There are so many things I want to tell you about the time I spent in London on the set of "Guardians Of The Galaxy."
Today, though, we're still embargoed on the vast majority of it, and so we're going to focus on one of the interviews that we conducted as a group. Seems like Chris Pratt's a good place to start in any conversation about this film, since this will be the biggest film role he's ever had, and much of the success of the film hinges on how the audience takes to him as Peter Quill aka Star Lord.
I met Pratt for the first time when I visited the set of "The Five-Year Engagement," but it was before we actually got to the set. When I arrived in San Francisco and was riding up in the elevator to my room, Pratt ended up in the elevator with me. We started talking, and right away, he struck me as a guy who is fairly open and direct and focused on trying to do the best possible job he can with every role, no matter what the size of it. He's also ridiculously funny in regular conversation, something that comes through loud and clear in the choices he makes onscreen.
We toured the entire facility before we sat down to start speaking to the cast, and by the time Pratt sat down with us, we were pretty much hooked. We asked him if part of the fun of a part like this is learning how to look like he belongs in a world as decidedly weird as the one that James Gunn and his team have imagined for this movie.
"Yeah, I guess that's part of it. I think that's definitely part of it. You're talking about like the props and the toys and the sets and the costumes? Yeah, that's definitely a part of it. But all that stuff makes my job pretty easy actually. It's not easy but it makes it much easier because it's doing a lot of the work… the props, costumes, the mask, the guns… everything that distracts a viewer's attention from me, I invite. Just in case I fuck it up. Please just look at the cool guns."
One of the things the film's armorer told us is that they actually sent Pratt his blasters before the production began so he'd have time to get used to them, so we asked him how it was to get them and pick them up for the first time. His smile as he answered the question said a lot. "Yeah, they sent me the guns, or they sent me a gun, and I think they wanted to see how it matched up against my hand. But at the time, all I was worried about is 'I want 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 am.' I sent them the photo, and then immediately after, they were like, 'Hey, by the way, we need to come get your sizes again.' I was like, 'I know.'"
Pratt's naturally self-deprecating, so it was hard not to laugh as he described his reaction "But it was pretty neat. I mean, 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 3-D printer into their world because they make practical props. They build stuff out of nothing, out of little parts, and they tinker and stuff like that. So I think the idea of a 3-D printer is a little bit scary because it's like the printing press. It's new and exciting that they use it because this stuff looks amazing."
At the time we spoke, the last season of "Parks and Recreation" had not started airing yet, and we asked how it was being handled. "Well, that was all something that NBC and Marvel worked out beforehand, before I was able to… as we were finalizing the details of my deal, they said we'll let him out for some episodes, but he does have to come back. NBC was awesome to let me out, and I'm missing probably six episodes total. They came out here to London, and we did a couple of episodes out here in London. Also I went back for a ten-day stretch in August and did another episode. So we've been going back-and-forth a little bit and making it work. And when I wrap on this, I'll just go immediately back on the show."
Someone asked him if it was hard to balance being a badass and being funny, and Pratt replied, "By being a badass, you're talking about Andy Dwyer, right? They're both super badass, so it's really easy."
Asked if he drew any direct inspiration from any previous characters in film, Pratt considered it for a moment. "I guess so? You'd think going into something that as an actor you would take performances that you've seen before and want to try to take influence from it, but that's not necessarily what I did. I know some actors probably work that way, but I've heard Kevin [Feige] say that he thought the stuff that he's looking at so far, he thought it was like Han Solo meets Marty McFly or something. That wasn't an intentional thing at all. The truth is, at least with me, I know that I'm different than anyone else, just like our mothers all tell us that we're all very special and unique, and we are. If an actor can stick to trying to make the character resemble something from their own spirit, it will automatically be unique, and 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 that you've seen before. It's like, no, this is going to be just me in this role."
We asked him if there were any days that were more surreal than others when working on some of the mind-bogglingly odd sets and locations that were created for the film. "Yes. Our Morag set… we have a set for a place called Morag. It's mind blowing. And there was another day in something called… oh, I don't want to give this away. Am I giving stuff away? There's something called the Kiln, which is another set." If you've seen the trailer for the film, The Kiln is the name of that prison where the Guardians first come together, and it was an astonishing physical build. Pratt continued, "There was one surreal day when we had a second A.D. 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. He was doing crowd control on 160 extras, all of whom have gone through extensive alien make up, and we're on a set that's maybe about as big as this warehouse that we're in right now but even taller. And there are prison cells all the way around, a giant tower in the middle. And there's this long crane shot…"
We told him that the sizzle reel Marvel showed us that morning had a bit of that, with James Gunn talking about pulling that off. "Yes. That long one shot that was put together. And I'm watching Michael, who's worked with Stanley Kubrick, directing these extras saying, 'Remember, the camera can see you! 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 dolly and crane shot that starts on our backs and then lifts up and then circles around, and you see a fight break out, and then you see it pans down to a second level, and you see these ominous prisoners grab someone and drag him into a cell, and then it goes down even further and you're seeing details, which I don't want to give away, 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 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?"
