Iron Man 3 is just weeks away from opening in theaters, with Thor: The Dark World deep into post-production as the next feature on the docket for a fall release. Captain America: The Winter Soldier began principal photography last week for a release next spring, and next up, at the casting stage, comes the riskiest Marvel Studios movie yet: Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy is not only ambitious for its attempt to blow open the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and explore the vast library of comic book characters and worlds that come with it, but it stars a roster of heroes and villains entirely unknown to the public, which makes the casting that much more important.

Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) will lead the team of Cosmic Avengers, and if the reports prove true, he could be joined by Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer and Zoe Saldana as Gamora. Of the Guardians team members confirmed by Marvel Studios via the first concept art (below) at last summer’s Comic-Con, that leaves Groot, the walking, talking tree, and Rocket Raccoon, whose name is a sufficient description of the character.

According to Deadline, Michael Rooker has just signed on with the project as well but he’s not voicing Rocket Raccoon, who he talked about six months ago:

“Oh, yeah. Most certainly. I know that James Gunn is doing it. He is directing it, and he is re-writing it. He is a very loyal director. He is a very loyal writer, when it comes to working with people that he knows and loves. He really appreciates the efforts that each actor puts into these roles. And I would be very honored and pleased to work with James Gunn again…Whether it will happen or not, I don’t know. But he is a dynamite guy, and we have remained friends ever since we worked together on Slither.

I haven’t done much research on it at all yet. Because I don’t know what is going to happen. I’m really crazy busy with The Walking Dead right now. But you know what? Write this up. Tweet the f*** out of it. If the fans want me as Rocket Raccoon, Marvel will listen to you guys, I think, sometimes… Perhaps I will be lucky and blessed enough to go in there, and go at it with Mr. Gunn again, who knows?”

Rooker, who unsurprisingly joins the cast as a working friend of writer-director James Gunn, will be playing Yondu Udonta, one of the original Guardians from the very first incarnation of the comic series in 1969. He’s an alien hunter from a planet of primitive species that represented Earth’s first colonization of another planet a thousand years into the future. He’s an archer who’s in tune with nature, but otherwise isn’t super-powered in the general sense. Think of him as the Cosmic Avengers’ version of Hawkeye.

The inclusion of this character has greater implications because Yondu is not actually a part of the 2008 relaunch of the series for which the film was seemingly drawing inspiration from, nor the more recent Marvel NOW! version which also features Iron Man. We know Chris Pratt is playing Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, but the original team leader was actually the character of Vance Astro, an astronaut who happened to crash on the planet Centauri IV (Yondu’s homeworld) in the future. Astro and Yondu fought together for years against the conquering Badoon (an ancient race of militant reptilian humanoids).

How does Yondu factor into the film adaptation’s take on the origins of the team and will the film introduce time travel into the Marvel Cinematic Universe or stick to same time period, but in space? Does this open the door for other original members to show up?

James Gunn’s script could very well be merging elements from both the old school and modern versions of Guardians of the Galaxy and perhaps Yondu is one of the first aliens Quill (Pratt) encounters when he leaves earth.

Guardians of the Galaxy is being rewritten and directed by James Gunn and begins shooting in London this summer. It will be released in 3D. Expect many casting news reports shortly. For more:

Iron Man 3 releases May 3, 2013, Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on November 6, 2015, and Doctor Strange sometime after that.

Let me know on Twitter @rob_keyes if you approve of this casting!

Source: Deadline