Talking 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,' Bad Guys and Baby Groot With Marvel Boss Kevin Feige
By John Boone
No one knows more about the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- both what's come already and what's still to come through 2019 and beyond -- than Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. Last April, ET traveled to Atlanta, Georgia's Pinewood Studios, which had been transformed into a galaxy far, far away to film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and although Feige couldn't chaperone the entire set visit (both he and Pinewood were pulling double duty that day for Spider-Man: Homecoming), the MCU's secret keeper sat down with reporters in their concept-art adorned "war room" for an hour-long conversation about all things Guardians.
As Feige's word is gospel in the Marvel fan community, we present the entire Q&A -- often illuminating, more than occasionally calculatedly coy -- in full. The discussion, as all talk of GotG2 would, should, and will, began with Baby Groot.
Why hasn't Groot gotten bigger? What's the story behind that?
Feige: Well, I don't know if you're aware, but the growth cycle of a Groot is slower. This movie takes place relatively soon after the events of the last film. Just a few months. So, he's probably just grown out of that pot and is now this size, but as [director] James [Gunn], I'm sure, will tell you, he’s just as dumb as big Groot was. And I mean, he's not really a baby...He gets mad at people.
Then, of course, the fun thing is, whereas Groot was Rocket's protector in the first movie, Rocket is Groot's protector in this movie. Which was something we had talked about and planned on. When we were making the first film and we were just concentrating on making that film as great as it can be, there were always little things that we say, "Boy, if we get to make another one, it would be really fun..." From the moment we were shooting and animating Rocket on Groot's shoulder, we were saying, "In the next one, we’ll reverse it. Wouldn't that be cool?" And that's what we're doing.
Are you going to be doing anything different with Groot's voice, since obviously Vin Diesel has that deep, gravelly voice?
He will sound different, yeah, but he'll still say that same thing. [Laughs]
You said a few months have passed, what has happened between when the first film ended and this film starts?
I think they're giving it a shot at being more organized heroes. They are available for do-gooding, so to speak. It doesn’t always go well, but they try that. And when we first meet them, in the beginning of the movie, they're on a planet called Sovereign, where they've been asked to help with this giant sort of inter-dimensional beast that comes out and eats [Sovereign's] batteries, their power source, and wreaks havoc on the planet. The Guardians have been asked to come in and dispatch with that thing, and that's how our film starts. Their legend and their mythology has grown and spread throughout the universe, because they defeated Ronan and because they -- Peter, in particular -- were able to hold an Infinity Stone and not die.
Is this inter-dimensional beast a nod to the Cancerverse?
Not specifically. We don't talk about that. It's more just a fun beast for them to attack in the opening title sequence.
I assume that Peter Quill's legend growing only makes Peter Quill more of an a**hole.
It doesn't take much to make Peter Quill more of an a**hole. Yes, there's a pompousness...They've all grown a bit more pompous and, you know, [it's] the garage band that then gets a multi-platinum album and have egos to go along with that. Which is true for all of them frankly. Not Drax as much, but all of them -- particularly Quill.
Is this team still getting to know one another?
They are, of course, but they are really and truly a family. One of the things I think makes James so special as a writer-director -- and you saw it in the first movie and it's even more so in this film -- is for as fun as it is, for outrageous as it is, with characters named Taserface and Baby Groot killing people and throwing them around, it is very, very emotional and not cynical in the least. It is very, very truthful, and sort of unabashedly so, in its emotions. And it's a very special combination that I think James is perfect for, and that's sort of the crux of this whole movie.
How does Kurt Russell factor in?
Kurt Russell [plays] a mysterious figure, an adventurer from far parts of the galaxy, who has heard the legend that has spread of the Guardians and has come to meet them and check them out for the first time.
What is the main drive of the movie? What we've seen so far has made it seem like it is Quill looking for his father and also something to do with the Ravagers.
