Believe it or not that come this weekend, Sean Gunn will have appeared in four movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While you might only recognize the actor as the person the Ravager Kraglin in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, he always serves as the motion reference on-set actor for Rocket Raccoon, both in the Guardians films in addition to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
ComicBook.com had the chance to speak with Gunn ahead of the debut of Avengers: Endgame and here's what the actor had to say about his multiple roles, the future of the Guardians property, and a potential appearance in Warner Brothers' The Suicide Squad.
ComicBook.com: Let's start off at the beginning. You're essentially the Swiss army knife of the MCU. You have the live action role as Kraglin and you do a motion capture role as Rocket. Which one of those two came first?
Sean Gunn: Well, they kind of came at the same time. I like your term, Swiss army knife. I always say utility infielder, but I like that. You know, when my brother James told me about the role, I had known that he was working on the movie and he told me that he had a small-ish role for me. I had to get approval from Disney, but he thought that role was going work out and that role was Kraglin. But he also said that he was maybe going to ask me to do something for one of the CGI characters, but he wasn't sure what it was yet.
I was less sure about whether that job was going to happen, but when I got the phone call, it was sort of like, yes, you're in. At the time, that the character was then called the "First Mate." So he said, "Yes, you're in, we're going to hire you to play the First Mate, but we'd also like to hire you to do Rocket," but we didn't know what that meant yet. Like at that point we thought that it might just mean me reading the lines off camera for the other actors because he wanted an actor doing that job, not a first AD or a PA or something.
When I arrived in London just about a week later, it all moved really fast. It was like, "Okay, you ready to go? You're coming to London in a week for six months." And so when I arrived then we sort of figured out Rocket on the fly. I read Rocket in the first table read that we did, and then when we started rehearsals, I just got down on my hands and knees and started doing it from the character's height and position. Lo and behold, that's what I ended up really working and since the formula worked, we've stuck with it for four movies.
When you're playing a motion capture character like Rocket, you're in these tights or pajama looking things, right? You're actually acting as Rocket would act, correct?
Yes. In the first movie I wore the, you know, whatever you call it, but the nylon onesie. But then in the second movie and in the two Avengers movies, I just wore a gray sweatsuit, which was a lot more comfortable and I wear some knee pads and things like that.
The thing that was unusual is that the motion capture part of it, which is technically motion reference, not motion capture because it's not, they're not doing it through a computer. The animators are literally watching what I do and animating that rather than sending it through an algorithm the way that you would do it with the way you would do it with a more humanoid character. That doesn't work for a raccoon. It just doesn't, the technology isn't there. It doesn't look good enough. So the animators actually watch what I do and animate that.
But that part of that, we didn't even know that that part was essential when we started it. The main reason that I was there was so that I could read the lines with the other actors and be an actor in the scene with them and I got down low because I knew for sight lines and things like that, that you'd want to be looking at a pair of eyes when you're looking at the character's eyes, so we did it like that really for the other actors.
It wasn't until we had been shooting for a week or two that the visual effects team said, "You know, these shots that we have of Sean in there are incredibly helpful to us as we start to animate Rocket and we start to know where he's looking and where his hands are moving and what his, you know, what his shoulders are doing and that kind of thing." And so then we started making sure that we got at least one really strong reference shot with me in it for the animators, and then I would step out and do it through the subsequent takes from behind the camera and I'd be just doing my same vocal performance but feeding the actors the lines.
You're in two different roles and each character certainly has their own quirks and personality. Is there one of the two between Rocket and Kraglin that you yourself identify with more?
Kraglin is a little bit more of a traditional role for me in that, you know, Rocket was something brand new, not just for me but for everybody and so Kraglin is really a little bit closer to the way I normally prepare for a role and how I would treat a character that I would play on screen.
Rocket has so many other things at play. I mean ultimately it's not my face or my voice. Bradley Cooper plays the character and he's terrific. I was really there to be almost like a tool. That's why your Swiss army knife analogy is a good one. I was there to be a tool for the filmmaker and the visual effects team to kind of get everybody on the same page as to what we were doing. So for Rocket, there were a lot more discussions with my brother James about what he was looking for from the character and for what he wanted to give the other actors.
If anything, Rocket is a lot more like James than he is like me. I think that I've heard my brother say in interviews before that Rocket is the character that's sort of most closely comes from. You know, every writer I think puts themselves into a script in many different ways and Rocket is the character in Guardians that is really very much my brother. So I think it's another reason why I was helpful, is because I've known him for so long that I can hear his voice when I see the character's lines and that's kind of what I'm going for.
