It's been a rocket ride for writer-director James Gunn.
In the wake of the triumphant box office success of his one seemingly left-of-center Marvel Studios film "Guardians of Galaxy" and a whirlwind tour of the world promoting the film, Gunn has briefly come back to terra firma to catch his breath before rolling up his sleeves to get the sequel, planned for the spring of 2017, off the ground.
But before the Guardians' next mission takes off, the team's original outing first makes a journey to home video, bowing Dec. 9, and during a sneak preview of the Blu-ray's bonus content, Gunn both reflected on the accomplishments of the film's cast and crew as well as offering a glimpse into the mindset he's in as he approaches the second film.
On the first realization that "Guardians" was going to be a mega-hit:
James Gunn: There was a moment. I don't know when it was. I think it was the first day because they told us -- tracking said we were supposed to come in at like $65 [million] opening weekend. And we started getting our first weekend numbers, as it was coming in it kept getting higher every day. At first, "Oh my God -- we're going to be near 80." Then, "We're going to be 85." And then we ended up at 94. I was simply out by the pool with my dog at my house, and I almost got this LSD experience where it wasn't real. It felt like a "Twilight Zone" episode. It wasn't entirely a good feeling. It was sort of creepy. But that moment was when I realized, "Holy shit -- we're doing really well!"
On how the success of the film affected his dynamic with Marvel and its Phase Three plans:
My dynamic at this point with Kevin [Feige] is like this: I went in, I said, "This is what I think we should do in the sequel." He said, "Okay." And now, I'm off dealing with it -- it's not that dynamic. Who knows how much we've influenced Phase Three? But I think the one thing is that the Guardians aren't backseat to the Avengers. This isn't "Captain America," "Thor," those other movies -- they really do support "The Avengers" and they really do take a backseat to "The Avengers" in a certain way. And Guardians, they are their own thing, the cosmic side of the universe is its own thing. And because the movie was so successful -- and more successful than "Iron Man" was -- that changed the way other people looked at it. But I still look at it the same way.
On audiences embracing a film property that some early pundits suggested might be too weird for mainstream acceptance:
I don't think of "Guardians of the Galaxy" as weird. Because, you know, every day I get somebody telling me their 80-year-old grandmother loved "Guardians of the Galaxy." So yeah, in some ways it's different. I think it's unique, but I don't think it's that weird. I actually think that it's more accessible to people than a lot of Marvel movies. I think that the main thing with moving on is we can't just repeat ourselves. We can't just say, "Okay, well, let's start with, uh... something sad and then shift to something really happy and with some music. And then let's have the Awesome Mix work in exactly the same way, only with songs from the '80s as opposed to songs from the '70s." And it's like all of those things -- that doesn't interest me. For me, the shift is really about getting to know the characters on a deeper level; knowing them more intimately and uncovering facets of those characters that make them more real to us. Because I think at what the center of what works about "Guardians" is that people like the characters... [Delving] more deeply into the characters themselves and who they are and how they work and how they think and what their flaws are, what their strengths are. They're a much more flawed group than the Avengers. They have major, major issues.
The Guardians' story is more important than where they're going with anything having to do with the rest of the Marvel Universe.
On the in-depth world-building for the film:
It's somewhere in between. Some of it's for this movie, but a lot of stuff was -- there's a lot of things that are way more thought out than they need to be for this movie. In particular, things like the Ravagers are... I would say "well-thought out," but that's like giving myself a compliment. "Good job, James!" So yeah, there's some things that are really, really in-depth in the Ravagers' culture, and how they work is one of them.
On whether he's considering using those deeply developed ideas not just for future "Guardians" films but for other projects set in the cosmic corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
Yeah, very much. I mean, every time I say something in interview, somebody takes it and runs with it. And there was a big rash of "James Gunn is thinking of ideas for 'Guardians of the Galaxy 3.'" Well, I don't think I really said that. I think what I said was, I had ideas for "Guardians of the Galaxy 2." What I was going to do for that from the time I wasn't doing the other movie. And I had ideas for beyond that. That doesn't necessarily mean "Guardians of the Galaxy 3," because there's lots of characters in this movie that could go in a lot of different directions. And some of the characters I'm the most interested in aren't necessarily "Guardians of the Galaxy."
On the tweaks he has in mind for future elements, like Star-Lord's parentage:
His origins are different in the movie -- I just thought there was a more interesting way to go for the Cinematic Universe that was more believable... [In the comics] there are things that on film seemed to come out a little too "Star Wars" to me -- not a great fan of the name, J'son, so I think there will be a lot of differences. This really is a cinematic universe, and the fun of it for me is, I always loved Marvel Ultimate Comics, where they presented a different story on the way that the origins that we got used to were. And we saw characters in new lights and what they were like. And they would show up in different places, at different ages, in different ways. And I think that's exactly what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is: we see things in a different light. They've established that very well in the first "Iron Man" movie where the end of the movie, Tony Stark says, "I am Iron Man." That was like [the] Marvel Cinematic Universe's way of saying, "Hey, we're different."
