“It’s cool to have somebody whose superpower is empathy”: Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Will Poulter and James Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3
The final film in the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy, and the 32nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 sees the titular team race against time to save their friend Rocket’s life and foil the evil plans of the High Evolutionary. The Upcoming heard from producer Kevin Feige and writer and director James Gunn, as well as Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Chukwudi Iwuji (High Evolutionary), Maria Bakalova (Cosmo the Spacedog), Sean Gunn (who plays Kraglin and provides motion capture for Rocket) and Will Poulter (Adam Warlock) during the global virtual press conference, moderated by Nathan Fillon, to learn more about the film.
James, when you started the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy, over ten years ago, there’s no way you could’ve dreamed how it would turn out.
James Gunn: The thing is, people think of making a movie from the perspective of what it’s become culturally. And yeah, absolutely, I don’t think I could’ve dreamed that. I mean, I could’ve dreamed it. I’m not gonna lie, I had hopes. I felt really good about it from the beginning. I felt like we were doing something different. I felt like the world needed a space fantasy that was different from the ones we had seen before. So I was pleasantly surprised when my greatest hopes came true. But in terms of the story that we were telling over the three movies, I think I had a sense of how it would go from the beginning.
Three movies, ten years. What’s your takeaway? What’s changed you?
JG: Well, I think it’s changed me in so many ways. I mean, everything I’ve learned from Kevin and Lou. I think also, in terms of just this family of people, I’ve been really good at hiring non-jerks… Not only non-jerks, but people who are actually positive, compassionate, loving, kind people. And so, I’ve just grown incredibly close to these people. I really love them. And it makes making movies a much more pleasant experience. My main memories are not going to the premieres or going on these press junkets. It’s being on set and having the little moments. It’s doing bits with Chris in between sets. It’s talking to Sean. Watching Chuk turn in an amazing performance. Goofing around with Pom, wondering what the hell she’s talking about…
Fair to say, these people have become friends of yours. Are you gonna miss these characters?
JG: I’m gonna miss the characters. That’s the saddest part for me: I really, truly love these characters. I love all of them. I think there’s certain ones that I have a special fondness for, especially Rocket. And yeah, the saddest part of all of this – I’m gonna see all these people again, they’re all friends of mine, but I’m not gonna see the characters. I’m not gonna be writing the characters again, at least not in the near future. And so, that’s a real sadness, yeah.
Peter Quill, Star-Lord. He’s been through it. He’s not having a good time. He’s not the plucky hero we met. He’s not the guy who was dancing around all the time. Is he sad?
Chris Pratt: He’s lost, he’s definitely lost. There’s a wonderful monologue that Bautista gives, that comes from Mantis, that Quill is a guy who needs to learn how to swim. He’s been hopping from lily pad to lily pad, woman to woman and relationship to relationship. I think that’s a pretty human condition. I think, oftentimes, we find ourselves in our relationships or in the affiliations we have with a team or a family or whatever… And he has been lost. In the beginning, he was running away from the death of his mother, but he got to pretend to be this character based on these pop culture icons of his childhood of the late 80s. And so, he was dancing around, but it was kinda BS. And then he found himself with the Guardians of the Galaxy. And then he thought he could find himself with who his father was. So, he’s a guy who’s constantly been searching for who he is. And then he found it again in his relationship with Gamora. And when that’s stripped away from him, he’s a guy who’s realising that all of these various people that he’s found that [he thought were] Quill, none of them have been the real him. And that probably does mean that he’s sad.
You’ve done three movies with James. Would you do three more?
CP: First of all, I’d jump at the opportunity. Making movies is really fun. When you get to do it with people that you love, it’s even more fun. That’s the journey, right? The destination, it sometimes sucks. Like, you have this great time with all your friends and you get together and you work hard. And then you see the movie and you’re like, “Boy, that movie sucked. But, hey, that was a lot of fun to make,” you know? With James, both the journey and the destination have been glorious. The films are incredible. I don’t know how he does it. And so, just selfishly, I’d be willing to deal with a terrible journey to get to this destination. But it happens to be an incredible journey, as well.
JG: Oh, that’s nice.
CP: So, it’s a lot of fun. We’re laughing. We really get each other, support one another. And not just James… I would work with any of these folks again.
Karen, Nebula’s probably had one of the longest journeys. Where is she now on this journey?
Karen Gillan: She’s had quite the arc. She was… misunderstood. Yeah, she was pretty bitter. I think post-Thanos being eliminated from her life, she’s starting to flourish a little bit more and she’s starting to have a lighter personality. She’s a little more willing to show vulnerability.
