Guardians of the Galaxy Get Real
By: Lynn Barker
Sometimes the lesser-known characters in the Marvel comics universe are the most interesting. The wildly diverse team of heroes in the funny new sci-fi movie Guardians of the Galaxy are great examples.
For this interview, we have director James Gunn and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, the leader of the “Guardians”, a rogue, ladies’ man and mercenary suddenly having to step up. Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, a green-skinned orphan trained as a assassin by baddie Thanos. Drax the Destroyer (wrestler Dave Bautista) is a hefty warrior out to get baddie Ronan after his family was murdered.
Vin Diesel voices Groot, a humanoid tree being, a deadly innocent and sidekick to Rocket, a mutant raccoon (Bradley Cooper voices him but was unable to be at the interview). Michael Rooker (who played Merle in TV’s “The Walking Dead”) is Quill’s father figure Yondu, leader of a group of mercenary Ravagers who kidnapped Quill from Earth. Benecio del Toro portrays “The Collector” a very weird guy who collects oddities from all over the galaxy.
In the interview we learn cool stuff like Chris was at the point of figuring out his career; should he play action guy or comedy guy? Zoe had just seen slo-mo footage of a bullfighter and used the sleek movements to form Gamora’s fighting style. Benicio used a memory of having a pet alligator as a child to form his over-the-top “Collector” character and Vin Diesel’s kids picked the tree character of Groot for him to play. Check it out!
Q: Chris, can you talk a little bit about first finding the attitude to play this guy Quill? He’s got to be snarky enough that it works for the character, but not too much to turn off the audience. And did you do any research as far as the comics are concerned to sort of see how it played out in the comics?
- Chris: I was aware of Guardians of the Galaxy, but James told me not to read any of them and so (James protests). But, in terms of the attitude, the whole process for me on this one was just trusting James really and taking big swings and sometimes falling flat on my face. The big challenge for me was just trying to ignore the embarrassment of being an actor. You’ve got people pointing cameras at you and hundreds of people watching you as you're trying to be great and almost every time you're not. So the challenge is not like finding the attitude, it's really just being open and willing to go for it and try different things and having a director that you can trust.
Q: Did you see yourself in the role of Quill ? What did you feel you had to prove to get the part of a mercenary space adventure hero?
- Chris: I'm not sure I even saw myself in this kind of a role. 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. James just told me in the audition, “I'm just looking for someone to come in and just own this and do their thing”. And 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 an action guy or a comedy guy. And I thought maybe I could do a combination of both, but there's nothing out there that's like it.
- My manager just kept saying “Guardians of the Galaxy, man”. I said “all right, maybe you're right, let's go meet on it”.
Q: Michael, your character Yondu is pretty bad-a**. Who is more of a bad-a**, your character Merle from “The Walking Dead” or Yondu in this movie?
- Michael: 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 daddy, okay. Yondu is pretty powerful. Merle is close maybe. But, Yondu, I don't think Yondu let Merle get close to him. You bet.
Q: The movie's very action-packed and very funny, but it's also got a lot of heart. James, can you talk a little bit about your inspiration behind the emotional journey that you took the characters through?
- James: First of all, the movie is about a couple of things; a son's relationship to his mother and how it manifests itself throughout the rest of his life. The second thing is, we live in a world where everybody's supposed to be cool and act tough and put up fronts and everybody's so cynical and this movie is about actually allowing yourself to care; allowing yourself to give a s**t. I fell in love with these characters and with these actors as I was making this movie and I think that just my natural sensitivity to the characters, to people, to emotions is just something that automatically expressed within the film. It's a film about family.
Q: The ‘80’s music plays a big part in the film. Tell me about picking the music and making it work with the story.
- James: I rewrote the whole script. And the very first thing that I thought of was this idea of the ‘80’s Walkman and the cassette tape which is really this character's connection to his home planet of Earth. And that was the emotional center of the film. The McGuffin of the film is this orb that everyone's chasing after, the emotional center is this Walkman that Peter Quill carries. And so it was just a natural part of the screenwriting process. All those songs that you see in the movie, “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Come and Get Your Love” were all written into the film. They're all part of the screenplay. So they were there from the ground floor up.
Q: Did you and any of the cast have favorite songs on the soundtrack?
- James: One of my favorite songs of all time is I Want You Back by the Jackson 5 which is in the movie. My favorite song in the movie strangely is Come and Get Your Love by Redbone which I really think is when the whole idea of Quill’s mixed tape started cementing for me so that's my favorite.
- Chris: (I said to) James, “If Peter Quill has been listening to this thing nonstop in his entire life, I have a few albums like that in my life that like I know all the words to every one of them”. So I wanted to be that familiar with the music by the time we shot the movie and so I had them send it to me and while I was working out, I just listened to it over and over. So some of the songs I really love and some I really f**kin' hate because I've heard them so many times and then I incorporate like sweating on a Stairmaster to like If You Like Pina Coladas. I was like oh dude, I'm gonna blow my brains out. (laughter) but one song that really worked for me was that (sings) "Ooh, child, things are gonna get easier". When I was running and that song came on, it put me at a nine minute mile. So that’s the one.
