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James Gunn and Kevin Feige: The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Interview

Thank you to Disney and Marvel Studios for hosting me during the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Event.

Louise Bishop |

Kevin Feige and I go way back, but this was my first opportunity to chat with James Gunn. It was pretty clear they were both pretty excited Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2…and Vol. 3 for that matter. They were also excited for our interview. James said we were always his favorite part of press day. Since everyone was in a great mood, it seemed like as good opportunity to get a hot scoop…

(Spoilers are hidden. Highlight any missing words of passages to view.)

When will we see Adam?

James: Well, in the future. In the future. Yeah.

Well, I tried…

What was the process like creating Awesome Mix Vol. 2?

James: I have a list of about 500 songs, which I think of as, like, Guardians-type songs that Meredith Quill might really love. And when I’m going through and I’m writing the script, I put the songs into the script where they seem to fit. And sometimes I don’t have a song that seems right on that list, and so I have to go out and search, and listen to a bunch of stuff, and see what I like, you know? But eventually it’s all basically baked into the organic story of what’s happening in a movie, in the same way you put sugar in a cake. But there was one song that came from-do you know this?-from Twitter.
Kevin: Which?
James: Wham Bam.
Kevin: Oh, yes.
James: I had never heard that song.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
James: I mean, there’s nothing I get more tweets about than “you oughta put this song in Guardians of the Galaxy.” Those are the nice ones. The mean ones were, “If you don’t put this song in Guardian of the Galaxy, I’ll never talk to you again.” I’m like, “Okay, don’t talk to me.” But they’re always songs that I know really well, ’cause I’ve studied my Seventies music, especially since starting on this series, and somebody sent this song by this band called Silver, called “Wham Bam.” And I’m like, “I’ve never…what is that song?” And I went and I played it, and I’m like, “This is a really cool total Seventies pop song that is so different.” And then I was like, “Is this a fake song?” I thought it was a modern band with a retro vibe.
Kevin: Right, right.
James: Had to go and do some research on it, and found out that it really existed, and then I put it in the movie. So, I wish I knew who that Twitter person was, and maybe…
Kevin: Somebody could find it. That’s a fun idea.
James: Yeah.
Kevin: What’s so amazing, and it was like this on the first one, and held to it on the second one, a lot of screenwriters put song suggestions into their scripts, and almost none of those songs end up in the actual movie. And when James did that, I think even maybe on an outline in the first movie, and…
James: I did, in the outline, yeah.
Kevin: And certainly in an outline on the second movie. On the first one, it was like, “Oh, that’s cute. He thinks these songs are gonna be in the movie. We’ll see.” Every single song. It’s not just the movie, but what’s perfect for the movie. And then on part two, I knew better. So, I would listen to the song as I’m reading the outline, and then later, the script. And that sort of pool of songs that he has comes in handy. There’s a Guardians of the Galaxy theme park ride that is opening soon at California Adventure that features songs that James suggested as well, and a few other places coming up in the future.
James: That’s a hot scoop.
Kevin: I guess it is.
James: That is a hot scoop, yeah, yeah.
Kevin: There’ll be songs in the Guardians ride.
James: Yeah. Chosen by us.
I remember when we did our very first test screening. Because we had written all of the songs into the movie, and they were all in there, and then all of a sudden, one of the first comments was, “The music is great.” And I remember you going, “Oh. Thank God, thank God.”
Kevin: Because the whole movie was built around it.
James: Was built around the songs.
Kevin: Yeah.
James: And it’s like, if people said, “The music is weird, we hate it,” then that would have been big trouble.
Kevin: That would have been, yeah. Big trouble.
James: Would have been like saying, “Take out all the jokes. Take out the raccoon. We love it all but the stupid raccoon.”
Kevin: Right, exactly. Exactly.
James: That’s the other thing I remember is that I probably gave you the music with the treatments.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah.
James: So, I write a very in-depth treatment. It ends up being about 70 pages long. That number’s a little bit high because I put a bunch of photographs in there, of sort of, you know, things that make us know what the feel of things are. But it’s more like a 55-page draft. But it goes very much into depth, in the dialogue, every beat of the story, what’s happening. I like to do that first. But with that,  I have a disk that I give to the four, five people that read that treatment, and that disk has all of the songs on it that are in the movie.

What can we expect from Chris and Zoe’s relationship?

Kevin: Chris and Zoe’s relationship?

Oops, Star-Lord and Gamora.

James: I was gonna say, I do not see that happening. If that’s going on behind my back for the past five years, I would be really surprised. Rooker and Pratt? Maybe. A little more believable. Pom and Karen? Maybe.

Can we expect Star-Lord and Gamora to become a couple?