It's a combination. The Ravagers are a big part of this movie and much more so than even the first film. We did a costume test for the Ravagers. You always do makeup and costume tests on every movie, and usually people come in and they stand around. Chris Pratt will put on his outfit and stand there and turn around and we point at his butt and you get the gist of what the costume is going to be. With the Ravagers, we had them all in full costume and full makeup, and then James put them all together and basically just said, "Act like the Ravagers." I'm telling you, I could have watched that footage for three hours. It was hilarious, and it was amazing seeing these guys. They are some of the same actors from the first movie and a lot of new actors playing new characters, and there's something just really sort of chemically interesting that happens when you put them all together.
There is a story that Yondu [Michael Rooker] has gotten soft, that Yondu has a soft spot for Quill. He clearly, at the end of the first movie, opens the Orb and sees that Infinity Stone is not in there, that a little troll doll is in there, and he smiles. It's a very sweet moment in the first movie. I think it shows that he cares about Quill maybe more than he even admits, but there are other Ravagers who think that was sh*tty and think they should have hunted him down and killed him right on the spot. And there is an incident in the first act of this movie where they've been hired to get [Quill] and yet again, Yondu is like, "We're not going to take down the Guardians of the Galaxy. We'd be crazy to do that. We'd endanger ourselves. The entire Nova Corp, everybody, would come after us if we did that." Taserface [Chris Sullivan] and some others are like, "Bullsh*t. You're just saying that because you're soft on Quill." It leads to a mutiny and, in that, we have a subplot of these mutinous Ravagers and Yondu and Rocket and Groot sort of teaming up and escaping from that mutiny to go help Quill. You may have noticed without much ceremony in the [preview], but we see it with great ceremony in the movie, Yondu gets a much bigger fin on top of his head, which was James' sort of nod of the head to that bigger fin he had in the comics. And also because he looks frickin’ awesome in that bigger fin.
Can we confirm that Elizabeth Debicki is Ayesha and Chris Sullivan is Taserface?
Yes, yes. Did we not confirm that? That is correct. That is correct.
What can you tell us about Ayesha? Would you call her the main villain?
She and Taserface together. She is the one who hires the Ravagers to go after Quill, because -- and this is sort of a spoiler, so you should be a little careful about it -- after the opening that I already described, where they're paid to protect these super-duper expensive batteries that run the entire Sovereign planet, they're walking away, they've defeated the monster, they're heading back to their ship, and Rocket reveals to Drax that he's stolen, like, three of these batteries. Because they're really expensive and they're not going to notice and who cares! And the Sovereign are kind of dicks anyway. They're very pompous and they're gold and they're easily offended, which we're also told early in this sequence. There's a very particular way you need to deal with them and you need to speak with them and you need to be delicate, which is not easy for the Guardians -- and certainly not easy when Rocket reveals that he's snagged these things right out from under them. That creates a bit of strife for them as the Sovereign end up chasing after them, less because they want those three batteries back, but more because how dare they insult the great Sovereign people.
How does Nebula [Karen Gillan] fit into the story then? Because she sort of went off on her own at the end of the last one.
She cut her own hand off, jumped onto a ship and flew away. She comes back into the story relatively early on. In fact, we realize that the payment for the mission that the Guardians have done on Sovereign is to get Nebula. The Sovereign have captured Nebula and are exchanging her for the services of the Guardians helping them. They want to take Nebula back to Xandar, to have her arrested. Things go awry on that journey and she becomes a much bigger player in the film than she was in the first one. James said in the sizzle and can talk more about it, you explore that dynamic between them as sisters, as adopted sisters who both clearly were raised in less than ideal circumstances by Thanos, and it's Nebula's deciding, Does she want to kill Gamora or is she going to set aside this sort of internal rage within her? And she does spend some time teaming up with Taserface for much of the movie, too.
Familial conflicts seem to be a through-line, whether it's Rocket and Groot and their relationship, obviously Peter and his father, Gamora and Nebula. Is that the subtext of this movie, people interacting with their own families and fathers?
Absolutely. And Peter and Yondu. And Peter and his real father, who may show up.
We see a bunch of different locations. How many planets are we going to this time? How big is the scope of the galaxy this time?
