What can I say? James Gunn is just cool. He’s creative, funny and I mean, come on, he is THE story teller Guardians of the Galaxy. The first time we spoke, it was right before the first movie came out, so to sit down with him for this interview while on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, it was fun to see his creative mind in his element. Not after it’s ready to go, but during the actual creative process.
Watching James Gunn in action on the set was a treat. We watched a scene being shot that you can is in the trailer that was debuted during the Super Bowl. Chris Pratt shared in his interview that there is a lot of cutting up going on while on the set. A lot of sitting around and waiting. And we got to see that while on set. Even more so, we got to see how much work it takes to really act in a film that everything is added in post-production. Blue screen and minimal items are on the set. It’s playing make believe for real, but in the end, it all ends up on the big screen, even better than it could have been in the mind of the actors.
James Gunn on the Set
Hi! How are you?
I’m good. I’m really good. Yeah, we’re pretty busy today. It’s- we have two different sets running at the same time so I run back and forth between, Kurt Russell on one set and then everybody else on the other set. So it’s fun mostly.
When did you come up with the sequel idea?
A lot of the sequel idea is about Quill’s relationship to his two fathers. Basically, Yondu and the character Kurt Russell plays. And so the mythology of all of that was something that was written before the first movie was written. I knew basically where he was going. Basically who his father was. What Yondu’s relationship was to his father. So a lot of mythology came then.
Then the story started to ferment like during the first movie. I was always taking notes and thinking about it. And I knew this was a story. I wasn’t sure if it should be the sequel. I wasn’t sure if it should be like a third movie in a trilogy. And then when it came time to actually write the screenplay, I’m like, let’s just go for broke and do that story that I had in my head, which was this one. Which I really started actually physically writing the treatment on the first day, on the day the first movie came out.
So it was like I was at a loss for, like you know what am I gonna do, sit around and wait to see how much money we make or whatever? I gotta do somethin’ to distract myself and I found the healthiest thing to do was just to get back in part of the process that I had some control over, which was processing my own work as opposed to being concerned with what the results were.
Having Kurt is a gift. Did you already have that planned?
No, I didn’t. At one point Chris brought him up and I didn’t take him very seriously. But another point, Fred Raskin, who is our editor, brought him up. And Fred cut Kurt’s last two movies. Hateful Eight and he cut Bone Tomahawk. He really liked him as an actor, and if an editor likes an actor, you know that the actor is good. Because there’s a lot of actors that cut together very well because you have to piece together their good performances and it’s actually difficult. And then people go and say, oh this person’s great. But it takes a lot of work to get there. But the fact that Fred liked him so much meant he was a strong a lot, which was great.
Why is music such an important character in this story?
Well, I think that music is really the character of Peter Quill’s mom, so that’s his relationship with his mother is through the music. And music’s an important thing in my own life. And so I think it’s something that keeps that relationship alive. That relationship is very much kept alive in this second movie. His relationship with his mother as well as his relationship with his father and what that is exactly. And that’s told through music. There’s another practical reason, which is that people were going into this movie, different planets, different worlds, different characters from other planets, and the music were a way we kept everybody grounded in something that was attached to Earth, something that was familiar in the midst of all this unfamiliar stuff. Something that was an emotional tether, basically, to earth.
What sort of message are you hoping families walk away with after watching the film?
I don’t think so much about what’s the message of the movie, so much as what’s the affect, it has on people? The reason I make movies is that when I was a kid and I saw a great movie with my family and it made me love people more when I walked out of the theater than when I walked in. So if there’s anything that this movie can do it’s that.
I think it’s a truly emotional film. I think the first one was emotional, and I think we take this one to a much deeper level of the emotion.
That’s a big part of it. But also, The Guardians are a group of outcasts. They’re all creatures or people who don’t belong in society anywhere but with each other. And one of the very moving things to me from the first movie is just getting messages from all the people who feel like they’re outsiders, who relate to the Guardians.
Whether it’s Gamora. A lot of people relate to Drax. A lot of young children really relate to Groot. There’s been a lot of people with autism who relate a lot to Drax because he has a very different way of perceiving the world and metaphors. I can’t tell you countless people that have written me, “thank you for that. I don’t understand metaphors. And Drax is like me and he’s a superhero to me”. They’re outsiders and I think seeing them belong. I also think the story is a story about kids from families that are not traditional. And a lot of different kinds of fathers. Peter Quill has a biological father. He has an adopted father. His adopted father is far from perfect, but that’s somebody who I think that movie speaks to.
You told us during the press junket for the first film Rocket was your favorite character.
Yeah. He still is. I mean I’ve got Baby Groot. He’s pretty awesome. And there are times when we’re shooting and it’s nothing. It’s like either a little stick or I’m like describing it and then like afterward, the guys are like, “Oh, dang. You know, the stick guy- Baby Groot, he’s gonna steal the whole movie”. And he’s not even there.
I can tell you during the first movie, we were barely aware of Groot. He wasn’t that present on set. I mean my brother, Sean, played Rocket (on set). So he was always there and everybody knew Rocket as a real character. But Groot wasn’t there, and then we kind of start putting the movie together and creating Groot in post-production, and it was like, oh wow, the character really fills out once we started to create him. But they would just forget about him, which, it happens in the first movie ‘cause a couple times Groot’s like, what about me? I’m over here. I want my share of things. And that’s really what we were treating him like. So I love Baby Groot.
I just relate so deeply to Rocket. It’s something that we succeeded a lot at in this film is each character has their own story. I think that’s been true more for the other non-star lord characters in this movie than in the first movie. And I would say especially for Gamora and Rocket. They have their very specific stories that are about them.
The first story was about becoming a family, and this one is about being a family. And so it makes a big difference. In this one, it’s really about Rocket. You get that first flush of accepting friendship and love which he had in the first movie. And this movie is about being able to continue some form of intimacy, which is much, much harder for him to accept that because of where he came from. And through that, I think he forms a pretty tight bond with Yondu, who has a similar background because Yondu’s an older guy who never accepted people that loved him. Never accepted any of that.
And to be able to have Rocket. It’s not so much about him learning to love other people, it’s about him learning to accept the love and affection of other creatures. And so I love him as much as ever, yeah. I love ‘em all. Drax steals this movie. I mean he’s really, really funny. One of the great things about coming back to a second movie is you get to know the actors who play the roles.
Now that the roles are all tailor fit to them so, Bautista probably had the least experience of everybody on the first movie. So he’s grown the most. He’s gotten the most better from anyone in the first movie. And the character is more tailored to him. So it’s really been great. And then Pom who plays Mantis, it’s uncanny how she fits the role. Because she’s a very eccentric and strange character and she just came in and did it. And it was like, wow. I’d barely ever give her a note. Rarely ever. And I give a lot of notes, so.
You said you already formulated taking notes and had ideas for number two when you were doing one. Are you now thinking of ideas or anything for number three?
I really wanted to do number two when I was doing number one. Mostly because I loved the people that I’m making the movie with, the actors but also the producers. The idea of three is very interesting in that way. But I don’t know if I’m gonna do that. But to answer your question, yes. I come up with ideas every day for what could be future Guardians movies, and also other movies to have those individual characters go off and tell different stories. It’s just sort of what my brain does all the time. And Jonathan Schwartz who is our Marvel producer, who’s always on set, I’m always joking about things that could happen or coming up with ideas with him. So I’m always doing that.
We will see flashbacks in the storylines to what brought Peter Quill to where he is in Vol 2?
Well, I will say that whether or not we see characters in flashbacks or as children, a lot of the movie is about their childhoods and where it has brought them. So whether we see it or not, we learn a lot more about – especially Quill, but also Gamora, also Nebula, and Yondu. We learn about Mantis. We learn a lot about these characters and where they originated and why they have both the weaknesses and strengths that they have.
As I shared in my props and production post, with the highlight of the day was being on the set as the cast was filming THIS scene!
Also – see all those amazing people in that photo? They were all part of my coverage this week!
Lights, Camera, Action
Something very cool about this scene too is that it’s in the trailer that played during the Super Bowl this past weekend. In case you missed it, or you just want to see it again (I have watched it at least 10 times myself), here you go! This scene is around the :47-second mark.
Walking around on the actual set is something insanely special, and the best way to share this with my readers in these photos. Very exclusive, and something that most don’t get to see.
Did you miss one of my Guardians of the Galaxy posts? You can catch up here.
Guardians of the Galaxy opens May 5, 2017
*I was invited by Disney/Marvel to attend a special press trip to share my experience with my readers. All opinions are my own.
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