Posted on Monday, February 6th, 2017 by Peter Sciretta
In April 2016, I traveled to Atlanta to visit the set of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While on set, a group of journalists including myself, sat down with writer/director James Gunn to talk about the highly anticipated Marvel sequel.
During the conversation, Gunn tries to clear up Kurt Russell‘s role in the film which they were being very vague about during our visit, talks about the 64-page treatment he wrote for the film and how that is different from the shooting draft, Nebula and Gamora’s relationship, shooting scenes in full screen IMAX, explaining Mantis’ role in this story, having no plan-B for Ego, his choice of songs for Awesome Mix Tape #2, the idea to feature Baby Groot in the movie instead of a fully regrown Groot, more information about the film’s villain Ayesha and her alien race.
Gunn also talks about his easter egg obsession, the evolution of Rocket and Groot’s relationship, why Quill was able to hold an Infinity Stone, pushing the weirdness to a new level, the creative freedom at Marvel, the possibility of doing another Guardians movie, the decision to set this film only a couple months after the events of the first film, Mantis’ relationship with Ego and the Guardians crew, the family theme at the core of the movie, the end credit tags, the trap of sequels and predicting the biggest surprise of this film. All this and more, in our roundtable James Gunn interview which you can read after the jump.
I hate to put you on the spot, immediately, right-away but let’s just get this out of the way, after we had done some stuff and seen some stuff today we went back and where looking around you had said on Twitter that there is no J-Son in the MCU. So when this eventually comes out and Kurt’s character’s revealed, how do we reconcile where that is?
James Gunn: I say the same thing, there is no J-son in the MCU. Think we aren’t prepared for you guys? Think anything we did today is real? We hate each other. There is no J-Son in the MCU.
So how does that statement reconcile with what we think we know?
It’s what you think. I mean, I’ll just come out and say it, there’s no J-Son in the MCU. That’s for you.
It’s like you said, that concept art is changing. But it was less the concept art but Kurt’s on-set chair…
Oh yeah, I call him J-Son all the time. That’s what we do. But I also want to make clear, he isn’t J-Son. He isn’t named J-Son in the movie. That’s just flat out the case. But here’s the thing, we’ll probably all know who the father is by the time this movie comes out, we meaning you guys, because the movie really isn’t about that. It’s not about this big reveal of who the father is. It really is about the story between the different characters, and so it’s not about that reveal. It’s not about there’s this big shock moment. We’re probably all going to know by the time the movie comes out. It happens pretty close to the beginning of the film. It’s not something we reveal at the end of the film. So it’s something that’ll come out eventually. I think it’s just we want to choose the time when that comes out. And hopefully we’ll be able to do that.
We were talking with Kevin Feige earlier today and he mentioned that you came in there with a 64 page treatment, something in that range. How much has the script evolved since-
I’ll say one major thing that happened during the treatment phase, not even during the script phase, during the treatment phase, there was another character that was a major character. That was a part of the treatment. Although it kind of worked generally in the story, I got to the place where there were to many characters. I think Civil War handles a lot of characters really well, but they’re minor characters, and in this movie every character has their own arc. Their own thing. And I thought it was one character too many, so I took one of the characters out of the story about half way through the treatment phase. But the eventual 70 page treatment, which is what it was, is what this movie is, and it has changed very, very little. And there’s been almost no changes in the past three or four months before shooting; minor, minor lines here and there. We did rehearsals and some things I changed because of that. Now who knows, we may get into post and go “oh my God, let’s change everything,” I hope that isn’t the case, but I’ve been really fortunate.
And part of it is because I knew on the last movie we did do a lot of changes later on. We did some changes in production. We did some changes in post-production, and I knew this time I was really fortunate to have such a headstart on the script. And to make that story really strong so we could have that from the beginning. And so that was something I focused on, was really dialing in the screenplay, the dialogue, everything before we ever even came here to Atlanta.
It sounds like a big part of Nebula and Gamora’s arc is dealing with the residual trauma of being raised by Thanos. So why not have Thanos in the movie?
First of all, it’s about two sisters. It’s not about the sisters and their father. It’s about two sisters and what were the sisters’ problems with each other. And yeah, some of those things were caused by being raised by the ultimate abusive father. But it really isn’t about Thanos, and frankly I just wasn’t inspired to put him in the movie. I kind of go with my gut on these things and it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. It wasn’t the most fun part of the movie last time for me, and I just didn’t really want to do it this time. And again the relationship with Thanos has nothing to do with it. It’s not about their relationship with Thanos. It’s about their relationship to each other, and what is that. And that was interesting to me. And I thought that was important to our story, and that was important to our characters. What happened with them in the past. There’s a lot of stuff that happened in the past that affects our characters presently. Same thing with Rocket. Rocket’s past is very important to the present story, but it’s not about how it affects him, it’s about how it affects his relationship with the other Guardians.
Are there any new tech, or tools you’re using on this film?
The rig we’re using is much different. The … fuck, what’s it called Johnny?
Johnny: Well, it’s RED Camera-
Well the RED, of course, but really one of the main reasons we’re using the RED WEAPON is because it’s a smaller sized camera that can fit into the rig, and the rig is hand-held and a dolly together. It’s like an advanced steady cam. That allows you more stabilization.
You doing any IMAX scenes?
