Speaking to us for the Empire Podcast’s Guardians Of The Galaxy spoiler special, James Gunn, the writer/director of the gloriously anarchic Marvel space opera promised to give us a few more details on that credit sting, once the film had come out in cinemas. Now that it has, here are the revelations from the podcast interview, plus that promised top-up…
Inevitably, this feature is full of spoilers, and should only be read if you have already seen Guardians Of The Galaxy.
"When we first see The Collector and we push in on him, you will see a certain duck named Howard that turns to look at the group. That’s one of my favourite little things in the background. There are the Slither creatures from my movie Slither behind The Collector, those guys are pretty obvious, you have Adam Warlock’s cocoon, and all sorts of characters from other Marvel movies. There’s a dark elf back there, played by Doug Jones, who is one of our stunt guys. He really had the Dark Elf make-up on."
"And that is probably not The Collector’s only museum. I think he probably has other spaces in which he keeps his incredibly vast collection, so I don’t think it’s just his one collection, that’s just his Knowhere wing."
"Well, there were scripts that existed before I came in and then I just kind of re-wrote the whole thing. There were a couple of little tiny things in there that were in the original script but mostly it was re-written totally. There was a basic structure that existed and there were the same five Guardians. At that point Gamora and Quill got into a fight, which happens, and they went to prison. All the other ones met in prison: Rocket, Groot and Drax. They got out of prison and from there things totally went in a different direction than they go in our movie – a very different direction. The similarities are pretty much the beginning. There was getting the orb on Morag – that was in that last version of the script, but even that was a lot more general."
"The tone was totally mine – there was not really any humour in the original drafts. For me it’s really about creating characters who are real, even if they’re racoons or trees, and I think that when you do that it sort of naturally leads itself to humour."
"That was mine and also in the script, and this is a little spoiler for the audience: that tree dancing is me. I’m not motion captured but I’m motion referenced, and that is 100% me dancing. I can’t remember who it was but I said to one of my friends who saw it, ‘That was me’, and he was like, ‘I knew that was you because I’ve seen you dance and that’s exactly what you dance like.’"
"That was supposed to be either like mid-credits or end credits but when we showed it to the test audience they loved it so much and we were like, ‘We don’t want people walking out and missing this thing,’ so we put it right there after the Guardians logo."
"That is pure Kevin Feige. He has balls of steel. Honestly, the way that came about is that we had the spaceship fly off, and ‘I Want You Back’, the Jackson 5 song, starts at a certain time and Groot’s dance started at a specific time during ‘I Want You Back’. If we put Groot dancing right at the end where we wanted to put it, there was a space there, before the song went to the right place, and after it was at the right place earlier, that we just had this empty space and we were like... ‘It would be weird to put it at the end and then have something right after the end.’ So were like ‘Well, what could we put there?’ and Kevin came up with ‘The Guardians Of The Galaxy will return.’"
Above: Groot stand-in vs Monstrous Inmate stand-in – voiced in the finished film by Nathan Fillion.
"This big conversation went like this: ‘Who is Nathan Fillion playing in the movie? Is he Nova? Is he Cosmo? Is he this, is he that?’ But we had had him in the 17-minute preview that tens of thousands of people saw, all over the world, and yet nobody noticed that the Monstrous Inmate had Nathan Fillion’s voice. So I was going, ‘You guys, Nathan’s voice is in the scene that everybody has seen, he’s not Nova, he’s not Richard Rider, believe you me.’ A lot of people have brought him up as Peter Quill’s dad but he’s too young to be Peter Quill’s dad."
"Nathan acted it out. Yeah we just filmed it and Nathan acted it out and we have him on film just like grabbing his nose just like the guy does and all that stuff. I hope we can see that on the Blu-ray, he’s really funny doing it."
"I’m heartless when it comes to cutting my own movies down. I’m not sentimental at all. The only thing that’s hard for me about cutting these movies down is when I have an actor who comes in and does a good job in a role and I have to cut them out of the movie because of some other factor other than their performance, and that to me really sucks. There are a couple of actors who are still kind of in the movie but I had to write them letters. Two women who both did great jobs in the movie and yet I had to write these emails about a week ago saying, ���Just so you know, when you go see the movie, your dialogue’s gone.’"