James: At the end of the movie we have a moment between the two of them, where I think something is acknowledged. And Zoe and I actually talked about this for a long time last night at the premiere, at the party after the premiere, and there was a time when we had a lot of discussion and talked about having a kiss in the movie. But it seemed to be…we tried to treat these characters with such respect and such love, and I don’t think that Gamora is a character who would be swept up in the moment by passion, and if she was, I think she would have to deal with the ramifications of that. I don’t think she would be easy on herself about it. And so I think at the end what we see between the two of them is such a truer love story. Where she loves him, and he loves her, and she acknowledges that at the end of the movie, but that’s a love that’s based not only on attraction but on a really deep friendship that the two of them have.
A partnership that we see at the beginning of the movie, that they’ve changed a great deal. At the beginning of the movie they’re great friends. She’s a great support to him when he’s making this decision, and he respects and loves her. And so I think seeing that emotional part of their relationship is a culmination of what their relationship is in the movie, is more powerful than seeing a kiss that is romantic and would make us feel happy and feel good, but wouldn’t be as true.
Kevin: It’s the difference between a truthful, emotional moment, and a Hollywood moment, and that was very savvy of James to navigate that.

©Marvel Studios 2017

What was the process like working the Guardians of the Galaxy into Infinity Wars?

Kevin: As with all of the connectivity between our characters on various films, you have to be careful about it. We never want it to just seem like characters are popping their heads out of windows and saying “Hello” and then going back in.
James: It’s a whole movie of Stan Lee cameos.
Kevin: Exactly. Believe me, it’d be easier to do it that way, but it wouldn’t be as satisfying. So a big role, a small role, regardless of the actual screen time that any single character has, and I think you’ve seen this in the Avengers films, and in Civil War last year, it’ll be very meaningful and very important to the story that we’re telling. And that film’s shooting right now and we’ve already shot a lot of those interactions, and they’re very…it’s very exciting. It’s very exciting.

Is there any chance we’ll get future films or storylines featuring the Ravagers introduced in Vol. 2?

James: Absolutely, I’m excited about those guys. I love those guys. They’re based on the original Guardians in the comic books. It’s based on Stakar and Charlie-27 and Aleta and an earlier iteration of the Guardians, as Yondu is. And that is something that we shot in post, because I woke up one morning, and I was like, “Oh my God. This could be so fun. What if we made an even weirder, more screwy, more dysfunctional Guardians?” And I went to Kevin, and I’m like, “Can we please do this?” And Kevin was like, “I love it! It’s my favorite thing ever.” And so we went out and we shot it with Sly and the gang. And Michelle Yeoh, who I’m a big fan of, because I’m a big fan of old, nineties Hong Kong movies, and she also happens to be a great person. And Ving Rhames, who I knew from the Dawn of the Dead movie I did a long time ago. So it was something I’m excited to possibly pursue. Whether or not that’s something [where] they’re small roles, or we see them pop up in the way we see Howard the Duck pop up again in this movie. Or whether it’s something where we sign Sly to a ten-picture deal and we do…
Kevin: 12.
James: 12 movies… a solo Mainframe movie…
Kevin: Right.
James: Yeah, so, who knows?
Kevin: Who is the voice of Mainframe?
James: Miley Cyrus. A scoop. That’s a real hot scoop. You guys, yeah. Miley Cyrus has a cameo in the movie.
Kevin: Mainframe’s the talking metal head at the end.
James: I’m a hundred percent serious. I was watching The Voice, and I’m like, “She’s so likeable.” And her voice is awesome. I’m like, “She’s got the best voice.” And then I wrote this thing and I went in and I said, “Kevin, what do you think about casting Miley Cyrus as the voice of Mainframe?” And he was like, “Well, I’ll see if we can get her.”
Kevin: Yep.
James: And then I got her to do it.
Kevin: Yep.

Did James’ parents appear in the film?

James: Yes. My parents. Well, you know. In that scene, my parents are in it. My brother. My brother’s wife. My my two nephews and my niece are all in that scene. Yeah, so, you know, I kill a lot of my family members. It’s not quite “aww.” It’s more like, you know, “grr.” No, yeah. That’s my parents. That’s my dad, they’re credited in the credits as “weird old man” and “weird old man’s mistress.” Which my mom loved. My mom loved it.
Kevin: I saw you pointing that out.
James: Yeah, my mom loves being the mistress.
I think the first movie really is about a relationship from a mother to her son, and the second movie is about a relationship from a father to a son. It just may not be the father that we expect it to be. And they’re all very imperfect characters, but, you know, my parents loved me. My parents would be the first to admit it was not the easiest upbringing, but they loved me. And I think at the end of the day, that’s what’s most important, and I think that’s the point of the movie. I think these characters love each other, and as hard as it is for them to express it to each other, and even more so with a character like Rocket, who has almost an impossible time taking it in at all, that’s what the movie is about.