I would say it's as big, if not bigger, than the first movie. Sovereign is a planet. Berheart is a planet. Some of these names change, because they're not often referenced in dialogue, so it comes down to the locator. We changed a lot of the names back and forth before we locked them in the first movie. But Sovereign is a planet, Berheart is a planet, Contraxia is a planet, J'son is a planet. We see glimpses of two or three other worlds, but these are the major locations.
Is there any Thanos in this?
Can you talk a little bit about how Mantis comes into the fold?
She's amazing. Pom Klementieff is really amazing and is really unique. She auditioned for the part many, many times, along with many, many other people, because James is doing something very unique with Mantis, who has never really encountered other people and other humanoids before. She makes Drax look like the most world-savvy person there is. It's a tough thing to do and to be endearing, and she's pretty amazing at it. She comes into the story along with the Kurt Russell character and doesn't know the other characters and doesn't know much of the world. Talking about the bonds between characters, she and Drax spend a lot of time together in this story, as well.
Mantis in the comics is a highly complicated, weird character whose history makes little sense. I’m assuming we're sort of clean-slating it here, with the movie version of Mantis? Or is the Celestial Madonna stuff in play?
Those specifics are not in play, but that doesn’t mean it's any less complicated and weird. [Laughs]
The first Guardians did a lot of heavy lifting for setting up what will become Avengers: Infinity War. Without Thanos in this movie, what role do you see Guardians Vol. 2 having within the larger MCU as we're building toward Infinity War?
I always say all of the movies [are] standalone stories but that fit into [the larger MCU]. This is even more of a standalone story than Civil War. This is about the characters. This is about their evolution as heroes, as their own internal family, as a group of characters known as the Guardians of the Galaxy. The way this film ends and the team at the end will inform future things, but there's nothing that nods directly towards it.
With Nova being introduced in the first movie as an -- I don't know what they are? A species or police force -- are we going to see an evolution of that? Could we ever see, like, a superhero-style Centurion Nova?
Certainly you could see that someday. This movie is not a set-up for that in any way.
One thing I think people loved about the first film was how weird and crazy you guys got. Are you pushing that with this film? Or have you now established the universe?
No, we're pushing. There were a handful of things that we discussed about what the next movie could be about as we were finishing the first movie. And we released the first movie and James went off for a little while and took some of those things and came back and had a pitch for this movie that was amazing. We were in the midst of a couple of other projects at the time, as we always are. A lot of which were not easy -- none of them are easy -- and you're tangling through different storylines and stuff, and James delivered a 64-page treatment. We were dealing with all these other things and I was like, "64-page treatment?! Like, why couldn't it just be four-page beat sheets?" I started reading it and it was frickin' amazing. And it's changed, it evolved a little bit, but it was so well-thought-out and so set up in payoffs and character beats and jokes that it was just like, [Sighs in relief] "Maybe I don’t have to worry about this one." Of course, we worry about everything, but what was great about this and was a little bit easier than the first movie was that you know the characters' voices now. We were defining all of them as we were going in the first movie. Now, you know their voices. So, when you read it, you hear that.
So, to that regard, yes, these characters' voices are just as distinct and fresh as they were the first time. However, the overarching storyline and where the story takes us, I think is perhaps even more unique and more daring than the first film, in terms of there's maybe an easy way and a hard way, but the hard way maybe could be more interesting. Which is kind of what Guardians was all about for us, when building a movie universe, and we're certainly going that way as well, in this movie.
Was the music a part of that pitch? And how does the music play into this one?
I think he gave a disc at the same time that the treatment came out. Right around there. It is all off the tape. It's all off of Volume 2. I would say that the other Guardians now know that music is a thing for Peter, so in early scenes, you see Baby Groot -- which, he's just Groot in the movie, but on set we call him Baby Groot -- setting up these little outer-space speakers so that the music can play for all of them, because Quill likes to hear music when he's fighting! So, it does go more than just his headset, but it's all based off of Volume 2. And I would say that a couple of the songs -- and particularly one song -- have very unique lyrics that play a much more specific part into the plot than any song did in the first film.
