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On the set of Marvel's 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

6/17/2014

By Don Kaye

"Guardians of the Galaxy" is perhaps the riskiest movie Marvel Studios has made to date. Based on one of the comic book empire's more obscure titles, it brings the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to the farthest reaches of the cosmos and takes the studio's ongoing, interwoven franchise into the realm of space opera. Chris Pratt ("Parks and Recreation," "The Lego Movie") stars as Peter Quill, a half-human, half-alien on the run after stealing an artifact coveted by the villainous Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Quill soon finds himself the leader of a ragtag, dysfunctional team of would-be heroes consisting of the alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the warrior Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the sentient tree being Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and the intelligent, talking raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper).

It's a crazy-quilt end of the Marvel universe and its ambition is reflected in the sets and designs we see on the soundstages outside London, including the massive, stone-like interior edifices of Ronan's vast ship. "Guardians" visits a lot of different worlds and introduces a lot of different beings (including Benicio Del Toro as an Elder of the Universe named the Collector), but Pratt, with his open, friendly face and down-to-earth demeanor, is the center who will keep it all relatable to viewers. Already having shown up in films like "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Moneyball," Pratt could break into superstardom if "Guardians" is as big a hit as the other Marvel entries. He sat down with reporters from MSN and others at the London stages to discuss becoming Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord.

'Guardians of the Galaxy'/Marvel Studios

Stepping into a world like this, is part of the kick learning to play with everything and learning to live in that space?

Chris Pratt: Yeah I guess that's part of it, it's definitely part of it. I think you're talking about the props and toys and sets and costumes. All that stuff makes my job easy. It's not easy, but it makes it much easier because it's doing a lot of the work. The props, the costume, mask and guns, everything that distracts the viewer's attention from me I invite, just in case I f**k it up -- please just look at the cool guns.

When we visited the guys in props, they said they sent you the blasters ahead of time. What was it like the first time you got your blaster?

They sent me the gun and I think they wanted to see how it matched up against my hand but at the time, all I was worried about was "I'm going to send them pictures of me holding this gun and they're going to think I'm too fat and fire me." That's all I remember thinking, I was still very much in the process of losing weight so I was like sucking it in holding the gun. My wife was like, "You look uncomfortable in this photo." I said, "I am! God." So I sent in the photo and immediately after they were like, "By the way we need to come get your sizes again." I was like, "I know." But it was pretty neat, they're definitely awesome props. It's funny because we have a great prop department here and they're purists so some of them are a little reticent to accept the 3D printer into their world because they make practical props and build stuff out of nothing, out of parts that they tinker with and stuff, so I think the idea of a 3D printer is a little bit scary. It's like the printing press, it's new and exciting and they use it because it looks amazing.

Bing: More about Chris Pratt | More on 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

Were there any characters you were inspired by or looked back on?

With Peter? I guess so. You think going into something as an actor you can take performances you've seen before and want to take influence off of it but that's not necessarily what I did. I know some actors probably work that way, but I've heard Kevin (Feige, president of Marvel Studios) say he thought the stuff he's looking at was like Han Solo meets Marty McFly, which I think is cool, but that wasn't an intentional thing at all...I think if an actor can stick to trying to make the character resemble something from their own spirit it will automatically be unique. It's not necessarily going to be trying to be Han Solo or trying to be Marty McFly or trying to be any other character you've seen before, it's like, "This is me in this role."

Has there been a more surreal day on set over any others?

Yes. We have a set for a place called Morag. It's mind-blowing. There's something called the Kiln, which is another set, and there was one surreal day when we had a second assistant director called Michael. He's a guy who's worked with Stanley Kubrick, I mean he's been around for ages. You can sit and listen to this guy talk about working on movies. He's worked in the business for like 50 years. And he was doing crowd control on 160 extras -- all of whom had gone through extensive alien makeup. And we're on a set that's maybe as big as this warehouse that we're in right now, but maybe even taller. And there are prison cells all the way around, a giant tower in the middle, and there's this long -- I'm getting goosebumps -- there's this long crane.