Pratt's character begins his life on Earth, but he is very quickly then removed from the familiar and taken into space, and we asked him how he's approaching that. Is his character informed more by his time on Earth or his time in space?
"I think at this point, he's definitely more informed by who he was on Earth. The arc of the character, it's a very human arc. It's really based on who he was and what was taken from him as a kid and something that he missed and lacks that he has to gain through the course of the movie. That's definitely what we're focusing on."
We asked how old he is when he leaves Earth, and he replied, "When he leaves Earth, he's a kid. He's like nine or ten. He's like a kid. Was that a spoiler?" We told him that in the production art room we visited, we'd seen a painting of Quill as a child sitting in a ship. Pratt, feeling that fear of spoiling that Marvel ingrains into its actors, quickly followed up. "No, no, no. He's a 30-year-old. He has pituitary issues. He's a 30-year-old 4' 3" kid/man." As we laughed, he continued, "No, he's about nine years old. And you get to see the origin of who he is and why he is the way he is when you meet him as an adult later in space."
We brought up the moment in the trailer where he dramatically introduces himself as Star-Lord, only to have Korath respond, "Who?" Since that will be the general reaction from the public, most of whom don't know the comic at all, we asked if that helps him in terms of being able to make Star-Lord his own.
"That moment was actually a collaboration, I think. Because I don't think in the original script that it was like that. I remember reading it and my thought was like why is he just saying 'I am Star-Lord'? And I talked to James and I was like, 'Maybe it should be this moment where it's like who? Who is that?' And I feel like that was something that we collaborated on. What's great is the stakes of what happens in the movie legitimizes this nickname he'd love to have himself be called. I don't want to give it away too much, but you see why he's called Star-Lord in this movie."
One of the interviewers pressed the question, asking again if it helped Pratt put his own signature on the role. "I don't necessarily know if it affects me one way or another. I mean, it's a good question. I think it probably is helpful that people don't know who he is, because it would be my intention to want to make this my own anyways. But I feel like that's something that Robert Downey Jr. did with Iron Man, was he kind of came in and he is Tony Stark, and he kind of is now because he probably can afford actual weapon systems. The guy could probably seriously build his own suit now with all the money he's making. To be honest, I don't know Robert Downey Jr., but I'm just assuming. Maybe that's not how he is at all Maybe he has a British accent and like is a totally different person than Tony Stark, but to me it seems like Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. And he was a guy that people obviously knew, and Iron Man, maybe not as much as like you said Captain America and other characters, but that was something that I would like to be able to try to do is just keep it real and keep it close to who I am. Maybe the fact that no one knows these characters, that'll be helpful. It probably will be helpful because if you look at like 'Star Wars,' when the prequels came out, there's a lot of expectations there. And that's tough, to shoulder a project with preconceived notions and expectations and all these things, it really makes it difficult. It makes it difficult because you spend the whole movie trying to satisfy what people think they know about a character. The very first 'Star Wars' didn't have that problem because it was all brand new. You just take it for what it is. So what I'm saying is we'll be better than 'Star Wars.'"
How can you not like a guy who gives an answer like that?
We asked him which of the other characters in the film he's really fallen in love with. "In this story? Oh, man, Drax is awesome. Not only the character but Dave Bautista the actor. I really adore him so much, and he's very, very good, and so unique. I just really love him. And I think Rocket is a great character. Not just in a way that you think. I mean there's a lot of heart there. James did a great job of looking at Rocket as a real character rather than a cartoon character, and so when you see the story unfold, there's going to be some… you should 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 because he's a raccoon with a machine gun. So that's good. I like him. All the characters are really great but those two are probably in particular right now."
Since the movie is about an ensemble of characters coming together, we asked Pratt how his experience with the other actors has been, and whether he felt like they had clicked as a team in real life as well. "Yeah. I think probably. The synergy of the whole group we obviously don't get to feel on-set because two of the characters are CG, and I'm hoping that when it's all said and done… what's kind of great is when I see this movie, so much of it, I'm just going to be a spectator, seeing stuff, like sequences where I did not know what they'd look like, and the characters… I don't really know how they're going to look in the end, do you know what I mean? We've definitely come together and gotten to know each other better, but this has been unlike any other movie I've been on where, you know, you walk away from set, and then just the cast goes and hangs out and stuff like that. We're just working nonstop. We've been working so much. And we've gotten to know each other pretty well because we've been together for five months in a foreign country, but its been eye on the prize this whole time. There hasn't been a lot of downtime to do anything, at least for me. I feel like I've been working every second."