Were you able to get all the songs you wanted?
We've cleared all the songs that were in the script, yeah. You don't actually pay for them until you cut the movie together and decide. If you use the first movie as a track record, maybe one or two songs came out of the movie that had been in the script, for length more than anything else. But we'll probably end up using the vast majority of them -- and certainly the ones that play into the plot and dialogue are in.
Does Peter Quill only listen to mixtape Volume 2 now, or does he revisit the first one?
Right now it's only Volume 2.
We're not getting any closer to bringing this team to Earth at any point, are we? It seems like you're going out further into space.
We are going out further, yes. There's a little bit of Earth in this film. But it's not these characters going to Earth.
With the first movie being such a big success and with people really keying into this portion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, do you see, going forward, more films set in this part of the universe? We've been so Earth-bound. Is there a possibility of the Nova Corp or other cosmic Marvel characters branching off from this foundational stone?
Yeah, for sure. I don’t know about branching off from this, but certainly inhabiting similar areas from this. A lot of our upcoming movies will. I mean, the upcoming movies will be as much up here as they are on Earth, starting with Thor: Ragnarok. There are three scenes on Earth in Thor: Ragnarok. Everything else is Asgard, and not any of these worlds, but worlds that certainly -- let's put it this way, in Thor lingo: it's beyond the Nine Realms. There are other planets that we spend a lot of time on in Thor: Ragnarok, that certainly people would say, "Oh, that's sort of like the Guardians world." But they're just other areas of the Marvel cosmos universe.
As the Guardians reputation spreads through the galaxy, are they going to hear even a whisper of the Avengers or Thor or anything like that? Are we going to get a sense that it is the same universe, even just a quick mention?
They might know about Thor. It doesn't come up. I don't think they know anything about the Avengers. I mean, Volstagg and Sif walked into the Collector's lab once, so some people must know they exist. But that doesn't come into play in this story.
The first movie worked so well, tonally and the music and it's funny and everything. How do you go about not just repeating that this time, but sort of giving this its own separate space to work in?
Well, going to all these different planets. Going to very different locations and introducing all the new characters that are introduced in this movie. Evolving significantly the relationships -- Yondu, Nebula -- of supporting characters from the first film. [Those are] certainly a couple of the ways that James is doing that.
How are these villains different from any of the other villains that we've seen so far in the Marvel Universe?
Taserface and Ayesha are less grandiose in their ambitions than Ronan was, for instance. Ayesha just wants to kill them for slighting her, and Taserface wants to lead the Ravagers and thinks that, as I said, Yondu got soft. We learn that there are many Ravager factions, of which Yondu controlled one large faction and a faction that, frankly, was not necessarily beloved by the other Ravager factions -- in large part because they did things like traffic kids from one place to another. So, Yondu is getting softer. His experience with Quill in the first movie perhaps is softening him a little bit, certainly more so than the other Ravagers. And Taserface thinks, "Who cares about the other Ravagers and this guy getting soft? We’re going to be--" We never say pirates, of course, but that's sort of the inspiration for them, regardless. And there are a couple references to walking the plank. Taserface is not a nice guy.
What's at the end of that plank?
Outer space. The deadly vacuum of space.
What have you learned about creating villains for the Marvel movies? Because earlier in Phase 2, as well, the scale was always really big, like Ronan. But even Baron Zemo [Daniel Brühl] in Civil War, it's very small in scope.
It always varies. But it always starts with what serves the story the most and what serves the hero the most. If a big criticism of ours is that we focus on the heroes more than the villains, I think that's probably true. I don't think it will always be true, and I think some of you spoke to [screenwriters] Chris [Markus] and Steve [McFeely] at the Civil War junket and they talked about -- in appropriately oblique terms -- Thanos. In Infinity War, in a movie that has a lot of characters, you could almost go so far as to say Thanos is the main character. That's a bit of a departure from what we’ve done before, but that was appropriate for a movie called Infinity War. In a lot of cases, [like] Ronan -- Ronan's great! Lee Pace [did an] awesome job and absolutely serves it! -- but certainly was there to go up against our heroes and to give our heroes a reason for coming together.