How will the Zune impact Vol. 3 and will the music move in more of an 80s-90s direction?

James: Well, it’s not about becoming Eighties-Nineties. I think we’ll have to wait and see exactly what the music is, but I think that you know where that Zune came from, and what that Zune is, and that gives us a different relationship to the music, and what we go forward with.

©Marvel Studios 2016 (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

How does Kevin pick the right director for his films?

Kevin: Well, there are a lot of meetings, and it’s really a leap of faith, to some regard.
James: Yeah.
Kevin: And a lot of it is the vibe, and do we want to spend, you know, in a worst-case scenario, three years together, and in a best-case scenario, you know, ten years together? 12? We have a great team at Marvel Studios. And in the case of Guardians it was executive producer Jeremy Latcham and now executive producer Jonathan Schwartz who did the first round of meetings, and they were the first people James met with. And sort of pitched the notion of this weird space movie with raccoons and trees. And as James…what was it? You were driving home after that meeting?
James: Yeah, they pitched that idea to me, and I was driving home after the meeting, and when I said goodbye to them I thought they were making a huge mistake. And I’m like, “You guys have done a great job so far as Marvel, but, you know, this is Bugs Bunny in the middle of the Avengers, and you’re gonna look like idiots.” And so I kind of smiled and shook their hand and I went home, and I didn’t really think I was going to take the gig-or that I wasn’t being offered the gig-but I didn’t think I was going to pursue it in anyway. And then on the way home, it it hit me. It really, really hit me, and it was like seeing the first poster in my head on the way home, and I realized what this movie could be, and how it could bring color and heart into a big, franchise film, and create the kind of space opera that I’ve wanted to do my entire life, so that’s how it started. It’s funny, because I was just talking to somebody… Chris Pratt often gives me a lot of credit, and a lot of gratitude, and he does, he owes me his life. And because, without me, what would he really be doing? No, but I love Chris, and I think that I’m lucky and that I’m good at casting. I’m able to see something in these actors that maybe somebody else doesn’t see. I’m not sure everybody would have seen in Dave Bautista what I saw, or in Pom Klementieff what I saw. But in the same way, I think Kevin cast me. I gave Chris an opportunity, and Kevin gave me an opportunity… I had all of these very weird web shorts. My brother went in and he said, “I guess you got this job because of whatever? These web shorts?” and they were like, “Oh, no, we really like those web shorts,” you know. So they saw something in this eclectic stuff that I was doing that could be applied to a mainstream film.
Kevin: Well, and Slither, and his features ride a tonal, interesting line, and after that drive home, he came back in, and flew to-I’d forgotten this-but you flew to North Carolina.
James: I flew to North Carolina.
Kevin: Where I was working on Iron Man 3 at the time. And Jeremy and Jonathan were like, “We think we might’ve found somebody who’s really exciting,” and he came in with that passion. And clearly he was a great writer, and clearly had done interesting work on a smaller scale. But, even you know, just wanting to do a space opera like this your whole life, which, by the way, is the only reason we wanted to do Guardians, is because we wanted to do a space opera our whole lives, and thankfully, it worked.
James: Yeah, and also, if you remember, I storyboarded the whole opening action sequence. Because I wanted Kevin…
Kevin: Which I went back and looked at recently.
James: Oh, really? Oh, I want to see it.
Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.
James: Yeah, because it was like, I really wanted them to know that I was a camera guy. I’m a visual guy. I wanted to be able to-because I’d been very harnessed by lower budgets before, in terms of what I was able to shoot-and I wanted them to know that I knew how to put a scene together.
And so I drew my own storyboards, and did this stuff, and put together a large packet about visual references. I put together actors who I thought would be right for the roles. My number one choice for Gamora was Zoe Saldana, who is on that list. And so a lot of this stuff all came from that meeting. But it’s weird. In the first Guardians movie, the Guardians say, you know, “Maybe it’s time to actually give a s–t about something.” And this is being completely honest. I had a lot of success doing things in Hollywood, and I always considered that my strength was that I didn’t really give a s–t. Like, you know, I would go in and I would pitch something, and I’m like, “Well, if I get the job, then I’m gonna get money. But if I don’t get the job, then I don’t have to work for a little while, and you know, I’m very lazy.” This fact that I didn’t care, I always thought it was my strength. And for the first time in my life, I really wanted the Guardians of the Galaxy gig. That honestly had never happened to me before. I had never done it. And so it was a new experience for me in caring, and it’s so funny because that’s exactly what the Guardians are about.

Make sure you follow along with all of my Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 event coverage right here!

Set to the all-new sonic backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand.

As The Bunny Hops®