What is it like reuniting? Do you miss these characters?
KG: I love these characters. Mantis and Kraglin and Rocket and Star-Lord. Everyone. It’s just so lovely to come together and see everyone as human beings. But then also, to play these characters, as well, it feels really familiar. It feels like two families or something.
What’s changed for you since the beginning?
KG: What’s changed for me? Definitely my understanding of what it’s like to be a scapegoat sibling. Because Nebula was definitely that. She was never the golden child. And I never understood that because I’m an only child. So that was a really interesting exploration for me. Now I just have so much respect for people that have gone through that.
Kevin, what has this trilogy impressed upon you? Working with James, seeing his vision, watching this come to fruition and the fans’ reaction.
Kevin Feige: You know, we’ve had trilogies before. We’ve had a number of them, actually. And I was thinking, why does this feel so different and so much of a passage of some sort? And it’s because Guardians really was the first movie that was completely outside of the realm. It tied in with Thanos and the Infinity Stones. But the Avengers were not in it. And we weren’t setting up Tony Stark’s next adventure, or Captain America. And it was really our attempt of saying: “We don’t wanna just do superhero movies. We don’t want to just do Iron Man movies or Avengers movies”. We wanted to do, as James said earlier, a big space movie. And it worked in a crazy way. It worked entirely because of James Gunn. So, it just feels like this trilogy, and James writing and directing all three of them, it represents something unique within the pantheon of the MCU that I’m very proud of.
Mentioning big space, James used some big spaces in this film. You’ve made a lot of movies: is this unusual for the literal size of these?
KF: They were big sets. Huge.
JG: Yeah, the sets are enormous, really, really big. But we’re out in outer space, right? So, it’s like, we’re in [these] incredibly strange places. And when it becomes too much CGI, it ungrounds us a little bit. So, I like it both for shooting and having the crew and the cast being able to be in the place. It’s cool. But also, I think it looks good on screen to be able to do practically what you can.
Looking at all this in the rearview mirror, Kevin, with the benefit of hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
KF: Would we?
JG: I don’t know that we would’ve. By the way, talking about it being grounded in sci-fi, one of my favourite moments in this movie is you driving a car, right? It’s all the characters in a car, those shots in the backseat and you turn around. I mean, for some reason, it feels like I’m in the car with my friends, and it just feels so fun and cool. Would we have done anything [differently]? I don’t know how we could’ve.
KF: I mean, last night I was watching the movie really enjoying it. And I’m like, “Oh, that little sound note I missed in reel eight…” You know, it’s those things. Like, I’ll do that forever.
What’s your mission statement? When you attack these movies, these are characters that are much loved, stories that are already out there. There’s people out there who are so steeped in this lore, it has to make you nervous approaching the subject matter.
KF: It always does. It always makes me nervous. But the goal has always been to do justice to the audience members who have loved these characters their whole lives, and to audience members who’ve never heard of these characters, or who heard of them for the first time in the trailer or in the poster. Which, for Guardians in particular, was certainly the majority of the audience. Now on the flip side of that, there are people who go, “Well, people don’t really know the Guardians, so you really have a lot of leeway to do new things.” Which you do, but James was constantly going to the comics and constantly referring to the comics and constantly building off of the storylines. So, people who did know these characters from the more recent run at the time, or the early run, saw things they could get excited about. And just as important, [were] people who never heard of this crazy spaceman with a tree and a raccoon.
Pom, Mantis is a fan favourite, to say the least. What has Mantis brought to you, both as an actress playing the role and as a person?
Pom Klementieff: Oh, my God. I mean, for me, it’s not Mantis. It’s Mantis and James Gunn. James changed my life. And playing Mantis, she’s an empath, so you have to have a deeper connection with everything and everyone. It’s beautiful to tap in and [create] deep, profound and layered emotions. And then I got to be super weird, which is really fun to do, too. It kinda comes naturally to me, I heard! No, I love playing this character and I’m so grateful to James for giving me this opportunity. And to get to play with all these incredible actors. And I think each character, they complete each other, too. I remember James telling me that Mantis was kind of like the glue that kept the Guardians together in some ways. I think it’s beautiful and I think the world lacks a lot of empathy. So it’s a beautiful message, too.
James loves music. He plays music on the set while you are doing your scenes. Does that help you? The way the costume helps you bring characters, the way the set helps put you in the spot, does the music put you in the moment, as well?