In 2008, there are two superhero movies that came out. One focused on the villain, one focused on the hero. [DC's The Dark Knight and Marvel's Iron Man.] We at Marvel looked at them, like, "Yeah, we focus on the heroes." We don't mind that. We like that. Please don't start a flame war. We don't need that. Nobody wants that. We don't do that. But, again, it really always is what serves the story. Loki [Tom Hiddleston], great character, serves in a lot of ways Thor. Zemo served that conflict between Cap and Iron Man.
Do you find that you might start having these villains that don't go away after one movie, like with Loki and Thanos? That you might start incorporating villains that you can develop like your heroes?
Sure. I mean, if we're talking about all of Phase 3, a lot of them can continue. Thanos is the biggest one, of course.
Will we see any Infinity Stones in this one?
It seems like the scope of this is big, but the scale seems to be small and personal. Is there sort of a universe-ending or planet-destroying threat that we're not seeing here? Or is it really just these two different groups that want to get the Guardians?
It's mainly these two different groups. There are other surprises and other things that happen in the movie, over the course of the story, but all of it is in the service of very, very, very personal stakes.
Is it a challenge finding time for every person in the sequel? Because coming out of the first movie, everybody had their favorite, like, "I love Groot" or "I love Rocket." With the sequel, some people might be coming in wanting a lot of Star-Lord, some people might want a lot of Yondu...
They will get a lot of both of those things. No, I think it comes down to the screenplay again. I think with Civil War, Chris and Steve and Joe and Anthony [Russo] did a magnificent job of balancing those characters and there are many more characters in Civil War than there are in this movie. But that's one of the things that James does incredibly well. And again, it's not about the amount of screen time. It's about what they're doing in the screen time they have. And I think every single character [here] has great moments, and more than that, great arcs over the course of the movie, for sure.
Can you talk about Baby Groot's costume, why he has clothing on this time and how that came to be?
He only has it very briefly, and that is a Ravager costume, which the very mean Ravagers quickly sew and put him in, because they think it's funny. Groot does not think it's funny.
Some of the fun of the first Guardians was the way it rather audaciously subverted a lot of superhero movie tropes, down to Peter Quill challenging Ronan to a dance-off. Can you talk about how that will continue in the next movie, if at all?
I would say the spirit of that continues throughout the entire movie, starting with an opening in which they’re supposedly the heroes, but they went and snagged the frickin' thing they were supposed to be protecting. Which was a very early idea that James had.
This is obviously complicated by different departments being involved in this question, but with the first Guardians, there was a lot of concern that when the merch came out, Gamora wasn't seen in a lot of places. This movie forwards Nebula and Mantis joins the group. As the merch comes forward, are we going to see more women? Is there follow-up to that #WheresBlackWidow campaign that people were having on the internet?
That was very frustrating for us, because we see it from the other side. When I say "we," I mean the filmmakers. We're presented with the stuff that's being made and I don't know if there's an absolutely equal sampling, but Black Widow was all over that. Gamora was all over that stuff. What we don't see is how much of it is in any given store. How easy is one piece of merchandise to find versus another piece of merchandise. So, we see the stuff and we go, "Oh great, these are all our characters. They're all greatly represented. They’re all going to be sold." And then we find out, oh, you can’t find this, you can’t find that, or there are lunch boxes or a backpack where a certain character is not on it. And I think the outrage was great, because that's not going to happen anymore.
That was one of our big things we set out to do and was very important to James as well -- as we did in the first film, with a number of characters, and even more so this time, putting women at the forefront of the story.
So, is that something that you're going to be more involved in going forward, making sure that there is that representation?
There is, in as much as what we can have sway over. We can't have sway over how many items of what a retail store wants to stock on a shelf. But when toy sets come over, or T-shirt designs come over, if they're not representative of the film... We're not even saying, "Is the equality of each gender specific?" We’re saying, "Does it represent the movie we’re making?" And if it doesn't, we send it back until it does.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 blasts into theaters on May 5.