As a film journalist, most of the time when we talk to actors or technicians, it is months or sometimes years after that person has finished working on the movie. But with set visits, it’s during production. Not only have you, as a journalist, not seen the movie (which, it should be noted, is an essential part of the process), but the actor or whoever doesn’t have a clue what that movie is going to be, either. It’s like showing up at the office of a novelist and asking them to talk about the finished book. Pretty weird.
But what made our visit to the set of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Disney and Marvel’s upcoming, space-set superhero romp, even more bizarre, is that almost all of the actors looked otherworldly in some way (more on those actors when we’re actually allowed to talk about them). The sets, located at England’s famous Shepperton Studios (under the just-as-bad-ass codename “Full Tilt”), were spaceships. They took up whole warehouses of space (what seemed like football stadiums-worth of square footage) and were filled with intricate, technologically sophisticated detail.
When we were finally able to talk to Chris Pratt, who plays human being Peter Quill aka Star Lord in the film, the head of the band of merry outlaws known as the Guardians of the Galaxy that also includes sexy assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), hulking brute Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), sentient tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and trigger-happy raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), it wasn’t on one of these elaborate sets but inside a cavernously empty soundstage next door, where we imagined they probably ran laps in between takes or reenacted scenes from “Big” (you know, after he gets the giant loft apartment… Ah forget it…)
Pratt had his Guardians gear underneath a white wraparound that looked like a cross between the smock that they give you at the hair salon and a Jedi knight’s robe, and, for a man who was transitioning from relative obscurity (yes, “Parks and Recreation” is beloved but not exactly a ratings powerhouse) to the lead in a giant summer superhero movie, seemed, at least in that moment, at ease and perfectly calm. His cosmic flow was perfectly in balance.
In fact, Pratt seemed to shrug off most of our questions even if, when answering, electric currents of nervousness popped up now and again. When talking about being enveloped in the world, he said that the props and costumes are a huge help. “All that stuff makes my job much easier because it’s doing a lot of the work for me,” Pratt explained. “The props, the costume, mask and guns, everything that distracts the viewers attention from me, just in case I fuck it up please just look at the cool guns.”
Keep in mind though, when we visited the props department for the movie, which looked like some kind of 33rd century, inter-dimensional armory, the technician said that they had sent Pratt his laser guns ahead of time, so that he could practice (we imagine that included scaring the cat). This was one of the moments where his charming goofiness came to the forefront, considering that he had something very different on his mind than how his ray gun looked and felt.
“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,” he revealed. (Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.) Pratt continued: “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.'”
At one point, in between cracking jokes about how hard balancing the job of playing a badass and being super funny (“By badass you mean Andy Dwyer, right? They’re both super badass so it’s really easy…”), Pratt turned around to shush a small cluster of extras who looked like second-tier plumbers on the Death Star. It must have been a little humiliating getting told to quiet down, especially by an American actor and superstar-in-training whose big movie wouldn’t open for almost another year.
This is an aspect that he shares with the character of Star Lord, who might not be familiar to audiences as widely as, say, Iron Man or Captain America, and Pratt said that he helped come up with that famous line in the trailer when he has to explain who he is. “I remember reading it and my thought was, Why is he just saying I am Star-Lord? And then I talked to James and I was like, ‘Maybe there should be this moment where it’s like, Who? Who is that?‘ And I feel like that was something we collaborated on.”
Still, Pratt insists that by the end of the movie, he’ll earn his stripes, er, cool cosmic nickname. “What’s great is the stakes of what happens in the movie legitimizes this nickname.”
When the question was brought up as to whether or not the character’s relative anonymity amongst the public at large was helpful in that he was able to make the character more fully his own, Pratt was unsure. “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.”
Then things got wacky, but still, Pratt continued: “He came in and he is Tony Stark — and he kind of is now because he can probably afford like 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.”
Downey Jr. seems to be his role model for what he wants to do with the character. “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,” he explained, with a combination of confidence and sheepishness. “And it probably will be helpful, because you think of it like those ‘Star Wars’ movies that came out, the prequels. There’s a lot of expectations there, and to shoulder a project with preconceived notions, expectations and all these things, it really makes it difficult. It makes it difficult if you spend the whole movie trying to satisfy what people think they know about a character. The first ‘Star Wars’ didn’t have that problem because it’s all brand-new. You just take it for what it is.”
And then, without missing a beat, Pratt delivered the deadpan button to this whole speech, “So what I’m saying is that we will be better than Star Wars.”
And you definitely got a “Star Wars”-y vibe from the sets, which were, as previously reported, unbelievably massive and sci-fi-y, and from Pratt’s character. He said that Marvel head Kevin Feige looked at the footage and described Star-Lord as ” Han Solo-meets-Marty McFly,” even though Pratt insisted that he wasn’t trying to be either character, necessarily. (When trying to describe what “Guardians of the Galaxy” will be to people who are unfamiliar, we usually fall back on: “it’s like if there was a ‘Star Wars’ movie and every character was Han Solo.” Which works pretty well.)
Of course, everyone wanted to know about the physical transformation Pratt went through to get his somewhat bulkier form down to lean, mean, alien-blasting shape. He said that sometimes he would get out of the make-up chair and not even notice the guy staring back at him from the mirror: he was Star-Lord. “I mean 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 which, all of those things I can manipulate, but the way I look is also something you can manipulate,” Pratt said, matter-of-factly. “That’s why there are people that are just like completely dull and have nothing going on the inside, but when you look at ’em, and they look compelling. There’s great symmetry or something, and you’re kind of captivated by them, even though on the inside there’s nothing going on!” Everyone sitting around the table, in this empty, dusty soundstage laughed because this is probably 95% of Hollywood Pratt is talking about. “Know what I mean?” Yes, Chris, we do.
While Pratt described his character as having a truly dramatic story arc, having been abducted from Earth as a young boy and now living life as an intergalactic outlaw (“He is on a quest to escape, essentially”), he said that there is still tons of comedy in the movie, thanks mainly to writer/director James Gunn’s gag-heavy script and his own inclinations. “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,” Pratt explained, digging up some more of that Star-Lord bravado. “James is really, really funny. This is ultimately his movie and his voice, and you’ll definitely see that humor through the course of this movie.”
He then described the movie thusly: “It’s 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 ‘Romancing the Stone.’ Any type of movie where you have an adventure, potential budding sexual chemistry and humor all together, it really works.”
And based on everything we saw, heard, and experienced through intergalactic telepathic communication on the set of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” we couldn’t agree more: it really works. This is going to be an out-of-control, wildly entertaining movie, and after it opens, Pratt is going to be a huge star (he’s already scheduled to appear in next summer’s sure-to-be-blockbuster “Jurassic World”).
Basically, he’s out of this world.
Be sure to come back to Moviefone.com for more from our visit to the Planet X set of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and visit the “Guardians of the Galaxy” Facebook page on Monday at 10 a.m. for a live “Guardians” Q&A, followed immediately by the brand-new trailer. Trust us, it’s a doozy.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” hits theaters August 1.