene you were kind of like “Oh this isn’t working. I’m gonna need to switch this out.” Or has everything just kind of-
James Gunn: For this movie, or for the last movie?
For this movie. Or for either.
James Gunn: No. No, for this movie it’s worked really well so far. For the last movie I think it worked pretty well too. I don’t think I had anything I changed out. On the last movie the one song that wasn’t on the script that I remember was “Moonage Daydream,” which we tried a lot of other songs for that scene, which didn’t work. Or didn’t work quite as well as “Moonage Daydream.”
So outside of looking totally badass, Yondu’s fin – is there an impetus for that?
James Gunn: Yeah, there’s a reason. There’s a reason for it. Yes, there’s a reason for the change of fins.
Does that have to do with the Ravagers’ larger role in this movie?
James Gunn: Yeah, it does. It does, yeah. [Laughs] That’s exciting answers. Put that down. Write that down.
We saw a little bit of the art but we don’t really know a ton about Ayesha – can you explain a little bit about her character and what she presents to the Guardians. In terms of being a formidable villain for the Guardians.
James Gunn: She’s a member of this race called the Sovereign and they’re all genetically created by themselves as a self-sustaining race who are perfect. They’re created as perfect beings, and they think of themselves as perfect.
In the comics she’s related to Adam Warlock. Is that the case, she’s gold here just like he is, is it the race Adam Warlock come from perhaps in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
James Gunn: Totally possible. [Laughs] They’re created in pods.
The first movie had the collector scene, a lot of Easter eggs, is there a scene in this movie where you can put in the Adam Warlock [crosstalk 00:15:55]
James Gunn: Oh my God. Our Easter egg obsession is insane. And in fact I have the dumbest Easter egg. We have so many incredibly obscure Easter eggs in this movie that it’s ridiculous. Yeah, we’ve been working hard on the Easter eggs. I feel this need to do it now since people have been pouring over stuff so much.
Are people still hunting that last one?
James Gunn: Yeah.
You know, Howard the Duck has an anniversary this year so you think-
James Gunn: What year is it? How many-
I think it’s thirty, maybe.
James Gunn: Yeah, that makes sense. You know what, actually every year Howard the Duck has an anniversary.
Bigger anniversary. President in 76.
James Gunn: Oh, that’s right, he did run for president. I voted for him.
We’ve heard the relationship between Rocket and Groot has flipped now where Rocket’s the protector.
James Gunn: Yes, Rocket is the protector. Yeah, that’s part of the story and the story being about families. And it’s about Rocket really trying to- As I’ve said before, I relate to Rocket more than any of the other characters, and this is really about Rocket coming to terms with accepting his place within a group of people, which probably seemed like a good idea for two seconds when they were getting along and saving a planet. And now he’s just not very comfortable with the idea of being a part of this group, which come to think of it, is probably what I’m like with everything in making this movie.
Can you talk about the infinity stone, and the impact that it had on Peter and possibly the other members of the team.
James Gunn: You mean like how it’s affected them in any way?
Kevin was telling us that the fact that-
James Gunn: When you guys said Kevin telling us I’m like “oh, was Kevin really telling you, or are you tricking me?” Because if Kevin told you I’ll tell you everything! [Laughs]
He said that Star-Lord’s mythology has expanded because he was able to hold it.
James Gunn: Yes, we say that at the end of the movie. There’s a question as to why Star-Lord was able to hold the infinity stone and not be completely and immediately destroyed. And we learn a little bit more about why that’s the case in this movie.
You said the reveal of his father isn’t biggest reveal, necessarily, in the movie, but how big of an impact does his origin play?
James Gunn: It’s incredibly important. Were Peter comes from, and who he is, and his lineage, and his straight-up relationship to his father, and his surrogate father, which is Yondu, all of that stuff is incredibly important.
Is there a world where, potentially, Peter can have superpowers, or?
James Gunn: I don’t know about superpowers, but it’s about him seeing what his heritage is, and where does he come from. And I think that thing in all of us, where we want to know where we come from, and who we are. He’s an adopted kid, and I come from a family with a lot of adopted kids in my extended family. There’s a lot of adopted kids in my family. And in way he has a lot of that in him.