"One of them is this girl named Marama Corlett, who is one of my favourite people I met on the whole movie. She plays a pit boss in the bar called The Boot – she was announcing the whole Orloni race. Orloni and Fasaki are the names of those two creatures, and that race was originally a lot longer and it was a part of the movie we had to cut down. The other girl was a girl named Naomi Ryan who was at the end of the movie and just by rotten luck every little bit with her was cut out because we really tightened up the third act so that it’s going ‘Bam, bam, bam’ and moving really fast. She got some of her stuff cut so that really sucked and she was one of my favourites as well."
"Josh Brolin did a great job. He was motion captured, he was the only thing in the movie that was actually motion captured. I gave Josh a lot of notes and he’s a really fantastic actor. We liked the weight that Josh had, so we thought he would be really good for Thanos and he’ll continue to play that character as long as we have him around hopefully."
"I think that Nebula is the Jan Brady of the Thanos world. She’s the child who is less loved, less taken care of, less favoured than Gamora. They have other siblings as well. So I think she’s a little sick of that and I think that she was, you know, much like Rocket, torn apart and put back together cybernetically and re-created and abused in that way and she’s very angry about it, both at Thanos and at her sister. I think her and Gamora have a difficult relationship. There’s one really great shot of her, after she shoots Gamora’s ship – this shot of Karen Gillan as Nebula, and you can just see she’s sad about it, you know? I don’t think Nebula’s an evil character. I think she’s close to evil but I don’t think she’s evil."
"Yondu wasn’t in the original script so I put him in the script. Some people say, ‘Oh, you changed him a lot from the comics, so why did you use him?’ And it’s because that’s he has coolest super power ever, and it’s very different from other super powers that exist. He controls [his arrow] mostly through whistling. There’s a hook-up there between the implant in his brain and his whistling, and that’s how he controls the arrows, through sound. That is what he does in the comics."
"But he also has a bow for some reason, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I guess the bow propels it and then the whistling makes it change direction, but I’m like, ‘Listen, he doesn’t really need the bow and it’s interesting because it’s such a small, slight thing but it makes Yondu one of the more powerful people which is interesting.’ And he is the Sergio Leone character in the movie, he is the Eli Wallach, he is the Ugly. Which Rooker really is."
"Well, you know, there are general ideas for what the sequel is and where it goes and who’s involved and what happens and what we find out about our characters. So it’s very general and that could change. Sometimes you have ideas and you write them down and they’re too convoluted on paper and it’s too many ideas for one thing or it’s not enough ideas or whatever and so that could easily change, but I know a lot about who these characters are and where they came from and where they’re going."
"I’m excited by the possibility of creating a sequel because we had to do a lot of setup in this movie and with a sequel we don’t have to do that setup which will make it so much easier for me."
I had another moment that I cut from the movie that I thought was very funny but it didn’t work out. Djimon Hounsou calls Peter Quill ‘Space-Lord’. He’s going to Ronan, and Djimon Hounsou says ‘A thief who calls himself Space-Lord’ and Ronan goes ‘Space-Lord? Ridiculous.’ But it was kind of too light and too funny for the villain scene at the beginning.
"‘What a bunch of A-holes’ is an interesting line because it was not in the script. We shot mug-shots – the whole thing where John C. Reilly is explaining some of that stuff – and it was only shot for the Comic-Con trailer so we could set up some of the characters, and at the end of it I went in and I said to Peter, ‘Will you say “What a bunch of A-holes.”’ It was something I thought of there and then when I was sitting on the set. Peter was like, ‘I don’t really think that works, what about, “What a bunch of idiots”?’ And I said, ‘No, trust me, trust me, “What a bunch of A-holes’ will work.’ And then he said it and then of course it’s become this thing, and then we put it in the movie because people liked it so much."
The post-credits sting **– in which Howard The Duck, now freed from his cage in the Collector's lair, sips a martini and delivers a line of dialogue **– wasn't shown to press ahead of the movie's release, so Gunn jumped on the phone with Empire last week to talk about its origins.
"We had one plan for the first tag, and another for the second tag. Originally, we were going to put Baby Groot dancing at the very end of the movie. But we kept trying to think of different things. We had a bunch of stuff with Cosmo (The Space Dog, the Russian cosmonaut dog glimpsed in the movie and again in the end sting), and different ideas, and I think it was some combination of me and the editor Fred Raskin who said, 'Let’s put Howard The Duck in there.' What if The Collector looks over and sees Howard The Duck sitting there? And I wrote down the line, 'Whaddya let it lick you like that for? Gross.' Fred and I thought it was hilarious but we weren’t sure that (Head of Marvel Studios) Kevin Feige would go for it. But we told Kevin and Kevin couldn’t stop laughing. Every time he saw it, he was like, ‘We’re fucking crazy! We’re fucking crazy!’"