PK: Oh, yeah, of course. We had this slow-motion walk with the music, No Sleep Till Brooklyn. And they were blasting the music on set. It was so cool and you felt so cool with the Guardians of the Galaxy costumes and just walking in slow motion. And it’s fun because [of] Mantis’ journey, she evolves so much throughout the movies, and she gains so much confidence. In the beginning, I was more bug-like, doing little hand gestures, like Mr Burns or like a fly. And then I was like, “Okay, she spent more time with the Guardians, so she’s more used to being around other people. So she’s doing less weird stuff.”
You took a character that wasn’t a favourite character in the comic books, Mantis, and made her an incredibly popular character.
PK: Yeah, but the character [in the movie] is also so different from the comic books. And I think it was so interesting to give a different version of Mantis. I mean, in the comic books, she was great, too. She was very powerful, but kinda similar to a lot of other female characters in the Marvel universe or in other superhero movies. So, I think it was so interesting to give a different take on a female character and give more comedy and more awkwardness and something different.
JG: Yeah, I think it’s also cool to have somebody whose superpower is empathy. It is feelings. Emotions are so important to Mantis. And we’re so used to this very male, hardcore, macho, shooting rays out of their arms and lifting cars and throwing automobiles and shooting people [type of superhero]. And she comes in with emotions and is equally or if not more powerful. She was the one that almost took down Thanos, you know?
PK: Yeah, and people always say, “Oh, yeah, badass female characters.” I love that. And I love playing that and I love watching that. But this is different and this is interesting, and we need diversity.
Sean, Kraglin started out as plucky comic relief, and is now a foundation of support, the guy you call when you need something. What’s brought him from that to this?
Sean Gunn: I think that, just like all the Guardians, Kraglin had to figure out what his place in the family was. One thing that really impresses me about the movies is how I feel like, in a way, the journey of the cast has mirrored the journey of the characters. For me, [that was] being there in the first movie and feeling like, “Oh, I’m the director’s brother and I’m here and I’m on the outside”, and Kraglin [was] just on the peripheral and he comes in and says his things here and there. And then over the course of the movies, I felt at home with all these people, I felt fully accepted and like a full member of the cast and of the group. That’s what happens with Kraglin over the course of the movies, so that’s really special and really cool for me. Kraglin was with Yondu and Quill from the beginning and was like, “Why am I on the outside?” And his journey to learn why he belongs is my favourite thing about him.
Chukwudi, James Gunn calls you up and says, “I want you to be in the new Guardians movie.” What’s your reaction?
Chukwudi Iwuji: Homer Simpson, the blink: when Homer doesn’t know what to say and doesn’t understand what you just said, the camera stays on him and he keeps [blinking]. That’s what it was. We did it in person. We’d just finished doing a big dance sequence for Peacemaker. We were filming the dance sequence for Peacemaker, and James said, “Can I have a word with you? I have something I want to talk to you about.” And I said to him, “Is this when you tell you had meant to hire Chiwatel Ejiofor?” And he said, “No, no, no. Actually, that’s not it. That’s not it at all. But I do want you.” He started with, “I don’t know what your schedule is, but I would like you to play the High Evolutionary in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. So, I just blinked for a while and mumbled something. And he said, “It’s great. I’ve already spoken to Kevin [Feige] about it. We’ll get together at my place or something. We’ll put something on camera and send it to them.” And I thought that was gonna happen in the next few days. I think it was six weeks or five weeks before I actually got the screen test done, right?
JG: Oh, I thought I told you you had the job at the dance thing.
CI: Of course you did. But the closest I’ve come to Marvel is my local Imax… I wasn’t gonna believe that I had the job yet, especially since we still had to do a bloody tape.
How was it getting into the mindset of a character who is an unhinged genius who experiments on living creatures in the name of science?
CI: It was very dark… Because between James telling me he wanted me to play the role and doing the screen test, I had a lot of downtime. You were filming an episode that I wasn’t in in Peacemaker. I was in Vancouver at the time. And, to answer this question, the first thing that’s written when you meet him is him listening to space opera. So, immediately I knew classical music was gonna be a big part of this character. Because I didn’t know where I was gonna go with him, I thought I would just listen to a lot of my favourite arias and classical songs, and one or two of them made it onto the film. So a lot of finding this guy, for me, was saying, “If he’s listening to opera and he’s in space opera and he’s this mad scientist person…” I just thought of someone that doesn’t sleep. Someone that’s obsessed with it, listening to this music. He needs the music as he wanders through his castle at night. And I thought very deeply about Henry IV. He has a great speech, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown. How many thousands of my poorest subjects at this moment, are asleep.” And I sent that to James. So it wasn’t really specifically, “How do I play the character written?” It’s like, “How do I bring this guy into the room?”… He’s a villain with a God complex, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
Will, you were the new kid. How’d they treat you?
