James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” just barely opened this weekend, yet before the movie was released in theaters out there’s been a flurry of praise surrounding the latest Marvel film. It hit the entertaining, quick-paced action combination that many want out of their summer movies, mixed along with that wonderful Marvel sparkle that avid fans adore. “Guardians” may not be in the heavy dramatic vein as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but it makes up for in the action and wit, which made director James Gunn a perfect fit for this project. His filmography prior to “Guardians” showed all the makings of the right man for the job, between “Slither,” “Super” and so many more.
Once the director was set in place, it was time to assemble the cast. It took a lot of searching, along with a couple of surprise casting choices, but Gunn got the perfect set of actors to bring these beloved Marvel characters to life. There are plenty of fans out there, anxious to know how the mixture of talent was brought together. ShockYa took part in a hilarious press conference as the cast and director for “Guardians of the Galaxy” shared their stories on the production.
What attracted you to the project to begin with and was bringing new characters like this a daunting task, or was it liberating? What can you tell us about that?
James Gunn: It was, frankly, liberating. For me I think I would have had a harder time trying to fit into the regular Marvel scheme of things and this gave me a chance to take what I loved about Marvel movies, Marvel comics and create a whole new universe which is really what has been the most exciting thing for me in my entire professional career. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the different planets in the solar system and we used to create for every single planet a different alien race with a certain kinda pet and a certain kinda house and a certain water system and everything. I would draw these pictures, and I had hundreds of these pictures, and had them in a box. Really, to me this was like going back to that childhood box and creating this fun universe.
For Michael [Rooker]; So who is more of a bad ass, Merle or Yondu?
Michael Rooker: That’s a simple question. You know what? They’re very similar in their nature. They’re true believers in tough love; Merle with his brother and Yondu with his lovely son. Surrogate, okay, surrogate daddy. I’ll put it that way. You saw the movie, right? So Yondu is pretty damn powerful. Merle inside — close inside maybe. You gotta go with Merle, but Yondu — I mean I don’t think Yondu let Merle get close to him.
Chris [Pratt], you’ve had your fair share of having to gain and lose weight for parts recently. Do you relate to your female colleagues and what they go through with media scrutiny?
Chris Pratt: Do you mean like — are you saying that I might be responsible for giving men body image issues? Because if that’s what you’re saying, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.
No, I’m sure I can’t relate to what females go through in Hollywood. I’m sure I can’t relate, but I do know what it feels like to eat emotionally and to be sad and make yourself happy with food, and then be almost immediately again sad and now ashamed, then to try to hide those feelings with more food. I know what that’s like and it’s a vicious cycle and it’s a very real thing and so I know what it’s like to have body image issues. I also know that if you just work hard and enlist the help of good coaches and be coachable and be willing to work hard, you can actually change that. And I offer a course — it’s like $4500 up front. And anyone’s whose had these issues, just get a hold of my people and we’ll set it up and I’ll walk you through it. I don’t really offer a course. It’s a bit.
Did you feel you had to prove just even in the auditions and for audiences? Do you have any opinions on Pratt’s audition process James [Gunn]?
Chris Pratt: People probably didn’t see me. I’m not sure I even saw myself in this kind of a role. But what’s really nice about this movie, I believe this is that we did something with this movie that’s never been done before. I think this is like unlike anything that’s ever been done and I think anyone who has seen this movie would agree. I’ve never seen anything like this movie before. I don’t think I was right to do anything that’s similar to what’s been done before. I wouldn’t have been right to do those other movies. So maybe people wouldn’t have seen me in this role, but that’s because they weren’t able to have the vision that James had for what this could be. So he just told me in the audition, he was like “I’m just looking for someone to come in and just own this and just do their thing.” At the time, I’d been sort of having an identity crisis as an actor. I didn’t know what I was; if I was a action guy or a comedy guy. I thought maybe I could do a combination of both, but there’s nothing out there that’s like it. Maybe I have to develop something and my manager just kept saying “Guardians of the Galaxy,” man. I said all right, maybe you’re right, let’s go meet on it. And then James said I just want somebody to do their thing and part of me thought okay, well then I’ll just do my thing and if it’s not right, that’s okay, but now I had an idea what thing was and it was the thing that I got to do in this movie.
James Gunn: We had screen tests of at least 20 people, big stars, no names, looking for the right person because I really wanted somebody who could embody this character and take it beyond what was on the page in the same way Robert Downey, Jr. did for Iron Man, essentially. And nobody blew me away. Plenty of people were really good; maybe the people were great, but nobody blew me away. Sarah Finn, our casting director really deserves the credit for Chris in a lot of ways because she kept putting his picture in front of me and saying “What about this guy? Why don’t you meet with him?” And I was like, the chubby guy from “Parks & Rec?”
She kept doing it and kept doing it and finally she like really — I don’t remember ever agreeing to see Chris. I just remember her saying okay and after this guy Chris Pratt’s here and I was a little mad. I thought I didn’t wanna see him, but then Chris came in and he started to read. And this is a hundred percent true, that within 20 seconds I was like, holy s–t, that’s the guy. That’s who we’ve been looking for. He had this thing that was himself and sometimes a role and a person are meant for each other and that’s what I felt this was. And I turned around to Sarah Finn was sitting behind me and I’m like he’s the guy. And I’m like, chubby or not, if he’s chubby, the world’s gonna have to be ready for the first chubby super hero because he’s still gonna be better than all the other people we had.
Gamora and Neytiri are both bad asses, but other than that, they’re practically opposites. Can you compare or contrast the two and your approach to them?
Zoe Saldana: I feel they’re very different. Neytiri grew up in a household where she was loved and she was held as a child. Gamora was taken sort of like the lost boys of the Sudan. She was taken from her village, from her planet and forced into a life of violence and crime. So there’s this pain that follows her wherever she goes, but there’s this last hope that she has that she can, possibly get away. So I did try to find some similarities between them, but I don’t think they would play together in a playground. Gamora’s a hustler. Neytiri doesn’t even know how to lie. I wanted her fighting technique to be very, very different. Obviously when you show up and you’re the last person cast and everybody’s just ready to go, the stunt coordinators have already designed the fights and they already have the stunt women working on what you’re going to do. You come in and you just add your last little tweaks. I just didn’t want Gamora to look like any typical action person that’s just like very martial artsy and just does that Underworld jumps and lands and the ground breaks and s–t. I wanted her to be a little more graceful and teak; very classy in the way that she fights.
And my husband, one of his colleagues was showing us as I was sort of doing research for Gamora, she was showing us her last collection of work she was going to do that wasn’t yet ready for the public. She basically recorded this bullfighter from Spain dancing a duel — a fight — and sort of leading the bull with his sword and his cape. And she shot it in 60 frames per second so it was very slow. I’ve never seen somebody move so, so smoothly. It was just such a seductive dance and I thought, well that’s Gamora. She’s a woman and she just has to be very seductive in the way that she tricks her enemy into falling into their own death. And I thought well that’ll be interesting, too. I’ve never done that. It was hard telling the stunt people because they’re so hard and they think that girls are stupid. So when you walk in like into this testosterone driven like rehearsal place and you’re like well she does fencing and she’s a bullfighter. But then they realize they didn’t really have a choice and they adapted it.
James Gunn: I remember I got like five messages from you on different platforms when you came up with this bullfighting idea at 3:00 a.m. And it was like on one phone I got a message, and then I got a message from another phone to my other phone, then I got a message of one email and then another email and then DM on Twitter and I’m like I get it, she wants to be a bullfighter.
You’ve played obviously a lot of great characters, but The Collector’s kind of an unusual character. How did you approach that? It’s like nothing else you’ve ever played, right?
Benicio Del Toro: Right. Well, the hair for sure. As I go about it, James made me feel like I could explore it. I got there and I worked with four actors. Two of them weren’t there, Vin Diesel wasn’t there, and so I had a lotta fun with Chris and Zoe and what I do remember was like I felt like I could explore the character in every way I would have wanted to. James was very supportive to taking chances and trying different things. I felt like an animal that grows up in a cage, and suddenly you open the door and he comes out. He’s tentative to take chances and James was very, very nice to me to allow me to go, go, go. At the end I was like I coulda done this, I coulda done that, but it was a great feeling.
James Gunn: Benicio knows. He’s one of my favorite actors in the world and I was so excited when he did this. But one of my favorite moments in the whole movie is when Benicio came into my office when you were first visiting for your fitting and you sat down with me and we were talking about the character and how we saw the character and where you were coming from. And you go to me and you go, “You know, when I think about it, I think about when I was a little kid, I was the first kid in my neighborhood to have a pet alligator.” And I was like oh, this guy’s my friend for life. This is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.