On the emotional resonance the film had with audiences:
It's really touching. I made the movie completely sincerely, and I loved the characters. And I'm moved by it: still, every time I watch the movie and I see Drax pet Rocket's head, I still get teary-eyed -- honest to God, still! I love that moment in particular. Still, I love the movie, I love the characters, and I love the people I made the movie with. So to have people respond to it on that emotional level and to have people get what I was going for with the whole movie, after having a career of doing many things that I thought were pretty obvious what I was doing with them, and then sometimes people just didn't exactly see them how they were, being able to get to the point where I feel like I'm able to speak to people clearly through film is a real joy, a real joy.
On whether he was surprised at the level of creative freedom he was granted by Marvel:
I really was very, very surprised -- and most surprised by the things that I think of as basic parts of the movie. The fact that when I first wrote the story of what the eventual movie became, I came in with a treatment. And I'm like, "I think this is what the story should be." And at the top of that treatment, I had a photograph of the Sony Walkman. And I don't know what compelled me to do that, because I think it was stupid. Because I think if I did that at most other studios, people would be like, "Well, wait a second. This should be Saturn." And instead, Kevin just loved that Walkman. He just started talking about the Walkman all the time. And that, to me, was really a center of where the movie is different. It's that Walkman, the '70s music next to the space opera. Everything I brought to those guys that was the most outlandish stuff was the stuff they embraced the most. So I couldn't believe it. I remember when I made my first ever movie, "Tromeo and Juliet," in New York. I was in New York City, and I was going on the subway every day and I was still in grad school, and I was like, "Oh my God. I can't believe I came up with this idea for this thing! And now they're doing it! And they're spending $350,000 on it!" Like I couldn't believe it. Like, "Whoa -- that's fucking crazy!" And I got that same feeling doing this. I'm like, "I can't believe they're just kind of going with this." I felt like I was tricking everybody, but it worked.
On getting the pop music he wanted for the Awesome Mix:
There was nothing I couldn't get. Songs were 100% chosen by me and only me, all throughout the movie. Most of the songs were written into the screenplay, and those that weren't I chose later on. But yeah, I never had any fight on the music. I think that those guys actually originally thought of it as like temp music, the songs I put in there. And then in our early test screenings, people loved the music. So I was really happy with that because I didn't want to end up with newest Britney Spears song -- although I like Britney Spears -- so that was the choice with that. And I had a very specific type of song I was looking for: a song, that, for the most part, was a song that people might know the music, but they probably didn't know the name of the band. They probably didn't know the name of the song itself. But some part of you recognized hearing it at Shakey's Pizza, or wherever was the background. And then all of a sudden this song that's been in the background of your life is pushed to the foreground.
On whether that's Adam Warlock's cocoon in The Collector's horde:
Well, there's a cocoon that's exactly like Adam Warlock's. I wasn't really thinking that much when I put that in. And that was my idea to put that in there. They were like, "Hey. What should we put in?" So I went through the Marvel Handbook and like just picked cool things that looked neat to put in with them, little things. I don't know -- there's a lot of stuff in there. There's also a lot of stuff that people think they see that I don't think is in there. Unless the visual effects guys were pulling tricks on me -- which they could have been.
On the choice to include Howard the Duck in the post-credits tag sequence:
Originally, the tag scene was going to be Baby Dancing Groot, and we loved it so much that I'm like, "I think we should put it at the very end of the movie." And we had the rights to the Jackson 5 song for Baby Dancing Groot and I liked the way that it ended with Peter flying away and that song playing. So that worked well at the very end of the movie, which meant that we didn't have a tag scene -- and we didn't have a tag scene to connect us to something else, to lead to the future. So I found this footage that I had of Benicio [del Toro] that was done that I actually shot for the montage at the end because the montage at the end originally that had Nebula and Benicio, and Grandpa Quill in it, but we cut them for a lot of different reasons. I had the footage of them, and I was like "What could you see?" And I started going through it, and I'm like, "You can see something in that box over there. What could he see in that box?" And I don't know if it was me or my editor Fred Raskin who said, "Howard the Duck." And then we started laughing because we thought it was really funny. And then we told Kevin, and then he started laughing. He thought it was really funny. So that's really all it is.
On the times when he and Chris Pratt would deviate from the script:
More often than improv, Chris and I would think of things that we'd put into the script beforehand. The "Footloose" speech is something that Chris came to me with. He came into my office one day and said, "I bet he would think 'Footloose' is a great legend." And I'm like, "Yes!" And he could say that to Gamora. And then I said, "And he doesn't even remember the name of the guy -- to him, the hero is Kevin Bacon because it's all through his childhood." So that was definitely written by me and Chris together beforehand, which isn't improv: It's just me using Chris's writing and taking credit for it! But there were other moments in there, especially with Chris. He and I have very similar senses of humor and we know how to work off of each other. An improv thing was the Jackson Pollock thing. Again, it was the same thing with me and Chris sort of one-upping each other, so Chris said that blacklight joke. And then I went over and I said, "Say that again. But then this time, say it looks like a Jackson Pollock painting in here." And then we did it again, and everybody on set was like, "Are you really wasting our time doing this stupid joke that's never going to make it into a Disney movie?" I'm like, "It's funny to me."
"Guardians of the Galaxy" is scheduled to arrive on Blu-ray and DVD Dec. 9, 2014.