Will Poulter: Oh, my gosh. I couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome by everybody. I was nervous from the outside looking in. I think because I was a really big fan of the Guardians movies. And within the Marvel universe, this was the trilogy, as it now is, of films that I was the biggest admirer of. And something that I thought was gonna be really scary actually [ended up] just being really good fun. I think because what James said is so true, that he makes a point of making the set a really fun environment and then surrounds himself with really great people. So, across every department, not just the acting department, but every department, there are wonderful people, and it just made the experience so, so fun. Which is really important. Because there’s pressure and as the new kid, I was pretty scared, so that made it easy.
You’ve been in the business a while. You understand the machinations of the industry and what a part like this in a James Gunn film in an MCU universe will do for a career. But for those of your ilk that don’t know, your family, your friends, how did they react when they heard you were going be in the new Guardians?
WP: It’s funny, my family are mostly all medics, nurses, and doctors or whatever. So, they’re – this sounds cheesy – but they are real-life superheroes kind of thing, right?… But they’re very supportive and very excited for me, obviously. And they’ve since watched all of the Guardians. But my mum and dad were the only people within my family and group of friends to have not seen the Guardians films. And they watched them back-to-back as soon as I got the role and have been very excited ever since… They could be a little more informed about it.
Maria, you find out you’re gonna be in a James Gunn movie. You’re super excited. Then you find out it’s a dog. Are you still excited?
Maria Bakalova: Even more, to be honest. When I was auditioning for the part, I was like, “How can I play this?” And it was so interesting, because you can [make it] a little bit more over the top, because she’s a puppy and she has more energy… But no, when I got the call from my team that I’m getting the job, I was absolutely mind-blown and I didn’t know what to do and to expect. And I think I started jumping. And then, when I found out that I can be on set and work with a mo-cap suit, and imagine that I’m a child again and use my imagination to be like, “Okay, today I’m going to be a dog. Tomorrow I will be a flower. The next day, I’m going to be a butterfly.” It’s interesting, we tend to forget about imagination when we grow up. And it’s been just incredible.
James, what direction did you give? How do you describe the dog character to an actor who you just hired?
JG: I don’t think I did describe her. She was in the text and you just came in and you embodied this character and you were great. And the other fun thing about Maria that a lot of people don’t know is, as much as we all love each other – okay, we’re still working. And so, the minute people are off the clock, they are out of there. They are off the set. They’re back home. We’re all on location. We all have other thing we wanna do, and that includes me. Maria comes to set on the first day. She’s here two days earlier. And she comes and she sits on set every day, all day long. And then she’ll come in the next morning and she’ll do her bit. And she does her bit as Cosmo. And then she comes and she sits with me all day long. So, even though she’s not the biggest character in the movie, I spent more time with Maria than almost anybody here. Because she just loved being on set and watching all the other actors. She is an absolute joy to be around in every way.
James, how do you introduce music in the movie that also becomes part of the script? Do you feel a sense of responsibility? Who am I going to make rich again off these royalties?
JG: Like, honestly, it has become strange because the first two albums were huge hits. They changed the lives of some of these artists who now have big hit songs. And so, I know that when I’m choosing a song, it’s going to be something that a lot of people listen to. I want to give good music to people by good bands. And I snuck a couple of favourites in there. I snuck my friends, the Replacements in there. I snuck Alice Cooper, my hero, in there… But when I’m writing, I put the music in along with the script. I write it in. But sometimes I change it. It was very difficult choosing the music for this movie because in the first two movies, they were basically all 70s pop hits. In this one, you know, Yondu gives Peter Quill a Zune at the end of the second movie. And it’s music from the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s. And it’s all… I could choose from anything. It’s like, at the end of Hurt Locker, him looking at all the stuff on the shelves and not knowing how to make this choice. So, it was very difficult because of that.
Do you listen to music and say, “I’ve got to put this in a movie?” Or do you write a movie and say, “What song would be good for here?” And start looking into music.
JG: Both. It’s both. I mean, I keep a list of like hundreds of songs that would be Guardians 3 type songs. And then also, there’s things that I have on lists that I could never use. Like, Cruel to Be Kind by Nick Lowe has been on every list that I’ve had for the movies. And I’ve just never found a place to work it in. But, yeah. Mostly it’s like what fits the scene. And often times it’s a song I don’t know very much.
