Guardians of the Galaxy: James Gunn on Rocket and the Nova Corps.
It sure seemed like Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be a huge gamble for Marvel Studios: it’s a big budget adaptation of a comic book mainstream audiences have never heard of, with untested stars and a filmmaker who had never directed a movie that made more $13 million before. But Marvel Studios had faith in the material, and they had faith in director James Gunn, who wrote the screenplay with Nicole Perlman. He joins us for a very conversational interview about casting Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon, the deleted scenes of the Nova Corps., mix tapes, test screenings and how Michael Rooker’s character Yondu saved the screenplay.
[Editor’s Note: The previous version of this article mistakenly failed to credit Nicole Perlman as James Gunn’s co-writer on Guardians of the Galaxy. We apologize for the error.]
Guardians of the Galaxy, the film CraveOnline calls “one of Marvel’s best movies,” opens in theaters this week.
CraveOnline: Congratulations on this movie.
James Gunn: Thanks man. Thank you.
It’s really good.
I’m a little relieved this morning that it’s good.
Was I in the first audience who’d seen it or had you screened it somewhere…?
No, I’ve screened it a lot. It screens really well, you know, but listen. You’d never believe it. The highest scoring movie I ever worked on was Scooby Doo 2, which scored 95% with the audience, and I’m like, “Oh! We made a great movie! Everybody’s going to love this movie!” And then it comes out and it’s like 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I’m like, “There’s a disconnect on that.” I’ve heard a lot of stories like that. So you can’t… I don’t know what it is, you know? And it wasn’t like it was just the critics, it was the people!
It’s targeting as well. When they invite people to those screenings they say, “Do you want to see [blank]?”
I heard a story about how Se7en got really terrible advance screening reviews. People said it was terrible. But they said, “Do you want to see a film from the stars of Legends of the Fall and The Shawshank Redemption?”
And you see Se7en, and that’s totally not what movie this was.
We did the same when we did Slither. We said, the first time we screened it we said, do you like whatever horror movies there were. You know, it was like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, blah-blah-blah, and people came in and it scored… I mean, it scored fine but it was like not that high. Next time we said, “Do you like Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead II?”
It scored 15 points higher, just through the expectations of what people had going into the theater. But with this movie, the thing about the screening process at Marvel is it’s all basically in-house people. It’s all people from Disney and people connected to Disney…
And never me, which hurts my feelings.
[Laughs.] It’s actually a harsher audience. They tend to score lower, but we were scoring really high.
It’s also people who know what they’re talking about. When you test screen for general audiences, they may be like “I don’t like this scene,” but they may not know WHY it didn’t work. Here they can give you specific examples, like the scene didn’t work because you didn’t establish something earlier, or…
Well, the other thing is we never tested the movie with the finished visual effects. We tested it, like, Rocket’s a sock puppet, you know?
I want to see that cut!
Literally… my brother played Rocket on the set, so we had my brother in a green suit saying all the lines.
Was he bummed when you cast Bradley Cooper?
No, he was happy about Bradley Cooper because he likes Bradley Cooper, so… They were very, like, Bradley was great about Sean [Gunn]. If there was a line that Sean delivered perfectly, Bradley was like, “Well, do you want me to say it like that?” And I was like, “Yeah.” So Bradley’s a great guy to work with because he has very little go. He really is a hundred percent about making it the best possible.
He doesn’t sound like Bradley Cooper. I mean, he’s not “not” Bradley Cooper, but he doesn’t sound like Bradley Cooper just being a raccoon. He gave a performance.
Yeah, he’s a character. He’s a character. We worked hard on what his voice was going to be like. I remember one of the first screenings we showed to some of the people on the business end of things and they walked out of the screening and they said, “We paid all that money for Bradley Cooper and he doesn’t sound anything like Bradley Cooper!” And I’m like, “That’s the point, man! He’s Rocket Raccoon, he’s not supposed to be Bradley Cooper!”
They expected Bradley Cooper in a raccoon mask? Teen Wolf style?
“What if we put Bradley’s head on the raccoon’s body? Then we’d get full value!”
That would be awesome.
I was watching this and it occurred to me that the first act must have been really hard to write.
It’s the worst.
It’s really tough.
It’s the worst!
You’ve got get everyone together, you’ve got to get all this exposition out there about Xandar and The Kree…
You’re saying a bunch of gobbledygook about this planet and that planet, you know?
How many drafts did you go through of just the first act? Because seriously, holy crap.