Heading into this, you get the script to Guardians of the Galaxy. Obviously, these characters aren't a Spider-Man or Wolverine, right? When did you realize that this is going to become a huge Disney franchise? At what point were you like "Holy cow, we made a raccoon and tree work!"
Yeah, I think I always knew from the beginning that my brother James was really cut out for the job. You know, like I knew when he was hired that "Wow, this is exactly the perfect kind of project for him." So I had high hopes that we would make something good, you know? Then I read the script and I'm like, "This is fantastic!" If we're able to actually make the movie as written on the page, make it pop the way that it does from reading the first script, we're really going to have something here and I think I was one of the most optimistic people on set from the word go.
Once the movie was shot, we knew we had done something really good and I could tell that Disney was excited. So I always felt pretty confident that we would have something on our hands, at least that people liked, but I never ever imagined that it would be the massive, massive hit that it was. You know, that they would be able to sell so much. That it would be marketed so well and that kids would identify so well to it and that people would compare it to their favorite 80s movies and all of the runaway success was something that I never really expected.
You've been in both Guardians movies, but in Volume Two, Kraglin is right in the thick of it. Kraglin is very integral to the plot. At what point did you know you were going to have an increased role? I mean, did James hit you up and say, "Hey, do you want to actually help the Guardians win this time," or how did that go down?
We started shooting in January of 2016, so he had taken me aside the previous summer. We were at my parent's lake house for a little bit, for their anniversary actually. And he kind of sat me down and said, "So, I'm done with the treatment." Maybe he was even done with the script at that point, but he kinda just told me the story of the whole second movie and he explained to me Kraglin's expanded role.
So I was really excited at that point when he told me all about it, but I was totally in the dark until then. He just said, "Okay, I've got the story and here's what it is." And I could tell my role was supposed to be much bigger.
I was very excited, but I've also been in Hollywood long enough to know that nothing ever really happens until it happens, you know? I was optimistic, but I also knew sometimes character's lines get cut or eliminated completely. I always thought like, gosh, it'll be great if this works out the way he described it but who knows? Who knows what'll happen in the, you know, in the year that it's going to take to shoot this and then another year to cut it and everything like that, who knows if it'll still really look like that.
Fortunately for me, my brother is a maniac in terms of preparation and getting things exactly how he wants them before we shoot, and almost everything that he described about the second movie was the way that it ended up on the screen.
At this point, is it safe to say Kraglin one of the Guardians? Is it safe to say he's on the team or is that to be determined?
I think that that's to be determined. You know, I think that Kraglin's story isn't finished yet. I think I'm comfortable to say that. I wouldn't go necessarily so far as to say he's a Guardian, but I know that he's on the Guardian's ship when the movie ends, so he's there with them. We know that all of the rest of the people on Kraglin's ship are dead, he's the only survivor from that whole crew of Ravagers that he starts with on the second movie.
So I think, we'll see if Kraglin stays loyal or if he stays with the Guardians in some capacity. I'm really not sure about that yet. I have some ideas because I've heard some whispers about what goes on in the third movie, but again, I don't know for sure.
Earlier in the movie, there is that scene where Kraglin, Rocket, and Yondu are on the steps and obviously Rocket and Yondu kind of have that heart-to-heart. But then it's clear by the end of the film, viewers almost focus too much on that Rocket and Yondu relationship, until you see Kraglin do that cry cheer at Yondu's funeral. All of a sudden, you realize he's actually probably the most affected by Yondu's death. How do you think that would affect Kraglin moving forward?
Well, I think that's a good question. I don't know exactly how that would address him from a plot point of view, but I can answer that from an emotional point of view is that we talked a lot about who Kraglin really is and I think that it's tricky to talk about a character's backstory when it's not actually in the movie because it's not canon unless you actually see it.
We definitely talked about the idea that Kraglin had been with Yondu from a very young age and that he had been, like Quill, on the Ravager ship from the time he was pretty young. He's, you know, not a lot older than Quill, but a few years older, we'd say. We talked about the prodigal son aspect of the second movie where Kraglin was hurt that Yondu, you know, greeted Quill like a son when Kraglin had been the one who had stayed loyal to him his whole life.
I know that moving forward, Kraglin is a soldier to his core. That has always been the defining characteristic of, to me at least, of Kraglin is that he's a loyal guy and that he's a soldier. I think that the way that Yondu died, sacrificing himself, I believe is something that Kraglin will always keep with him as something that is like a compass for him to keep his moral fortitude pointing in the right direction.
I know at one point I think Karen [Gillan] said she's actually seen a glimpse of the script of Volume Three. Is it safe to say that you've maybe caught a glimpse of the treatment or script?
It's safe to say that I've had a conversation about it. I haven't actually read the script or read the treatment, but I have talked to my brother about it, which means I need to be very careful with what I say.