He brought up the CG characters, so we asked him if there's any real difference for him as an actor when working opposite a character who is added later via animation. "It turns out it's kind of the same as it not being CGI. You're still just kind of standing there looking at something and pretending and saying the words. It hasn't been that hard. I think it would be a lot harder if we didn't have Sean Gunn playing Rocket." That was a sentiment we heard repeated all day long from cast members, who never got to work with Bradley Cooper on-set since he wasn't brought onto the film until they were deep into production. James Gunn's brother, who does play a small on-screen role in the film, was the performance stand-in for Rocket, and everyone praised the way he brought the character to life.
Pratt continued, "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. 'I am Groot.' Everyone knows that he says 'I am Groot,' and that's it. So much of what actors do is just listening and responding, and so 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. There's this flow that happens when you're just 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 that I feel really bad for rather than like a tennis ball or something."
We also doubled back to ask him about his startling physical transformation for the role and what changes it made to him as an actor to suddenly have this very different body. "Yeah, I think it definitely changed… there's a lot of elements that really, like I said, made it easy for me in the costume, like the hair and the makeup and the props and the sets and then working out and getting in good shape. Like I would just get out of hair and makeup and have my costume on and look at myself in the mirror, and I would not even see myself staring back. I would see Peter Quill or like this kind of heroic character. I was thinking, 'This is fucking cool, man.' So, yeah, it's definitely – it's a third of what I do I think as an actor, just what I look like. 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 which I can manipulate, but the way I look is also something you can manipulate, but it probably makes up a third of the performance. That's why there are people that are just completely dull and have nothing going on in the inside, but when you look at them, they look compelling. There's a great symmetry or something, and you're kind of captivated by them, even though on the inside there's nothing going on. You know what I mean? There are people like that, and as long as they sound good and can link sentences together without stumbling…"
Someone asked him if he'd like to give us a particular name as an example. "Almost all of them," he shot back, not missing a beat. "Truly, there are actors where there's not anything… there's nothing going on. I've met some of them and I'm like wow. There's fucking nothing going on there. So, yeah, the physical transformation, that's a big part of it, like it's my vehicle. It's my body that I'm inside of and it can't not affect the way that people perceive you and the way you perceive yourself."
We asked him who Peter Quill is when we meet him in the film and what he's looking for before he meets up with the rest of 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 has got a hope to him, like the kind of hope that you have when you buy a lottery ticket. He thinks if you could just make that score, everything will be fine and everything will be taken care of. 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 going to come from doing something bigger then yourself and giving yourself up to something that's bigger than yourself. So we find him in a hopeful playful place, and he's sort of escaping and a little bit on the run."
Since Pratt is known primarily for comedy, as is James Gunn, we asked how important the humor is to this story. "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 really hard for other movies to come out 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. I think we have similar senses of humor and a really great relationship and banter onset that probably could be seen as inappropriate. But it's really keeping us both sane. I think humor is a big part. This is ultimately his movie and his voice, and you'll definitely see that humor through the course of this movie. I think it is important and a 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 good comedy, like all the Indiana Jones movies and like 'Romancing the Stone.' Any type of movie where we have an adventure, a potential budding sexual chemistry, and humor all altogether, it really works. That really works."
At this point, I think people assume that any movie that is funny must involve a ton of improv, and someone asked Pratt if he's riffing a lot in the film. "You know, no, not really. No. This is not the place for that, I don't think. I do sometimes, but it is probably not something that I should be doing. I just sometimes can't help it. And I know a little bit of that stuff might make it in. 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 in your own words. If it makes it more natural, then that can be a little bit better. But I've been trying pretty hard to just stick to the lines because you don't want to just like blow a $300,000 crane dollying helicopter shot or something because you wanted to poke a little fun. Like what are you doing!? No! It's going to take us five hours to reset this shot! There's some room for that in some of the scenes, but for the most part, not a lot."
Asked which "Guardians" comics he read to prepare for the film, Pratt said, "Well, when I first talked with James here, I had read some of the newest, the Bendis stuff, the very newest stuff. And I talked to James and I was like, 'What do you think?' And he's like, 'Don't read anymore. I don't want you to read any.' Essentially the idea was that – he said I could read the Abnett and Lanning stuff if I want, if I felt compelled, and I had to read something, we'd be closest to that, but he was like, 'Don't, because we're not re-creating 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 using a different medium.' So it would be like if someone else was going to release, you know, 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'd want to use. You'd 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 Guardian of the Galaxy book. This is its own thing and 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."
We'll have so much to share about "Guardians Of The Galaxy" between now and the release, but Chris Pratt's enthusiasm is a definite indicator of what you can expect from the rest of the coverage as well. This one's looking pretty special so far, and we can't wait to see it all put together.
"Guardians Of The Galaxy" is in theaters August 1, 2014.