Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn has long been the secret weapon of genre films, the fan who rose through the ranks of Troma Entertainment, concocted Tromeo and Juliet, wrote a Bram Stoker Award-nominated script for one of the few acclaimed remakes in the last decade, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead, then directed two of the smartest, most beloved, and sadly underrated comedies in recent memory: Slither and Super. Along the way, he even found time to create a video game, Lollipop Chainsaw. But Gunn’s name and reputation are poised to shoot through the stratosphere with the release of this weekend’s Guardians, already one of the most praised films of the year. I sat down with Gunn at last month’s Saturn Awards in Burbank, and the talented multihyphenate spoke with me about how his close friendship with Joss Whedon contributed to the making of Guardians, and his hopes for an expanded Marvel cosmic universe on screen in the years ahead. Then things got really nerdy as Gunn delved into his all-time favorite Marvel comic books…
Nerdist: Did your prior relationship with Joss Whedon contribute to Thanos’ presence in Guardians of the Galaxy?
James Gunn: No, I think it was just a lucky coincidence. When they first called me and started heavily considering me for this film I thought that it was because of Joss. Then later I heard that Joss didn’t know about me about to get hired until Jeremy Latcham, one of the executive producers, told him. Then he really backed the decision, which was great. I didn’t know what the situation was with all that. But definitely because Joss and I have a very similar way of looking at entertainment – and also very different ways of looking at entertainment – that kind of helped a lot. Because the way in which it’s similar makes Guardians similar to The Avengers, but then in other ways it’s very, very different from The Avengers. So that’s a pretty cool thing.
N: Did you find yourselves collaborating at all on the writing of Guardians?
JG: Yeah, we talked a lot about certain characters and we talked a lot about what the role of Thanos was in the larger universe might be. It wasn’t too much involvement, but he definitely helped out. He definitely had some ideas for lines and things that are in the movie. He was just an overall great guy to have my back, and somebody I could talk to before the movie started and say, “Hey, what’s it like to work with these guys?” The actor that we chose to play Thanos [Josh Brolin] was chosen together by me and Joss. We chose him together. That was the one role in which we did that.
N: Are you already looking at a trilogy of Guardians films?
JG: It’s my hope to be able to make more movies. I thought about it from the very beginning. I have all sorts of thoughts of ways that the cosmic universe can spin off into different directions, whether it’s in another Guardians movie or other movies that are related to it.
N: Could we yet see the two most iconic of Marvel’s cosmic heroes – Warlock and Captain Marvel — in a film?
JG: Yeah, you may still see some of those people. I’d love to… If there are more movies we’ll bring more characters in. So I would love to see the cosmic wing of Marvel thrive. It depends on how the movie does. They’re taking a very big risk. The movie’s very different. But it’s pretty exciting to see how people on the internet have taken to it.
N: In a world where Pacific Rim 2 is in development, I can’t imagine Guardians not becoming a favorite of most every fanboy and fangirl on the planet… Did you grow up with Marvel’s cosmic comics?
JG: Thanks. Yeah, I grew up with them in the ’70s and the ’80s. I grew up with Marvel comics in general. I read every single Marvel comic I could get my hands on. I was a huge, huge, huge comic book fan. It was definitely the center of my life until about the time I was twelve or so, and then films – film and punk rock sort of took over. But I never stopped reading comic books. I think I’m the only person… There’s a lot of people at Marvel who are directors – and, God, I was a huge Marvel fanatic when I was a kid – but I think I was one of the few people who went in there and said, “Yeah, I still read Marvel comic books every week.” The least amount of Marvel comic books I’ve ever read in my life has been over the past two years, because I was so busy. [Laughs.]
N: Did any particular Marvel comics inform your work on Guardians?
JG: I definitely liked Bill Mantlo’s work – especially on ROM: SpaceKnight. He’s the creator of Rocket, you know, so that’s pretty cool… I was a big fan of Marv Wolfman, who created Nova and the Nova Corps. I was a big fan of Frank Miller, especially his Daredevil. Oh, Jesus, there’s just so much… The Chris Claremont and John Byrne run on The X-Men changed my life! I feel bad for all the people I’m not naming, but there’s just… That was my world. All of that stuff was amazing.