Many people loved how the first film was weird and crazy for a Hollywood movie, and how it pushed the sci-fi angle. Does this push it even further?
James Gunn: Times 10. I was scared last time, and this time I’m not really scared because I know that people want to go see the movie, and they probably will go see the movie, but in terms of this is truly my movie from start to finish and there have been absolutely no restrictions placed on me in terms of that’s too far, that’s too artistic, or that’s too unique, that’s too dramatic, that’s too comedic. None of that stuff has ever come up. We’re really, really pushing it.
I’ve heard this a couple of the filmmakers in Marvel that it seems like in Phase 3 things have gotten a lot looser, more artistically inclined. Is that your experience?
James Gunn: Yeah. I think that’s been true because a lot of different reasons, but I think for me personally, they let me do my movie the first time around and it was a huge hit and much bigger than they expected it to be. So that gives them the faith in me that I know what I’m doing, and they’ll let me take it another step further. And I went into Kevin [Feige] and Louis [D’Esposito] with an outlandish premise, and I said I want to do this movie. And they were like “oh fuck, I don’t know.” They didn’t say that to me actually, they were said “oh that’s great, that’s great.” Then I said, “okay good, I’m gonna go write the treatment,” and they’re like “okay.” Then I wrote the treatment and Kevin called me up and he was just ecstatic and he loved the treatment. He loved the story. It pushes things.
I know, people have had different things to say about Marvel, about how creative free they are or not free they are, but for me the rule has always just been stay as good as I can possibly be, and stay one step ahead of the curve, and stay unique, and stay myself. And they seem to like that. Whether or not they would like that with another filmmaker, I don’t know! I really don’t, and no I do, and of course not! Not everybody likes everybody else’s aesthetic, but luckily with me whatever is strange about me to them has always been sort of… nice. So, I’ve been really, really lucky in that respect. Really incredibly fortunate in that respect.
You said writing Thanos wasn’t the most fun part of the first Guardians movie for you, and based on what Kevin told us, this movie’s a lot more standalone in terms of interconnectedness. Are you looking forward to the day when you can draw the Guardians into the other pre-established parts of the MCU, or do you want to keep them in your own private corner?
James Gunn: Honest to God for me, I’ve never been a guy to stack projects. A lot of these other guys they like to do this and then line up what they’re doing next, and line up what they’re doing next. I just can’t do it. It makes me miserable, and by the time I get to that other project is usually not what I want to do. So, I’m doing Guardians Volume Two and then after that am I going to do Guardians Three, am I going to do something else with Marvel, I really, really don’t know. We’ve talk about it. We talk about it all the time. Is it what I want to do, I don’t know. I honest to God don’t know. And think about it.
Can you talk about the decision to make the movie take place a couple months later as opposed to a couple years, because usually the movies take place in real time, and this is going to be three years and only going to be a couple months. Can you talk about that?
James Gunn: Right. Why to do that?
James Gunn: I think because they’re just such fragile egos, and they’re so combustible that this is really the time. I think they’d have problems with each other pretty instantly. And so I just felt like it was more-
Again, you ask me why I do these things, I don’t know why. Seemed funny when I was writing it. [Laughs] It’s what came up, and I thought about it being later and I think a lot of it was the Groot thing as well. When I first started thinking about it, when I was jotting down ideas, I thought Groot was maybe going to be an adult. And I thought “God, what if I just make Groot a baby for the whole movie. Like he’s a baby.” And I think that just felt right. So a lot of it had to do with that.
We’ve heard thought the grape-vine that we might get to see a Tango and Cash reunion in this movie…
James Gunn: Uh uh…
Kevin told us that…
James Gunn: [Laughs] There’s so many things that you guys have heard.
What’s it like going from being a fan of Kurt Russell to directing him?
James Gunn: It’s pretty crazy. It’s pretty crazy. Especially, Escape From New York, to me is like one of those bible movies as a kid. It’s like one of the core experience films. So working with Snake Plisskin has been quite an experience. But he’s great. I’ve worked with a few actors who I’ve admired a lot. Benicio [del Toro] was like that. Glenn Close was like that. Kevin Bacon was like that. Those are people who I really admired as actors, and it wasn’t like coming into work with somebody who was more of a contemporary. It was somebody who was famous and successful long before I was. Not so Benicio, but he was pretty young when he became successful.