No, absolutely. Now obviously, you know, that's some of the biggest news of of the past year, is with James and his rehiring on Volume Three. Can you say when you were made aware that he would be back on the film?
I was aware before it was announced, a little bit before. I know that they wanted to get the timing right in terms of when the announcement was made. Like I was saying before, in Hollywood things don't ever happen until they happen, you know? So I was aware that it was probably going to happen, but I was never sure until I actually saw it in the news, ut I was pretty sure for, let's just say for a little while.
Prior to the announcement, were there any second thoughts of kind of being attached to the film? You know, I mean looking through social media, this is James's baby of sorts, you know?
That's a complicated question, but I always let my brother James sort of lead the way on that and I think that if he had ever said to me, "Wow, I really don't want you to do this because of what happened," I would have honored that in an instant. But he never said that and I think that once the cast really sort of stuck their necks out and made a public declaration that we wanted him to be rehired and once we knew that they were very likely to keep his script, even if he didn't stay part of the movie, then it seemed to me like James really wanted us to go forward and make the movie, even if he wasn't part of it. If that was what he wanted, that's what I was going to do.
You know, part of the whole reason that everything happened the way it did is that people made rash decisions without thinking them through and I never wanted to be a victim of that myself. So I was always kind of like, now that everything's in flux, now that we don't know when the movie's going to get made or who's making it, then I'm just going to have to make decisions as I go once I know what more of the facts are.
Fortunately for me, I never had to make a concrete decision because nobody ever came to me and said, "Hey, here's an offer for you to make this movie without your brother." That never happened. All that happened was the movie's on hold, and then the next thing I heard was he's rehired. I was always kind of happy to let things play out the way that they were supposed to play out, and I think they have.
Do you recall your first conversation with James when you guys both found out? Was it kind of like a, "Oh yeah, we're back in business!"?
Yeah, I remember that conversation. He called me and told me that it was likely to happen and I was definitely very happy, but I was more shocked than happy. It was not on my radar that he was going to be rehired to make the movie. And so when it happened, I was very happy but I mostly shocked and yeah, I was kinda like, all right, f**k yeah, let's do it. I'll work for him for anything he asks me to do, anytime. He's the best director I could ever want to work with, you know, not just because he's my brother, but also because he's my brother. I knew that if he wanted to do it, that it was great. I was very excited.
From a pragmatic perspective, I just think the movie will be better. I mean, I think Guardians three is going to be a better movie with James Gunn at the helm than it is with anybody else in the world and so that also made me very excited to do it again.
So you did say that you would be anything he asked of, so theoretically speaking, there could be maybe a little kind of sort of Suicide Squad cameo role.
You know, I have no idea but I'll tell you this, that I meant that when I said it. I'm always willing to do anything he needs me to do. I'm also very, very respectful of the creative process from the point of view of the people who are writing and coming up with the story. I've been in the business long enough to know that story is king. You know, in order for the movie to be good, the story has to be great, and it's hard to make a great story if you're thinking, "Hmm, I have to work this person in there somewhere." So I just let him do his thing. If he has a role for me, to let me know and I'll do it. And if he doesn't, I have no doubt that it's because he's serving a different kind of story where there is not a role for me and I'm totally respectful of that too.
If you had one word, just one word to describe Avengers: Endgame, how would you describe it? I mean if you want to say more than one word, feel free. I’d be thrilled to get one word.
I feel like the word epic is so played out. I wish that word wasn't used so often because that's really the word. Let's just say it's going to be something else entirely and it was an amazing experience for me. You know, having done Rocket for those two movies, I never imagined that it would go beyond. You know, I always sort of thought that a lot of my role as Rocket was being a help to the process for my brother. So when Kevin Feige came to me at Comic-Con a few years ago and he pulled me aside and he said, "Listen, we've been talking and we really, we want Rocket to be as great in the Avengers movies as he is in the Guardians movies, so we really need you to do this."
I was not expecting that, but I was certainly game to do it. And then being on set with all these new groups of people and new directors and just part of such a massive experience is something that I will never recreate it in my career. I'm never going to do another movie that I'm going to be like, "Oh, this is kind of like what it was like to do the Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame." It'll never happen again. So I really tried to savor every part of it. But yeah, man, it is something else entirely.
Captain Marvel is now in theaters. Other upcoming Marvel Studios films include Avengers: Endgame on April 26th and Spider-Man: Far From Home on July 2nd.
Do you think we'll see Kraglin back in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3? Who's been your favorite Ravager so far? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter by hitting me up at @AdamBarnhardt to talk all things cosmic Marvel!
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