10 Things We Learned At The 'Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2' Press Junket

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the press junket for Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in West Hollywood. Peter Sciretta and I will be publishing individual interviews with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, writer/director James Gunn, and actors Chris Pratt and Kurt Russell here on the site in the days leading up to the film's release next week. In the meantime, I collected ten pieces of info we gleaned at the junket's two press conferences, which featured key members of the creative team and nearly every major member of the movie's cast.

In addition to the folks mentioned above, Zoe Saldana, Michael Rooker, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillain, Sean Gunn, and Sylvester Stallone were all in attendance. Read on to discover what we learned from the spirited group interviews.

James Gunn Favorite Movies of 2014

1. James Gunn and Kevin Feige Disagreed About One Aspect of the Film

It sounds like Gunn and Feige have a pretty solid working relationship (Gunn is one of the only directors to return to direct a third Marvel feature so far), but there was one mysterious aspect of Vol. 2 that they butted heads about.

Gunn: There's one thing in the movie that I won't bring up – in part because I may be wrong and Kevin was right, and in part because I don't want to embarrass Kevin if I'm right – but there was one thing in the movie we disagreed on. Only one thing in the whole movie, and Kevin let me have my way. And I appreciate it.

Feige: Good luck guessing what it is.

Gunn: It's a very small thing. They'll never guess what it is.

Feige: They're going to think it's some big arc. It's the smallest thing.

Gunn: Yeah, it's a moment in the movie. Besides that, we never disagreed.

Attempting to pinpoint what that moment might be would result in me spoiling something for you, so I'll leave the guessing game for you to hash out in the comments once you've seen the movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

2. Gunn Studied Sequels to See Why They Often Fail

When asked if there was one specific thing he didn't want to mess up when returning for this sequel, Gunn jokingly replied, "The movie!" Explaining his goals for the film, he spoke about how he didn't want to fall prey to the tempting formula many sequels often rely on:

I wanted to continue the film from the first movie. So many sequels are not good, and 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 a different template. So they say, 'Oh, people like the dance off from the first movie, so what's our version of the dance off? People like we are Groot from the first movie, so 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 I didn't want to mess up was 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. [We wanted] to give people something new and something different from what they already had.

I didn't think much of it at the time, but looking back on this moment, it's a good thing there were so many cast members there that they had to split it into two press conferences. Gunn was on one panel, and Sylvester Stallone (who plays Stakar) was on another; if they'd been on the same panel, Stallone may have taken offense to Gunn's comments because Stallone's work on the Rocky franchise is one of the preeminent examples of the type of formulaic filmmaking Gunn railed against.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Rocky movies. But the first three sequels, which Stallone wrote and directed, clearly follow an obvious formula.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Kurt Russell as Ego the Living Planet

3. Yes, the Cast Geeked Out Meeting Kurt Russell

Escape from New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Tombstone...Kurt Russell is legendary. So of course the cast geeked out when they met him for the first time. Pratt explained how they managed to get over the mental hump of working alongside a cinematic icon:

You promise yourself you're not going to do this thing that happens every time you meet someone who's an icon, someone you've known way longer than they've ever known you, and you've seen all their stuff. You have this opportunity from time to time, if you're lucky, to work with someone like a Kurt Russell. You promise yourself you're not going to do the thing where you geek out. But it's a little inauthentic if you don't. Because if you just go in there and you're like, 'Oh, what is it? Kurt? Hey. Nice to meet you. Chris,' and I don't acknowledge the fact that how much I love him and what a fan I am, if you don't get that out of the way, then it feels a little inauthentic. So I think I did that immediately.

It doesn't really take that long for you to tell someone that you really love them, that you really respect their work, and for them to go, 'Yeah, thanks.' And that's it! At that point you move forward and there's this really cool thing, that's probably the one thing I never would have imagined looking for when I first moved to Hollywood, but the greatest part of it, the biggest secret, is you become somebody's friend and somebody's peer, rather than a fan. And that's really nice. I think Kurt and I have become friends. We connected on a lot of things outside of just the movie. And I have his cell phone number, and I'll give it to each and every one of you.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 tv spot

4. There Was a Statue of Baby Groot on Set

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes place a few months after the events of the first movie, which ended with Groot sacrificing himself for his friends and slowly regenerating as a tiny twig. Groot is more mobile now, but he's tiny, and Gunn explained what it was like on set working with what would eventually become a completely digital character:

We had a statue of little Groot. So we had a nice maquette made. He was designed beforehand and we had him around. There were great times on set, when we'd have this adorable little statue standing there, and we'd have a scene and all this stuff would be going on, and these guys would be acting their butts off and really putting their hearts and souls into it. And Chris would look over at that little guy and go, 'Damn it, he's going to steal the whole thing!' And I'd be like, 'Let's get a shot over here because I think Groot's going to be trying to get a bug while this scene is happening.' And he's like, 'Really? Groot's going to be trying to get a bug while I'm crying about my father? You're a dick!'

Sean Gunn Guardians of the Galaxy

5. Sean Gunn Plays Two Roles in the Movie

Sean Gunn, James's brother, reprises his role as a Ravager named Kraglin in this film and has a much beefier part this time around. He's great in the movie, but fans might never see some of his best work: that's because he stands in as Rocket Raccoon on set and serves as a visual aid for the animators. Sean explained what it was like playing two characters in the same film, and sometimes even in the same scene:

Sean Gunn: It's interesting. I play two roles in the movie. When you act there's both the input and the output. The input is the work you put into it, the work you do on set, and the output is what you see on screen. For me, the input is very similar for both characters, but the output is totally different because it takes a whole team of people to make Rocket, and I'm just a member of that team. It's interesting in this movie because Rocket and Kraglin have a few scenes that they're in together. So juggling the two things was a very strange and challenging experience for me, but I love it. I love both characters and I'm really grateful to be a part of it.

Zoe Saldana: I don't think that people really understand that what Sean does just for the movie – the references, the intonation. He's so limber as well, so he manages to shrink and curl up and be this big, so he's always Rocket-sized. And he gives us all the passion and all the dynamic that we need to have from Rocket because Rocket is the sassiest character of the Guardians. I don't think we would be able to respond to Rocket...the same way if Sean wasn't playing him. And I know that Sean serves as the perfect reference for Bradley [Cooper]. Because I know for a fact that whatever you leave there behind for Bradley, it's just what he needs to catch up on everything he's missed when we've spent those four months shooting. James Gunn and I were talking about that last night. The voice of Rocket in this second movie, it's not that it's improved because it was wonderful in the beginning because you leave it there for everybody to pick up. I'm not saying that Bradley picks it up, but Bradley really has the perfect reference and then he paves over it as an actor and adds his nuances and everything. Still, Rocket is really composed of two very important people, and Sean is the "mainest" ingredient, and I just made that word up.

Kevin Feige: It's not just for Bradley, it's for the animators who are putting Rocket together. I can't tell you how many times in visual effects reviews, James will say, 'Go back to the plate,' which means the original portion of photography with Sean, to get even little mannerisms in his eyes and his mouth. I'm happy to talk about how great Sean Gunn is all day long. And in this movie, Kraglin obviously does a lot more, and there are a few moments when Kraglin brings the emotion and really puts it over the top for me as I watch it. Although nobody else on this couch is allowed to talk about it, Rocket has encountered other Marvel characters, and I will tell you, all the actors have had an amazing time with Sean as he brings Rocket to life and they get to start acting off him. It's really impressive.

Gamora Nebula Guardians of the Galaxy

6. Nebula and Gamora’s Relationship is a Highlight

In the new movie, we learn a lot more about the relationship between Gamora and Nebula — specifically, why Nebula is so pissed off at Gamora all the time. Deepening that relationship is one of the film's strongest subplots, and as you might expect, there was a considerable amount of discussion devoted to the strong female characters on the panel:

Feige: There are lots and lots of great female characters in the comics that we want to bring to life on screen, and it was very important to James to include these characters – and more than just include them, but give them their own storyline and have it be more than just their ability to fight or romance with a male character. That's why I think Nebula and Gamora are a high point of the movie, and that relationship is one of the biggest and best arcs in the whole movie, that sister relationship.

Saldana: I think what I loved the most, and it may sound selfish, but, definitely the relationship between Gamora and Nebula. I'm one of three sisters. I've been itching and yearning to see more of a female presence in action films, because I love action films and I'm not that deep. I love watching The Equalizer and I'll watch that 50 times over any kind of dramatic piece. So to have a film with three female characters that are adding such unique qualities to the film and they are very relevant and their relationships are explored deeply, I was appreciative and super excited.

Karen Gillan: Zoe literally teaches me how to fight while we're doing it. She'll be like, 'Turn your head like that, straddle someone like that, and you're going to look cool.' And I'm like, 'Yes! Thank you!'

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Clip

7. Zoe Saldana Wants to Star in a Dune Movie

At one point during the junket, Saldana mentioned that she's been a part of three different major sci-fi film franchises. When asked if there was another she'd like to join, she thought for a second and said:

Dune. I was Lady Jessica every other Halloween. When I wasn't a Bene Gesserit, I was a ninja. So I would love to be in Dune. And I heard that Denis Villeneuve is thinking about revisiting it, and I hope he decides to do it. I am one of those people that [thinks] David Lynch did a great job, but I was six when I saw Dune. (laughs) It would be Dune.

Mr. Villeneuve, it sounds like you know who to get on the line when casting begins.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Baby Groot

8. Gunn Plays the Film’s Music on the Set

Music is obviously a key part of the Guardians movies, and some of you may already know that Gunn chooses the songs for the soundtrack before filming begins and actually has the actors listen to them while they're acting on set. Kevin Feige elaborated on that:

He does that not just with songs, but also with Tyler Bates' score. So a year before we started filming, James was sharing the story and the script with Tyler Bates, and Tyler starts writing the score suites. There were a couple of really moving pieces in the movie that he did before so he could play it on set, which, no other film that I am a part of does that.

Gunn himself took to Facebook on Friday night to share more about the topic.

kurt russell in guardians of the galaxy vol 2 as ego

9. Kurt Russell’s Makeup Guy Deserves a Raise

For this one, I'm going to have to spoil a tiny aspect of the film that you literally see in the first shot. It's not a big deal, but if you're looking to go into the movie completely fresh, maybe just move to the final entry on the list.

Last warning: minor spoilers ahead.

Everyone knows Kurt Russell's Ego is Peter Quill's father, but this film opens with a flashback of a digitally de-aged Russell hanging out with Quill's mother. To my eye, the effect was slightly more impressive than Marvel's previous attempts to pull off the same kind of thing with Tony Stark in Civil War and Hank Pym in Ant-Man, and to hear Russell tell it, a big reason for that is because of his personal makeup guy.

Dennis Liddiard's been my makeup man for 28 movies. Before we went in there, we assumed it was going to be all CGI. He said to James and the photographer, 'Hey, I can young this guy down. I've got some tricks in my bad. Would that be helpful?' And they said, 'Yeah, as much as you can, that'd be great.' I was speaking to the gal last night who does the CGI, and she said, 'What do you think about what we did?' And I said, 'I thought it was great, but I understand you didn't do a whole lot.' And she said, 'No, we didn't. We touched it up here and there, but he did a fantastic job.' He does have a lot of tricks, not just cosmetics. There's a lot that goes into that, actually. It's not just what you think. Without giving away things, because I hate giving away tricks, you have to create an impression, not an image. There's stuff that goes into that. You want him to look certain places but not look other places. And then when you've got the help of modern-day abilities with technology, I think it's a much more natural look.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Super Bowl spot

10. Dave Bautista Lost His Voice Doing Drax’s Laugh

In Vol. 2, Bautista's Drax moves from a damaged, vengeful literalist to pure comic relief. It's a significant shift for the character, and wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista was totally up for the challenge. Everyone I've talked to who's seen the movie loves Drax in it. As you've seen in the trailers, Drax's huge laugh factors into the movie a couple of times, and when asked if his real laugh sounds anything like Drax's, Bautista revealed that he actually laughed so loud on set that he lost his voice.

It's nothing like [mine] at all. Everybody knows that I'm a very understated person. I'm a little soft-spoken. But James is very big on Drax being larger than life and projecting, he's constantly telling me to project...the laugh came about just as a complete accident. I was laughing, and he said, 'Can you do it louder?' and the louder I started laughing, the louder I could hear him laughing. He was doing it to amuse himself and he just wanted the bigger, louder laugh, so I just kept getting it bigger and bigger until I lost my voice.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits theaters this Friday, May 5, 2017.