And working with Kurt, he’s been the most down to Earth. And maybe it’s also because I’m more confident than I used to be, but I think he’s been down to Earth. And he’s funny as shit, and we laugh hard. And he’s filthy.
[Laughs] Is Wesley [Von Spears] going to be back in this movie?
James Gunn: He might. He might, we’ll have to see. My dog, he loves to appear in movies.
I mean, he and Baby Groot would…
James Gunn: [Laughs] I don’t think he could handle the CGI. Working besides the CGI character.
You mentioned Glenn Close, they said before it’s not 100 percent sure that she’ll be back, but they were talking to-
James Gunn: Who said that?
I don’t want to blame everything on Kevin [Feige], but it was sort of a, we don’t really know if she’s-
James Gunn: Yeah, we’re going to shoot with Glenn Close.
Can you add any context to the scene we watched before. Them going on to the ship, Kurt Russell’s ship.
James Gunn: Yeah, that’s it. They’re taking a trip on Kurt Russell’s spaceship. His freaky, creepy, sixties pop-art spaceship. At the beginning.
But Quill looks unsure, something-
James Gunn: Quill does?
James Gunn: Yeah, I think they’re all a little unsure.
Are they first meeting each other?
James Gunn: It’s not too long after they meet each other. It’s not too long.
In the first treatment you mentioned there’s a character that got cut, wasn’t really necessary, was that another Guardian eventually be in the future?
James Gunn: Yeah. Yeah for sure, I love the character actually. I loved everything about the character, I just didn’t have room for him.
Was it a classic Guardian?
James Gunn: I don’t know what you think is a classic Guardian. You mean Yondu, Starhawk classic Guardians? No.
So, you can’t tell us a lot, but seeing what his ship looks like and the weird loungey design he’s got going on, what can you tell us about the character formerly known as J-Son?
James Gunn: Umm
Really by the time we write this the trailer’s going to be out and it’s… We signed non-disclosures.
James Gunn: I know. I know. I know. I know, I know you guys.
Like his characteristics. Like what kind of guy is he?
James Gunn: He’s a lot like Kurt Russell.
James Gunn: And he really is a lot like Kurt Russell. So, he’s a very interesting guy. And I think he’s a very thoughtful guy. And I think he’s a very gregarious guy. And I think we get to see Kurt Russell in his full glory expressing himself.
Is there any name value attached to that role that is part of why you’re nervous about revealing who he is? You mentioned that there wasn’t so much that with Mantis, because there’s different depictions. So I’m curious with this person.
James Gunn: Listen… Oh, you guys…
James Gunn: [Laughs] You care. You do care that’s nice, that’s nice. So, that’s good.
That’s not what’s at the front of my mind. Really, at the front of my mind is just creating all of them as the fullest on-screen personalities as I possibly can. And being as honest and as true as I honestly can. And having it being something relevant to our own emotions and our own world today.
I didn’t know if that was part of why you were being so secretive about it, is because you didn’t want if people found out the name of this person have that idea be something different than what you were putting on the screen.
James Gunn: Maybe.
In addition to Kurt’s character can you talk about Mantis and what dynamic she adds to the group?
James Gunn: Well, I think Mantis is as odd and strange as Pom is. And I think she is an incredibly unique character. And I think she’s funny as shit. And she’s really funny. And she’s also a little creepy. And she’s great. She really is great.
I remember when we were auditioning Star-Lord, you’re asking for this straight white dude and we screen tested 25 guys and it was really hard finding somebody great because, honestly, a lot of the really great guys in that age categories become movie stars. And to be auditioning Asian actresses was awesome. Truly, we screentested four actresses who all four of them were totally incredible. It’s just Pom happened to fit the role the best, but it was a really amazing experience. And honestly, truly, an example of there’s a lot of actors out there who don’t get the opportunities of these lead roles that a regular white dude does.