So I'm watching Michael, who's worked with Stanley Kubrick, directing these extras, saying, "Remember, if you can see the camera, the camera can see you! You are in a prison! You are not happy!" And then we're walking through, and there's this long, dollying crane shot that's on our backs and then lifts up and then circles around, you see a fight break out and then it pans down to a second level and you see these ominous prisoners grab someone and drag them into a cell. And then it goes down even further and you're seeing details that I don't want to give, but you'll know this shot. It was so surreal because the shot ends on my face looking around taking it all in. And then it quickly cuts out and that moment...it's been five months of moments like that. It's really, really crazy. I'm like, how much does this cost per second, I wonder? (laughter)

Characters like Iron Man and Captain America, those are names people knew going in. Is that a benefit to you as an actor that this character is less well-known and you can make it more your own?

I don't necessarily know if it affects me one way or another...I think it probably is helpful that people don't know who he is because it would be my intention to make him my own anyways. But I think that's something that Robert Downey Jr. did with Iron Man. He came in and he is Tony Stark -- and he kind of is now because he can probably afford (to buy) weapon systems (laughs). The guy could probably build his own suit now with all the money he's making. But to be honest, I don't know Robert Downey Jr., but I'm just assuming! I don't even know him, so maybe that's not how he is at all. Maybe he has a British accent and is a totally different person than Tony Stark. But to me it seems like, "Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark." He was a guy people knew, people obviously knew Iron Man -- maybe not as much as Captain America or other characters, but that is something that I would like to try to do, just keep it real and keep it close to who I am, and maybe the fact that nobody knows these characters, that'll be helpful.

Do you have a character other than Peter who you're a big fan of?

In this story?

Yeah.

Oh man. I think Drax is awesome, not only the character but Dave Bautista the actor. I just really adore him so much and think he's very, very good. Unique. I really love him. And I think Rocket is a great character, not just in a way that you would think. There's a lot of heart there. James (Gunn, writer-director) did a lot of looking at Rocket as a real character rather than a cartoon character. And so when you see the story unfold... you should kind of feel bad for anything that was kind of created out of nothing. There's a sense of loneliness and this inner pain that Rocket feels that hopefully the audience will empathize with that makes him a really sympathetic character, but also so badass. 'Cause he's a raccoon with a machine gun! So that's good. I like him. I mean, all the characters are really great, but those two probably in particular right now.

'Guardians of the Galaxy'/Marvel Studios

So much of the film is about building an ensemble that works together by the end. In terms of the ensemble of the cast, it's such an amazing group of people and such an eclectic group to put together. Have you seen that happen over the course of the film? That you guys have come together and figured it all out as you've been working?

Yeah, I think, probably. The synergy of the whole group we don't get to really feel on set because two of the characters are CG, and I'm hoping that when it's all said and done and you can -- what's kind of great is that when I see this movie, for so much of it I'm going to be a spectator. Seeing sequences I didn't know what they looked like, characters that I don't really know how they're going to look...you know what I mean? We've definitely come together and gotten to know each other better, but this has been unlike any other movies I've been on, where you walk away from set and just the cast goes and hangs out and stuff like that. We're just working non-stop (laughs). We have been working so much. We've gotten to know each other pretty well because we've been together for five months in a foreign country. But it's been eye on the prize this whole time. There hasn't been a lot of down time to do anything. At least for me -- I feel like I've been working every second.

How have you been adjusting to the fact that you're dealing with two CGI characters throughout the entire film?

It turns out it's kind of the same as just it being not CGI. You're still kind of just standing there, looking at something and pretending and saying the words, you know. It hasn't been that hard. I think it would be a lot harder if we didn't have Sean Gunn playing Rocket (on set). I mean, Groot doesn't have that much dialogue in the movie -- I don't know if that's supposed to be a spoiler or not -- but...everyone knows that he says, "I am Groot" and that's it? (laughs) So that hasn't, so much of what actors do is just listening and responding. And so when you have, when you're working with a great actor, even when they're off-camera, it's very easy just to listen to what they're saying, respond, understand that they're listening to you. There's this connection, there's this flow that happens just when you're talking to people, and that's been really great with Sean because, like I said, a lot of the stuff that happens with Rocket, there are moments of real drama and real emotion, and he has committed so hard to it. So when he's off-camera, I'm responding to someone I feel really bad for rather than, like, a tennis ball or something.

Can you talk about the physical transformation you went through, losing some of the weight, and did it change the way you are physically as an actor and did you know when you had the right -- where you wanted to be?