Yeah, we’re switching aspect ratios just like did on the first movie. This time it’s a little more planned out ahead of time, but we switch between 2:35 and 1:89 aspect ratios.
What was the inspiration at the beginning. When you first sat down say I have to write the second movie. What you wanted it to be about.
Well, the first film is about becoming a family, the second film is about being a family. But I also think I had more science fiction concept around Quill and his relationship to his father, that’s a little bit of a bigger idea, and I think knew where the characters needed to go and I felt extremely freed by not having to set up so many major characters in 20 minutes. Like I did in the first movie, which was by far the biggest pain in the ass
Not only have you never done a sequel before, but it feels like most of your movies and projects have been departures from each other. So you’re following up a movie, it’s your first sequel. Do you feel like you’re doing another departure? Is this a departure from the first film? Is it the same thing?
I think it’s a departure from the first film. I think one of the things that worked about the first movie was that people went into the movie expecting one thing and they got something that they like more than what they expected. And it was different then what they expected, and I think the second movie is the same thing. I don’t think it’s going to be what anyone expects.
In terms of the new characters, there was an arsenal you could have chose from, and there was obviously a lot of fan opinions about who they wanted to see join the movie. How did you land on Mantis and these new characters?
Shit, I don’t know. I really wish I could remember how I landed on Mantis, but I just felt like she served this aspect of the story the best. I can’t remember.
Mantis is really complicated in the comics. There’s a lot of different versions of her, and she’s done a lot of different things. Is your version a clean slate? Is it your version of Mantis, or are there other elements of the comics?
Both. It’s both. It’s my version, there’s elements of the comics as well. I think that, frankly, some of these characters that do have the various pasts, and various different origins are a little bit easier in Guardians movies, because they don’t come with as much expectations. I think adding alien elements to some of these characters a little easier. From the beginning I say, for the time being, Quill is the only Earthling superhero, member of the Guardians. So, that was part of what I had I in mind with her, and that’s probably part of why I landed on her as well.
Kurt mentioned that he’s never had so many people that he has to take a role as he had with this, and it just seemed to be fate willing this to happen. Was there ever a Plan B, in your mind “it’s gotta be Kurt,” and we’ve got to try and find a way to make it work because he’s just perfect.
He was perfect, but I felt like the script was good and if Kurt Russell said no we would have found somebody else, I would hope. So, I never want to say there’s no Plan B, because that would just be a lie. There’s a lot of great actors out there. There’s a lot of great sixty-ish old actors out there. So yeah, I think we would found another. One of the great things about doing this one was we’re under pressure to have a name actor in that role, and we actually auditioned a lot of no-name actors for the role. So, that was pretty cool. And with Pom, she came in and she had done some things before, but she doesn’t have a huge track record, but she came in and she nailed, just completely, completely nailed the role. In a way, that honestly, nobody else has ever done for this movie. On either this or Guardians One, and that’s pretty incredible.
Can you talk about the music, and choosing the songs, and what inspired your choices?
I think that the soundtrack is an evolution from the soundtrack to the first movie. I think the first movie was made for a child that was a couple years younger than the child that this music was made for. So it’s slightly more complex songs. I also think that we have a wider variety of songs. You guys heard, probably, one of the songs today. We have a couple of songs that are enormous songs, which we didn’t have on the first movie. We also have a couple songs that are almost completely unknown, or not very well known at all. So there’s a bigger gamut between the popular and unpopular songs on the second album.
We all met, and fell in love with baby Groot today. Was there any consideration of ever having him be more full grown in this movie?
Totally, a hundred percent. I started out thinking of him as full grown, and I didn’t, you know, of having him grow up. Then all of a sudden I thought, that’s what you would think you would do, really, and I’m like really don’t have to stick with that. It could be baby Groot, and baby Groot is very different. He’s a unique little fella, and he’s pretty great in the movie even though he’s not even there. But all the time Chris is like “God dammit, he’s gonna steal the fucking movie.” And it’s nothing. It’s nothing there, but he’s funny even in the dailies we’re watching. And we got the guy on a stick, and people are laughing. There’s something really cool about him, and he’s funny in the movie. He’s a little jerk too.
He’s strong, right? He can kick some ass too?
Yeah he can kick some ass. He’s also an idiot. He’s a baby. He’s not very smart. So, he’s stupid.
What’s easier to shoot with baby Groot or the Groot you were working with last time?
Quite honestly, I’d say baby Groot, but the reason for that is unknown. A lot of times on the first movie we were like “are we even putting Groot in this movie?” Because Shawn plays rocket on set, and he’s so present as Rocket that you’re very aware of Rocket as a character. The guy playing Groot was a stand-in on the last movie and so he was there we just kind of always forgot he was there. He doesn’t talk very much, so you’re doing all these scenes and when we have the scenes in the movie where they turn to Groot and Groot’s like “why are you forgetting me?” That’s really what we felt like while we were shooting the first film. And I think also, the whole personality of Groot and who he was, it was there on the page and then you forget about it while you were shooting the first movie. But now everyone knows Groot so well that we have much larger awareness, me and the cast, of a baby Groot being there at all times. And him being one of the members in the scene. So it’s been much easier from that respect, but I’m not sure if it’s because baby Groot is- I’ll say, yeah, I think he’s a better written character then the first Groot in some ways. Not that he was poorly written at all, but I think he’s just more complete character.