Besides an obvious working relationship how would you describe the relationship between Mantis and Kurt’s character? In the film. I mean, she’s his-
James Gunn: She works for him basically. That’s it. I think it’s very interesting to watch the relationship between Mantis and the other characters. Because like them, she’s an outcast. I think the relationship between her and Drax is very interesting because they’re both complete oddballs.
What about her relationship with Peter, and their dynamic?
James Gunn: It’s more of a relationship to the group as a whole, but I think she relates a little bit more to Gamora and Drax then she does to Peter.
What’s different about your villains this time around? What’s the dynamic-
James Gunn: I think the main thing that was different, and this is really important to me, was to be able to make the story one where the personal story of the Guardians and the villain agenda plot was all about one thing. And that was important to me. It wasn’t like “oh, here’s our characters on journey with each other while they’re fighting this big bad that’s doing whatever he or she is doing, and just that’s it.”
You know, which honestly, the first movie if there was one thing that I- It’s fine, but it is, kind of, two separate stories there’s Ronan taking over this planet and murdering the universe, and then there’s these guys who through that journey get to know each other and come together. In this movie all of those things are a little bit more interwoven. It really is all one story. And that is, to me, a lot more satisfying way to tell a story.
When you were coming up for the treatment for this whole thing, or the pitch, it seems like this is about family. The core theme of this whole thing. At least from what we can tell. Do you come up with that theme before you start writing this, or does that theme come out and you work the villains in? How does that happen?
James Gunn: It’s a step by step thing. Probably the first thing was the larger science fiction concept. The science fiction concept. The movie’s more science fiction than first one was. It’s still a space fantasy. They still have jet-packs. Gamora has a sword and shit they would never have in space, but it’s more of a science fiction concept behind it. So I think, that’s what came first and then the theme started its way into that. That would, sort of, push me forward in another direction. Then maybe I’d have a character moment that would push me forward in another direction. Then an ending that pulls. So it really is going step by step in terms of what affects me the most.
One of the things that I thought was really interesting about the reception of the first film was that people with autism really embraced Drax. Like in a big way. Did that impact you, writing the character this time?
James Gunn: It really did. Not only Drax, but the characters in general. Groot. And I think outsiders as a whole reacted to the Guardians, which is what … Listen, that’s what I am. That’s what I feel like. But it’s being able to tell those stories for those people is what really the only reason I give a shit about any of this, frankly. And the only reason I would ever put myself through this is to be able to bring people together, and make people feel like maybe they belong a little bit more than they would feel before they saw the movie.
So we were saying how lucky She and Karen feel to have sisters in the movie, and also when we were talking about Pom she was like “I didn’t want Mantis to be sexualized, and a sexual character.” So can you talk about those portrayals of women and having them really standalone and have their own storylines?
James Gunn: For me it just strictly comes down to one thing, which is trying to make all the characters be equally characters. To have the equal amount of weaknesses and strengths, to have the equal amount of foibles. Do I think my writing as a whole has always done that? Yeah, completely. We have four primary female characters in this movie. Is that a cool thing? Yeah. And do I think that it’s cool that we have Pom- One of the things is that Mantis is just as weird and screwy as Rocket and Drax and Groot; who are all just nut-cases. Being able to have that dynamic, to me, is what’s cool about having the female characters more than having the strong females, I guess.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that you and Chris together created Star-Lord into this, almost- For kids, I have a twelve and eight year old, and he’s Han Solo to them. He’s almost Indiana Jones. So, coming back to him a second time, tell me about some of the challenges of just figuring out what the next steps for him are, and how do you maintain… He’s the leader of the team, but it doesn’t seem like this is his story. It does seem like it the whole team’s story.
James Gunn: It is the whole team’s story, but there’s a big huge part of it that’s his story too. When I was writing up the first movie I wrote the whole backstory of where Peter came from, who his father was, why did Yondu pick him up from the planet. I wrote all that stuff, and there was a part of me that thought about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, maybe there’ll be a story in between the answers to that story. And I said “I don’t know.” How long am I going to be around for? I don’t know, let’s just go for that story. So, that’s a big part of what this story is. Those other characters are now major characters in the movie; Nebula, Yondu, these characters that were tertiary characters in the first film.
Does it help or hurt that Chris Pratt becomes a movie star, like a huge star, in between.