'Guardians of the Galaxy'/Marvel Studios

Yeah, it definitely changed -- there's a lot of elements that really, like I said, made it easy for me. And like the costume and the hair and the make-up and the props and the sets, and then working out and getting in good shape, like, I would just like get out of hair and make-up and have my costume on and look at myself in the mirror and I would just not even see myself staring back. I would see like Peter Quill or like this kind of Star-Lord character I was..."this is f**king cool, man." (laughter) It's a third of what I do, I think, as an actor is just what I look like, you know? I'm a prop and I talk and I listen and I feel things and I have a certain rhythm to my spirit -- all of those things I can manipulate, and the way I look is also something you can manipulate, but it probably takes a third of the performance, you know. That's why there are people that are just like completely dull and have like nothing going on the inside, but when you look at 'em, they look like a, they look compelling. There's like great symmetry or something, and you're kind of captivated by them, even though on the inside there's nothing going on! (laughter) Know what I mean? There are people like that, and as long as they sound good, and can link sentences together without stumbling --

Would you like to describe which people we're talking about here? Yeah, which actors... (laughter)

Almost all of 'em (laughter). Almost all of 'em. No. Truly there are actors that there's not anything, there's nothing going on (laughs). I've met some of 'em, I'm like, "Wow, there's fucking nothing going on there!" (more laughter) But I certainly wouldn't say, I probably...I don't know. But yeah, the physical transformation is a big part of it, like, you know, it's my vehicle. It's my body that I'm inside of, and it doesn't, it can't not affect the way that people perceive you and the way that you perceive yourself. Yeah.

When the audience first meets the Peter Quill character when he's older and in space, what are his goals? What is he up to before he meets the Guardians?

Well, he is on a quest to escape, essentially. But in the same way that a lot of people are on Earth. He's got like a hope to him. Like, the kind of hope that you have when you buy a lottery ticket. You know, he thinks if he could just make that score, everything will be fine and everything will be taken care of. And I think he learns through the course of the movie that that's not ultimately where you find true satisfaction with yourself or real happiness. It's really gonna come from doing something bigger than yourself and giving yourself up to something that's bigger than yourself. So we find him in a hopeful, playful place where -- and he's sort of escaping and a little bit on the run.

Both you and James are very funny guys. How important is comedy to telling the story of the Guardians of the Galaxy?

Oh, super important. I think comedy is very, very important, especially in this film. I mean, if we pull this off right, it's going to be hard for other movies to come out that are like this. They're going to seem pretty unfunny compared to our movie, I think. James is really, really funny. It's really rare that someone makes me consistently laugh out loud, and he really does. We have similar senses of humor, and a great relationship and banter on set that probably could be seen as inappropriate, but it's really keeping us both sane. This is ultimately his movie and his voice, and you'll definitely see that humor through the course of this movie. And I think it is important and key to making this movie work, because it's not just a straight action-adventure type of movie. I think all the best big adventure movies have comedy, like all the "Indiana Jones" movies and like a "Romancing the Stone." Any type of movie where you have an adventure, potential budding sexual chemistry and humor all together, it really works.

Do you get to improv on a movie this big?

No, not really. This is not the place for that, I don't think. I do, though. I do sometimes. It is probably not something I should be doing. But I sometimes can't help it. I know a little bit of that stuff might make it in. And there's a difference between improving and saying the words without using those words. As long as you're saying the same thing, you can kind of put it in your own words if that makes it more natural than that can make it a little better. I've been trying pretty hard to just stick to the lines, because you don't want to blow a $300,000 helicopter shot or something because you wanted to poke a little fun and they're like, "What are you doing? Noooooo! It's going to take us like five hours to reset this shot." There's room for that in some of the scenes, but for the most part not a lot.

How many of the comics did you read to prepare and what was something you saw in the "Guardians" comics where you say, "OK, I need to have this in the movie"?

Well, when I first talked with James here I had some read of the very newest stuff. And I talked to James and I was like, "What do you think?" And he was like, "Don't read any more. I don't want you to read any...because we're not recreating the comic books." We're essentially just another delivery system for Marvel material. We're not necessarily making a movie based on those comic books. We're just telling more superhero, "Guardians of the Galaxy" stories, just using a different medium. It would be like if someone else was going to release another "Guardians of the Galaxy" comic book, you wouldn't necessarily need to go through and read all the previous comic books and pick and choose what you want to use. You want to do your own thing. So I think that's kind of what we're doing. The name and the title and the characters are from different incarnations of the "Guardians of the Galaxy," but this is its own thing. James told me to kind of steer clear of that. He probably just wanted me to treat his script like the Holy Bible. And so I sort of have.

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"Guardians of the Galaxy" is out in theaters Aug. 1.

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