Vin [Diesel], you’ve been part of a very successful franchise. Dave [Bautista], Benicio [Del Toro], you’re coming into a new universe, the Marvel universe. What is the appeal of the Marvel universe and particularly this new offshoot, “Guardians of the Galaxy?”
Dave Bautista: I didn’t look at it so much as the Marvel thing. I was very familiar with Marvel obviously and I realized they had a winning formula in movies where they’re very well done. But I really looked at it as something new and completely on its own because it was original, fresh and also I looked at it from strictly the standpoint of Drax. Once I realized who Drax was and how much of an emotional roller coaster his character would be, I just kinda fell in love with him.
Benicio Del Toro: I’ve done a lotta movies. You can do a movie you think is great and then you see and it doesn’t work, and this is something that is the opposite. I loved working with everyone, and then the final product was like a great movie that I really enjoyed, that I saw myself as the character of Chris, even though I’m The Collector. But I got pulled in, and I think the credit is to everyone involved and James ’cause he just really did an emotional thing. I told James, he hit me on every sense. I even felt hungry in the movie even though no one eats. I mean all the senses were tapped and I really enjoyed it. I really, really did. So you never know. ]You do movies and I’m very happy to be in a good movie that any actor will say the same thing. You’re really happy to be in a good movie.
Vin Diesel: I’m new to Marvel. This whole thing started for me with a kind of a social media wave that was adamant about me doing something with Marvel. There wasn’t really a six month window to do a character at Marvel. So when Kevin Feige called me and said that him and James were talking about me playing a role, I had no idea what role it would be and they sent over a book of conceptual art and I went into my living room with my kids and I opened up the book and I asked the kids what character they thought daddy — they wanted daddy to play. And they all pointed at the tree. I knew that was a good sign.
For me, it was at a very important time when I did this movie because it was in December and it was the first time I was coming around humans again & the first time I was working again. There was something very therapeutic about in my personal life — I guess in my professional life, too, dealing with death and then playing a character that celebrates life in the way that Groot celebrates life. I took my kids to a screening to see this movie and they walk around the house reciting Star Lord, Gamora, and all the characters and something very beautiful happened in playing this role. Something that as an actor I never would have imagined. And that is when my kids see trees, they refer to the trees as my brothers and sisters.
So, they’ll say, “Look daddy, it’s your brothers and sisters.” And the idea to be associated with trees like that is remarkable. It’s so much more gratifying than you would ever imagine. It was — I was really lucky. I was really lucky that that specific role came up I was really, really, really lucky that when I went to breathe life into the role, I had a director that was willing to indulge in the way that he did. I felt like I was the last person in, so I got to see all of the performances and I was so blown away by the performances. It felt almost too good to be true. And then while I was recording the three words day in and day out — we started one day, it ended up four days — James actually — it’d be wild to actually see my script because I don’t think anyone’s seen my script. It was on the left hand side of the page it said, “I am Groot.” And then on the right hand side of the page it could be a whole paragraph about what “I am Groot” meant.
So when I walked into that situation, I saw somebody that cared so much about every little nuance of that character, it was so refreshing for somebody that didn’t think that being a perfectionist was a bad thing, it was so refreshing. Unfortunately now in Hollywood there are those directors that have some contempt for actors. We’ve all experienced it in one way or another. To have a director that loves his actors is something that you can see the film, the fruits of that labor. You could see that translated in the film. And when you watch this movie, you could see a director who loves his actors and it shines through the movie in my mind and in my eyes.
James Gunn: I’ll just say real quick that you guys — no one will ever, ever understand from the bottom of my heart how much Vin Diesel, you know, brings to that role because I sat and watched the movie a billion times with my voice in there, my brother Sean’s voice in there, and when he came in and said, “I am Groot,” it really filled out that whole character and it’s really quite incredible. Like Fred Raskin, the editor, and I couldn’t believe it when we started cutting it in because it made that character. That was a CGI character suddenly complete and it still doesn’t sound like Vin to me. It sounds like Groot and there was a strange energy in the room when he was doing it. I think a lot of people have felt it through seeing the movie that Groot is this emotional character and we even felt it while we were shooting. I’m really eternally grateful for that performance and a little freaked out by it.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is out in theaters now.