Kevin, knowing that James has considered this the end of his trilogy, how much slack was he given to lead the characters in places that might impact the future of the MCU?
KF: I think he gets all the slack… as much slack as there is to give.
JG: I get all the slack. Especially on this one.
You don’t get nervous he wants to kill people off?
KF: On previous movies, we had some discussions about that. But not on this one. And this one really was about seeing it through. Because it always was designed as a trilogy capper.
Karen, both Gamora and Nebula have grown as sisters throughout the franchise. But their shorthand in volume three was surprisingly beautiful to see. What has been your favourite aspect of their growth as characters and families?
KG: I mean, it’s been beautiful to see. You know, Nebula was always the kind of bitter one. So jealous of Gamora. And then, I guess she evolved and Gamora kind of helped her gain some compassion along the way. And now they’ve kind of switched places in a way. Which has been really interesting to play around with. It’s been really beautiful to watch their relationship evolve and become what it is. It’s been amazing.
Will, what was the biggest challenge for you to play Adam Warlock and in what way do you relate to your character?
WP: Oh, my gosh. I might reverse-engineer my answer. I think the thing that I shared with Adam Warlock, mostly, was probably just that sense of trying to work out what the hell was going on. I think, like Sean said, when you find a parallel between your character and your own experience, it’s really quite kind of interesting. It can be something to kind of latch on to. I was the new kid on the block arriving on this set, very much like how Adam Warlock was kind of arriving into the world, trying to sort of find his way and work out the rules.
Sean, after playing both Kraglin and on-set Rocket for the films, what about these characters will you take with you in your future work?
SG: Wow. Yeah. There’s the whole Rocket side of the work that I’ve done on these movies and a few others that have been really close to me as well. And it takes a team of people to create Rocket. I’m a member of that team. I think of the creation of Rocket almost like a relay race, where James takes the baton of the character that he’s created and passes it to me. And I work with the cast on set and do the first part. And then we hand it to the visual effects team and they start to put the whole thing together. And then you give it to Bradley, and he makes the whole thing work. And the thing I take away from that – I’ll answer the Rocket part of it – is it’s really a reminder to me of [the importance of] collaboration to the creative process. And that the whole experience of acting is about giving and not about yourself. You don’t become an actor because you think that you’re special. You become an actor because you think other people are special. And so, the idea of trying to give what I have to the creative process, I’ve never felt that more fully as I have trying to be a part of that process, collaboratively with all these other minds over the course of these three movies… That’s what makes it work, when we can all work together towards the same goal.
Chris, how did it feel, wrapping it up, saying goodbye? Did they want you to say a speech?
CP: I don’t know if they wanted me to but they weren’t going to stop me. I guess, the thing that you want to avoid is regret, right? One day, looking back and thinking, “Why did I just let that go by without trying to enjoy every moment? Why didn’t I savour that? “And I knew that going into it. So, I’ll never have that thought in my head that, “Man, I just wasn’t present to it.” I was present. And it still felt like a whirlwind. And for the most part, the feelings that I was sort of writing down on the back of my mind about the experience were – they sound trite – but it was just gratitude and just being grateful. To James, I wanted to be the guy who reminded everyone how far we’d come. And all the things that we’d overcome. And so, I read a few reviews from people who had said that Guardians was going to be the first big flop. I was like, “Here’s what this guy said. And this guy said. And this guy said.” I don’t know how those ended up in my notes for the past nine years. But, it was just important to me. I knew how important it was to be present in that moment. And I also knew… because I have had the experience of being part of things that have come and gone. I remember on Parks and Rec, it felt that after seven years… or, on TV shows that I’ve done, at the end, it’s like the last day of summer or the last day of school before summer. And you’re not going to be coming back to school together. It’s that summer camp vibe of like, “Am I ever going to see these people again?” It’s an emotional feeling. And having gone through that, it was important, A, that I be present, but also that I coerce other people into being present as well. So, that was sort of a responsibility that I felt I had. Is just to make sure to check in with everybody.
What question are you dying to be asked?
KF: I want to say one thing, just about this cast, which is amazing. And the cast members that aren’t here, [like] Zoe [Saldana] who is just such a key to this, and I think kills it. And in particular, Dave Bautista. I’m not going to give anything away, but he gives an expression at the end of the movie, and I literally am like, “Not only is Drax one of the best characters in the MCU, written by James. But I think Dave Bautista has become one of the best actors that we’ve ever gotten to work with.” I just wanted to give that shout-out.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is released nationwide on 3rd May 2023. Read our review here.
Watch the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 here: