/Film Interview: James Gunn Talks 'Guardians Of The Galaxy' Tone, Social Media, Thanos And Nathan Fillion

A lot has changed since I spoke to James Gunn roughly two weeks ago. In that time his new film, Guardians of the Galaxy, has become the one of the hottest topics in popular culture. It's getting so popular, in fact, that Marvel has already greenlit Gunn's next film, Guardians of the Galaxy 2. But two weeks ago, that wasn't a certainty. The writer director was just happy that people, this journalist included, liked the film so much and wanted to talk to him about it.

In our interview, we talked about balancing the films impulses between action, humor and emotion; the fact he's so active on social media and how Marvel feels about that; the introduction of Thanos (Josh Brolin) and some of his friends; Nathan Fillion's cameo; the humor in the movie, and more including the whereabouts of that classic blue Walkman. Read our James Gunn Guardians of the Galaxy interview below.

Note: There are a few minor spoilers here, which I'll make note of.

James Gunn Guardians of the Galaxy Interview

/Film: The beginning is ballsy, because you start off with an emotional scene. Then the credits are kind of crazy, going directly into a big action scene. When you were writing and directing, how much did you think about that sequence in regards to setting the tone and acclimating people within the universe?

James Gunn: It really is about setting up all the elements of the film from the get go. And it's a movie that both takes itself seriously 'cause we love those characters and the emotions are real. And the drama is real. But then it also doesn't take itself seriously and likes to have fun, likes to have a good time and is there to entertain people. And I think you kind of get the extremes of both of those things in the very beginning of the movie. From there it's kind of easier sailing, because by that time, you know, if you bought in by then, then, you know, it's cool.

Yeah. Was Marvel tough with some of the dirtier stuff, such as the Jackson Pollock joke?


It was cool because it was the PG-13 sort of thing?

Listen, I was the hardest of all. I went back in there and took out a few little curse words because I was afraid of parents reacting negatively to it or something. But they were okay with it, you know? And the Jackson Pollock joke in particular is something that if you're a kid, you don't get. So it's a little bit easier.And frankly the Jackson Pollock joke was a joke that wasn't in the initial cuts because I thought it was too much. And we had done a few test screenings and I'm like "God, you know, this joke is so funny. I wanna have it play for one screening."

Yeah, it kills.

And so I put it in for one screening and it got one of the biggest laughs in the movie. And so then we were like 'Oh let's keep it in.'


Now your movie is tasked with really explaining "Infinity Gems" for the first time in a Marvel movie.


Obviously that's important to your movie and it's also important to everything else that's coming.

It is.

We see the Ether, we see Tesseract. Tell me about the development of that scene. 

Well... that was a really difficult scene to develop. And it was difficult because it was, you know, for me as a filmmaker, it was mostly difficult 'cause it's laying a lot of track in the middle of the movie when you wanna keep going. And so it's really, it's the entertainer in me that's going "Oh my God, I gotta explain those fucking Infinity Stones?" You know?


But I think we got it paired down to where you get the basics of it and you kind of know what's happening and yet Benicio isn't prattling on for too long. And also he's such a weirdo, it's so fun to watch that he just kind of says anything and you're kind of like "Oh this is so weird."


All right, in the Collector scene I saw a Dark Elf, I saw a Chitauri.


I heard that's where Howard the Duck is [NOTE: He is, right above the Collector the first time you see him]. Are these things just there because he's a collector? Or are they teases for the future?

Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of stuff in the Collector's Museum. And for me, it was mostly just really fun. As a Marvel fan, giving the actual fans something that they can freeze frame on their Blu-Ray at home and just kind of pick out everything that's in there. So there are, I mean, seriously all those boxes have something interesting in them, so it's pretty fun.

He's not in the cast list and nobody's ever come out and said it [NOTE: Until Comic-Con, that is.] but why the secrecy around Josh Brolin as Thanos? 

Well I don't think it's that secret anymore. It's like, you saw the movie. Thanos is actually modeled on Josh. The character, if you can look at him, he looks like Josh. We motion captured Josh for the dialogue and everything. So it's, I don't know why. There's secrecy around everything Marvel does. Because at the end of the day, you know, people spoil everything. And also, you know what, people make too big of a deal about everything. Like there are things that you hear and people get so overexcited by. Like Nathan Fillion, he's a buddy of mine, right?

Right, yeah.

He comes in, he does a voice for a C.G. character. It's a fun little bit.


And it was really nice of him to do. Well then people pick that up and they're like "Oh my God, he's Richard Rider. Adam Warlock. He's this, he's that." I'm like "No, he's a prisoner that tries to molest Peter Quill for two seconds. It's not that big of a deal." And now you're all worked up on what a big deal it is. And, it's not really that big of a deal. This is my buddy doing me a favor, coming in and doing a fun cameo. It's like when people look through the credits, they're going, "Oh my God, that's Castle!" you know?

Yeah. But, you know, that's funny because you're one of the few filmmakers that can sort of control that because you're so active on social media.


Obviously that's something you like to do, but at the same time, is it something that you have to talk to Marvel about, due to the studio's secretive nature?

I did at the beginning. Like at the very beginning, I kind of shut up about the movie when I first got hired. And didn't say anything for a long time. And then little by little, something would come about and I'd be like "Please let me quench this stupid rumor?" You know, "Please let me say there is no fucking Planet Hulk movie." That's the dumbest fucking thing. There's no fucking Planet Hulk. You know, please let me do that... That's a way for me to get that out there. I'm like, please let me do whatever. And then sometimes they say, "I don't really think so. We'd rather not engage in this type of thing." And then there's other times they're like "Yeah, go ahead."

So they are involved in the conversation.

Initially. Eventually I got to the place where it was like now I kind of know what the conversation is. It's close enough to the movie's release that I'm able to treat it like I'm able to treat an interview where I'm not gonna give away spoilers, but I can answer questions. So now it's a little bit different. And if somebody comes up with some silly stupid thing about somebody being in the movie or this or that or I just cut it off.

Your personality is so infused into the humor and everything in this film. Can you let anybody else do the next movie, write these characters?


They're yours.


Well, I mean, they're Marvel, but I'm saying like do you feel...

They'll do what they want eventually. But like yeah, no, listen I'll have a very hard time letting go of Rocket and Groot. You know, very hard time.

You came through the Troma world. Besides the Lloyd Kaufman cameo, what's the most "Troma" thing about in this movie or about the movie?

I don't know, I mean, Troma taught me a lot about just the practical aspects of making films. So that's something I carry with me everywhere. I don't really think of the movie as having Troma aspects though.

After seeing Slither and Super, we were all excited you were doing this movie, but it also seemed like an insane step up. Was there ever a where this just seemed insurmountable? 

Never. Never. No. It was totally pretty natural to me. Listen, here's the truth, I probably have had more filmmaking experience than any director ever in Marvel. Because I have directed so much stuff. When I was at Troma, I shot constantly. You know, I've made two movies and I was trained by Chuck Roven to direct, you know, big budget movies. Hey. So I think that my training is probably more rounded than anybody else who's ever, you know, worked here.

The trailers have a lot of stuff that you shot just for the trailers and just for Comic-Con. The lineup and the line and the John C. Reilly stuff.

Yes, that we shot for Comic-Con. And there's some other stuff in the trailers that was cut from the movie.

But  you were very conscious of being like we're gonna put this in there to introduce the characters?

When I put the mugshot scenes in, I went to those guys, I'm like "I think this would make a good trailer if we do this." And then they latched onto that and they came to me, so I wrote the dialogue for John C. Reilly to say while he's doing the trailer. You know, for the trailer itself. The a-holes line was something that I came up for the trailer and dumped in the movie, but I actually did for the trailer. So there's sort of a back and forth.

Where is Peter's Walkman now — the real prop — and how many were there?

I don't know how many... there were only like four of them because they could only track down like four full ones with the headsets and everything. So there weren't that many of them. And it's probably in the Marvel warehouse somewhere with everything else 'cause ...

Just in case you need it again.

Yeah. Oh yeah, we'll need it again.

I think so too.

Guardians of the Galaxy is now in theaters.