Well, the whole script… I just continually rewrite the whole script, but the script was surprisingly, like… I did the first draft, which was pretty good. I was surprisingly inspired when I wrote the screenplay, so it was really good. I felt it was…
You’re one of those writers.
It was the greatest screenplay ever written!
I’m always afraid, like… with directing I feel like I can direct from a logical place. I can figure my way through it and it’s not dependent on the muse. With writing I’m dependent on the muse. It’s a much different creature to me. So like, when I wrote the screenplay I’m like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to write this screenplay,” and then I wrote it and I’m like, “Oh, I like it! I mean, I really like it.” And so I was happy, and then… but Yondu wasn’t in that draft, and it was a totally different ending and the third act was a fucking mess. So did way more work on the third act than I did on the first act, and then I rewrote the third act a lot, and then I added Yondu and he added a lot to make it…
So it wasn’t like another character was filling Yondu’s role, that whole character wasn’t in there?
There was another character filling Yondu’s role in a way.
Was it Starhawk or something?
No, nothing like that whatsoever. I don’t want to go into it because it has too much to do with something that might happen in future movies. But I think we were trying to make two movies in one, and it was more complicated and so Yondu actually helped us to simplify it, to have it end in an earlier spot in the story.
What made you want to make that character Yondu? Because that’s not really “Yondu,” you could have made him anyone.
You know, one of the things is I love… and I think that there’s Marvel fans that really appreciate this and Marvel fans that probably don’t like this, but if I’ve got a character that can probably be anybody, I’m like, let’s make him somebody from the comic books.
I’m with you on that.
Like Bereet, she’s a character from the comics. Kraglin, my brother’s character, he’s a character from the comics. Let’s find some little guy, something for the fans to compare things to. I always liked reading Ultimate comics after reading Marvel comics, and the characters all change but it’s like an alternate universe of the 616 universe, you know? So for me, I always liked Yondu. I wrote the role specifically for Rooker…
Of course you did.
…and I love Yondu’s super power.
It’s really cool, actually.
His super power is the coolest, most unique super power there possibly is. Now, there’s no reason for the bow he has. Why does he need the bow if he whistles and the thing goes, but I love the idea of his superpower so really, I think it really was the superpower that put him over the top and made me choose him.
Tell me about your treatment of the Nova Corps., because they’re a little different in the movie, and I’m wondering if this precludes a Nova movie.
No, it doesn’t preclude a Nova movie. It’s frankly not something I’m planning on right now, but yeah, we had to service the story and so there were changes made.
To make them more like just cops?
Well, they’re an international military force. I think there’s a lot more depth to the Nova Corps. that people don’t know, and there’s some things that make them more like Nova in the comics that people just don’t know about them yet, like the Nova Force. And there’s stuff frankly we cut from the movie because there was too much Nova stuff at the end of the film.
Yeah, that scene with Peter Serafinowicz and Glenn Close and John C. Reilly was much longer, and there was more… There was a lot more, actually.
I can’t think of that scene without thinking of Chris Pratt yelling, “He got my dick message!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah!
That’s my favorite line in the movie.
Is it really?!
It’s such a throwaway! But he’s so excited about the dick message, it made me so happy.
I just wanted to tell you that the mix tape idea makes the movie.
That’s the center of the movie.
It really is, because it keeps the Mom going as a character…
My question for you is, what is the best or most important mix tape you ever received?
Um… Wow, you know, I remember… [Laughs.] You know, I… I had…
You know I can’t check up on your answer, right?
I know, I know, I know, but I’m trying to be honest. You know, I’ve had a lot of mix tapes from girlfriends and I think those are the ones I remember the most, just because when a girl makes you a mix tape you know that means they’re thinking you, and to take up the time thinking about you they make you a mix tape. And also, what the songs on there, you take them to mean something. That’s really important. And then I’ve made girls mix tapes too. I’ve got to do that again. That’s a good move.
You have to make to make the actual tape though, that’s the trick.
Yeah, that’s the trick!
Anyone can burn it off iTunes.
Well, you know, even that. People love that.
Is there a song that’s been ruined for you because it’s on a mix tape? Because I have those.
You mean from listening to it too many times?
Or that girlfriend broke up with me and now that mix tape is ruined.
I do. I have a whole mix tape, a CD in my car, an ex-girlfriend made me. And I loved it but we had a bad breakup – I shouldn’t even tell you about this – but we had a bad breakup and now I’m like, “Oh, I fucking love those songs,” but now every time I hear those songs…