- Zoe: For me, it's Cherry Bomb 'cause I was such a fan of the Runaways (1980’s all girl band). And right there in the montage when they're finally getting like their courage to do something to save the day and save Xandar, that's just such a great song for them to kind of rev up like revving up the motley crew so I thought it was Cherry Bomb.
- Vin: I loved all the music. I had so much fun with the music. I thought it was such a testament to the movie. This is the closet Marvel will ever get to a musical. It was that much fun for me. I'm singing the music every day so most of the time when I walk into an interview I start singing, "Hooked on a feeling…" The coolest thing was my three year old son watching the movie and we've ever gone to a move together. When “Hooked on a Feeling” comes on, he kinda scoots to the edge of his seat and squints his eyes like this and he starts singing, "Hooked on a feeling, high on believing, that…" And watching him do that just melted my heart. So we listen to the songs at home. I also love Come and Get Your Love.
- Dave: I can’t top that. I don't have a story. I can't sing. I don't have any kids to talk about. My favorite song from the film. I think it's I Want You Back (Jackson 5) or Ain't No Mountain High Enough and I think it's just because where it is in the movie. We finally come together and we're a family and we've all found each other and we survived and we're kinda out to find some other trouble to get into. It's just such a feel good moment and the song just fits perfect for it.
- Benicio: There's a Bowie tune there Moonage Daydream. I like that one, too. James, I think you introduced The Collector with that one.
Q: Zoe, your character Gamora and character Neytiri from Avatar are both bad a**es, but other than that, they're practically opposites. Can you compare or contrast the two and your approach to them?
- Zoe: 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.
- 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. And I wanted her fighting technique to be very, very different. Obviously when you show up and you're sort of like 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 and you sort of 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. I wanted her to be a little more graceful and sleek; very classy in the way that she fights.
Q: Talk more about Gamora’s fighting technique.
- Zoe: I was sort of doing research for Gamora, and one of my husband’s colleagues 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. 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. So when I told that to James, he thought “oh yeah, go for it”.
Q: So was there a lot of fight training Zoe and Chris?
- Zoe: Actually, I stepped down from the training. I've done so many action movies and I was sort of like looking at last summer thinking oh my God, I'm in love and I just wanna chill and go to Italy and eat pasta. And then all of a sudden, James calls and he's like, "Hey, you wanna be in Guardians and be green, work six day weeks, for five hour sessions of makeup and yeah, be an alien again?" And I'm like “ohhh”. So then I did it, but the training process, after I kind of figured out where she was going to be spiritually, there's muscle memory in all of the things that I've done in the past seven or eight years. So I was able to kind of relax with my body and work with the stunt coordinators but not excessively like I've done on other films.
- Chris: She kicked me. (Zoe apologizes) Yeah, she whacked me really good a lotta times. She can knock you out. I guarantee you. She can knock just about anybody out. She got a serious -- you're a real athlete. She's got a very strong kick and she's not even afraid to use it, too. And Michael punched me so hard twice in the movie that I don’t know if it even made the movie.
- Michael: That wasn’t even hard, dude. He was all bruised in that thing.
- Chris: I had Rooker knuckle prints on my ribs. But you know what? It was the best acting I've ever done.
Q: Benicio, 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?
- Benecio: Right. Well, the hair for sure. I had a lot of fun working with Chris and Zoe. What I do remember was like I felt like I could explore the character in every way I would have wanted to and James was very supportive to taking chances and trying different things. And I felt like an animal that grows up in a cage and suddenly you open the door and he comes out and he's tentative to take chances but James would allow me to like go, go, go, go, go. It was a great feeling.
- James: Benicio sat down with me and we were talking about the character. And he goes "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.
Q: For Vin, Dave and Benicio. Vin, you've been part of a very successful franchise. Dave, Benicio, you're coming into a new universe and this is a new universe for you, too, Vin. The Marvel universe. What is the appeal of the Marvel universe and particularly this new offshoot, Guardians of the Galaxy?
- Dave: 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 and fresh and also I looked at it from strictly the standpoint of Drax because once I realized who Drax was and how much of an emotional roller coaster his character would be on, I just kinda fell in love with him.
- Benecio: You know, I've done a lotta movies. You never know. You can do a movie you think is great and then you see it and it doesn't work and this is something that is the opposite. This is a movie that I did, I loved working with everyone, and then the final product was like a great movie that I really enjoyed. I saw myself as the character of Chris, even though I'm The Collector. I think the credit is to everyone involved. I mean all the senses were tapped and I really enjoyed it
- Vin: Yeah, I'm new to Marvel. There just wasn't really a six month window to do a character at Marvel. So when Kevin Feige (producer) called me and said that he and James were talking about me playing a role, I had no idea what role it would be. 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 wanted daddy to play. And they all pointed at the tree and I knew that was a good sign. I had been dealing with death (actor Paul Walker’s death) and then playing a character that celebrates life in the way that Groot celebrates life was great. When my kids see trees, they refer to the trees as “my brothers and sisters”.
- While I was recording the three words day in and day out (Groot only says three words “I am Groot” but his pal Rocket can translate what he really means), James cared so much about every little nuance of the character.
Guardians Of The Galaxy is in theaters August 1st!