"We decided to do it very late in the game, only a couple of months ago, and we had to design Howard that day. Then we gave him over to the visual effects company that did him. They did a good job very quickly – I think it was Sony."
In the infamous 1986 movie, Howard is voiced by Chip Zien, but Gunn had other ideas. "Seth Green, who voices Howard, is a really close friend of mine. I hang out with him a lot and we’ve been friends for a long time, over ten years now. I came up with a list of three guys I took to Kevin and said that these guys are all good friends, and I think they would come in and do it for me. He reacted really well to Seth Green."
Now the movie is a huge success, it's likely that millions have stayed through the end credits to check out the sting – but Gunn isn't sure that Benicio Del Toro is one of them. And he's not even sure that Del Toro is aware that Howard The Duck is in the sequence, given the last-minute nature of the addition. "Now I’m certain Benicio knows – I meant to text him this morning to see if he’s seen the ending tag that he’s in. I didn’t tell him and we didn’t show the tag at the premiere or any of the other places, and I didn’t tell Benicio. I thought it would be funny to just let him find out. He’s off doing his artistic things, I’m not sure he even knows."
The addition of Howard The Duck to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has prompted plenty of speculation about his role in the Marvel Cinematic Unvierse. Can a throwaway gag really blossom into something bigger? "I’ll be honest with you, I was just talking about it with my assistant right now," laughs Gunn. "It’s possible Howard could reappear as more of a character in the Marvel Universe. But if people think that’s going to lead to a Howard The Duck movie, that’s probably not going to happen in the next four years. Who knows after that?"
Part of the aforementioned phone conversation with Gunn, the following quotes concern the question of where Star-Lord and co. might go in the sequel, currently set for a July 27, 2016 release, as well as the on-going fate of Thanos.
"I’ve got the basic story for the sequel worked out. I’ve thought a lot about where these characters are going and where they came from, things we’ve gotta find out. There has been a lot of world building we’ve done that we get to play with in the second movie. There have been a lot of documents passed around about who Peter Quill’s father is, and things like that, between a select two or three of us. That’s been part of the plan since the beginning, that’s something I had to work out and I worked it out before we shot the screenplay. We wanted to make sure Yondu’s place in everything made sense and it does, so it’s all very specific stuff."
Importantly, Gunn had this clue for fans trying to work out who Peter Quill's father might be. "It’s definitely not the character who it is in the comics, I’ll say that much."
For those not in the know, the comics identify J'son, also known as Jason of Spartax, the Emperor of the Spartoi Empire, as Star-Lord's dad, a complicated and intriguing character who is hard to sum up in a few sentences. For the curious, check out Marvel's site for more details.
Gunn also discussed his role in creating Thanos as the Big Bad for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and whether he'll be in Guardians Of The Galaxy 2. We can also look forward to intriguing mentions of more of Thanos' kids...
"I like being able to create a bad guy. I’m very lucky in that I came into the Marvel Universe and I didn’t have too many rules set down for me. I came from a place of creation. I had a few things I needed to link up to, a few points of reality that our universe had to link up to, like they were dealing with the Infinity Stones, that the Aether is an Infinity Stone, so I had to link up to those things, but they were very few and far between. For the most part I got to create things, like the Bible of the Infinity Stones – where they came from, what they are, that was something I got to invent."
"How does Thanos talk? Who is he? What does he do? I got to invent that, that was all really fun for me. Someone else will have to be somewhat beholden to those things later down the line. For me, it was all pretty much fun. I will say that I do not feel beholden to having to use Thanos in Guardians 2. He will show up if he helps our story and he will not show up at all if he is not. Thanos is not the most important thing in Guardians 2, that’s for damn sure. There’s the Guardians themselves and other threats the Guardians are going to be facing that are not Thanos."
But before you start worrying for The Mad Titan, Gunn has some reassuring words. "I think Thanos has been lonely for a long time. He can handle it. He’s used to his loneliness. He’s got some other kids out there. He’s got to look after them. Nebula’s probably the sweetest of them, which tells you what his kids are like..."