James Gunn: It’s Chris, so he’s my buddy, so it doesn’t hurt me! It helps the movie because he’s a movie star. So it’s great, but my and Chris’ working relationship is incredibly close. But just honestly, just as friends it’s a great thing to have on set that I didn’t have last time. Last time I had Rooker and my brother and now I have Chris and Zoe especially. It’s nice to have that aspect of it for me, because making a movie is a lonely endurance test.
Does Michael Rooker get jealous?
James Gunn: Uhh…
James Gunn: [Laughs] Yeah, he might get a little jealous.
[Laughs] Outside at the very opening of the movie we saw one image of – Could you talk about the set pieces, we haven’t really heard much about the action in the movie, how many scenes there are, how big it gets. When you think about the end of the first movie, that’s a pretty huge set piece. So could you talk about how long-
James Gunn: Oh my god! I really set out to write a more intimate, personal story and I think it is, and then somehow in the midst of writing this more intimate, personal, emotional story the set pieces got five times as big. Like really. I feel great about it. Honestly, I’ve been focusing a lot on it because I think that I want this movie to be better in every aspect. And that includes that it’s funnier. The emotion works on a deeper level, which is probably the most important to me frankly. And then the fact that the action is bigger and more exciting.
We heard that sometimes the tags are written in the script and sometimes they’re brainstormed and thought of throughout the filming-
James Gunn: You mean the tags, oh the tags at the end of the movie? Oh, they’re all written. They’re all in the script, yeah.
So they bump into the Hulk…
James Gunn: [Laughs] You guys saw my last tag, right? I had two tags, one was a baby dancing Groot, and the other one is fucking Howard the Duck.
James Gunn: That’s my tags. I wouldn’t wait. I don’t think the fate of the Marvel universe is gonna, don’t wait … Don’t wait for stupid shit.
[Laughs] When we saw the art work, one of the planets looked like a Yes album cover, is that a conscious thing for you with the design of the ship and everything else, these trippy designs?
James Gunn: [Laughs] There’s a conscious return to pulp and getting a greater sense of getting pulp from all areas. But everything from fifties Amazing Stories covers to the sixties stuff that you can see in that ship, it’s very sixties inspired, to a lot of almost Ralph Bakshi inspired, Yes album cover inspired stuff.
And jet packs, we saw that.
James Gunn: And we got some jet packs. Yeah, we got some good jet-packs going on.
I love the audacity of Star-Lord challenging Ronan to a dance off. In the final battle. And the fact that the first Guardians could do that, can you talk about continuing that legacy now-
James Gunn: Again, I think there’s a trap a lot of sequels fall in where they say “okay, we had that beat where there was a dance off, so ‘what is our dance off in this movie?’ And we had that moment where they ‘We are Groot’, so what’s our ‘We are Groot’ moment?” And then I’m like “screw all of that, this is its own thing.” Other people can go and try to figure out what the moments are in this movie. I don’t want to do the same types of things. I think the only tradition is that we try to give the audience what’s unexpected and what they don’t think is coming next. And mostly just in terms of the story, the characters hopefully being something that’s a little deeper than the first one movie.
Unit Publicist John Pisani: Last question guys.
What character do you think will surprise audiences most coming out of this movie?
James Gunn: Uhh… Yondu? But Dave Bautista. Bautista’s murdering, he’s just murdering, murdering, murdering every scene.
James Gunn: Yeah. [Laughs] He wouldn’t want to hear me say it. The greatest thing was walking on to the first day of set and being back with these people and it was kind of like we just picked up where we left off except for one thing, that they had all gotten incredibly better. Zoe probably had the most experience starting off, but she got a lot better. Chris got way better. And Bautista exponentially got better from what he was in the first movie, and he’s going to flip people out. And then Rooker is just like, it’s the role of a lifetime. It really is, he’s amazing. And then people don’t know Pom.
Thank you guys. Thank you. Thanks. Good luck, have fun.
Set to the all-new sonic backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is written and directed by James Gunn and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, featuring Vin Diesel as Baby Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Tommy Flanagan, Laura Haddock, with Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell. Kevin Feige is producing, and Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Jonathan Schwartz, Nikolas Korda and Stan Lee are the executive producers.