When James Gunn first got handed the responsibility of directing Guardians of the Galaxy, it raise a few eyebrows. He was best known for TV directing, and his feature efforts were quirky to say the least: with the likes of Super and Slither topping the list. But those films featured a unique anarchic energy that Marvel Studios recognized, and with Gunn at the helm, the original Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge hit. They’re hoping from equally big things from the sequel, which Gunn also helms… as well as writing the screenplay for. He spoke to the press about the film at a recent junket.
Question: What was the one thing on this movie you really wanted to nail?
James Gunn: I wanted to continue the momentum from the first movie. So many sequels are not good. The primary reason in studying them seemed to be that so many of them just kind of do the same thing the first movie did with different template. So people liked the dance-off in the first movie, so what’s our version of the dance-off? People liked “we are Groot” in the first movie, what’s our version of “we are Groot”? Instead of doing that, we really tried to let these characters grow and change. We want to watch them become new people and different people in every film that we come up with. And I think allowing them to be themselves and do their thing, I know that sounds strange because I’m writing what they say, but sometimes I’m just letting it happen inside my own imagination and letting the characters go where they wanted to go. I think the thing that I didn’t want to mess up was just trying to be a rehash of the first movie. I think people were surprised by the first movie, people have been surprised by the second film, and to give people something new and something different from what they already had.
Q: Did you feel that you had more freedom on this one, since the first film was such a hit? And what were you able to do with that?
JG: The great thing about working with Kevin Feige, and the whole of Marvel, is that they gave me complete freedom on both movies. On the first movie, I think I was a lot more timid, frankly. I took my first draft on the first film, and I went in to talk to Kevin. Joss Whedon was there, and there was a lot of humor in there. I was afraid that I was pushing the comedy, that it was too funny, and Kevin and Joss said, “make it more James Gunn.” And I was like, “okay, it’s your funeral.” But people seemed to like that. I thought I was still the little punk rock kid who likes sort of edgy stuff, and I thought that what I liked may not be what the entire world likes. But I’ve come to trust that what I like is what works. And the great thing about working with Kevin is, we seem to be very much on the same page with what we like. I had a lot more freedom on the second movie, but most of it I feel like was just allowing myself to completely go there with the story and not stop myself at any point from fear of alienating people. I wanted to be as true to the artistic vision and especially as true to the characters as possible in this film.
Q: Was there any joke or line or scene you had to fight for?
JG: There’s one thing in the movie that I won’t bring up because I don’t want to embarrass Kevin if I’m right. I may be right about it or he may be right, but there was one thing in the movie that we disagreed on. Only one thing in the whole movie, and Kevin let me have my way. We’ll see how that turns out.
Q: You mentioned being a punk rock kid. Does that background help you connect to these outsider characters?
JG: I feel like that always. I never feel like I belong. I feel like Rocket. So I think that that, you know, that is for me it’s a very personal film. I have always felt like I didn’t belong. And fortunately, I have some people around me who maybe helped me feel like I’m not completely alone in the world, and just as importantly, I think I grew up with some art, some movies: everybody from David Cronenberg to Steven Spielberg. Movies where an outcast didn’t feel so alone. Or music by Alice Cooper or The Clash. Music for outcasts. I was this little kid in Manchester, Missouri who felt like he was completely alienated from all his peers, and by listening to music and watching movies, I felt a little bit less alone. I hope that that’s what the Guardians does for people. It’s a movie about outcasts for outcasts. And there’s people all over the world that it touches, and that’s the most rewarding thing by far about making these movies.
Q: What was the reference point on set for baby Groot? Was there a discussion about how far to amp up the cute?
JAMES GUNN: Yeah, we had a statue of little Groot. He was designed beforehand and so we kind of had him around. We just have this adorable little statue standing there, and we’d have the scene and all the stuff would be going on and these guys would be acting their butts off and really putting their hearts and souls, and all of a sudden Chris would look over at that little guy and go, “damn it, he’s gonna steal the whole movie!” And I would be like, “oh let’s get a host over here because I think Groot’s gonna be trying to get a bug while the scene is happening.” He’s like, “really? Groot’s gonna be trying to get a bug while I’m crying about my father?” [Laughter.]