The Guardians of the Galaxy Southeast Asia press conference was held on Thursday, 10 July at the Marina Bay Sands convention centre. Before that, we were treated to a tantalising 17 minute preview of the film in IMAX 3D. The sequence showcased the titular team after they had just been formed and flung into a space prison called The Kyln. Packed with humour, action and attitude, it was an exciting way to whet the appetite for what Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige has called “the riskiest movie I have made since Iron Man.”
The titular team consists of a thief, an assassin, two thugs and a blade-wielding psycho. “I’m going to be arrested for inviting such company to peaceful Singapore,” host Glenn Ong remarked. Gunn, Saldana and Bautista took to the stage at the press conference to the strains of Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, one of the songs on Star-Lord’s “awesome mix tape”.
Right off the bat, director Gunn took charge, opening with “look how pretty Zoe Saldana looks…and look how pretty Dave Bautista looks too!” The director, known for his background in edgy, low-budget cult horror flicks, let his eccentric side show when he commented that Marc Quinn’s giant baby sculpture, residing in the Gardens by the Bay, is his “favourite thing I’ve ever seen in [his] entire life”. When asked about the humorous tone of the film, Gunn said “I think that really Guardians of the Galaxy is about characters. I think that these characters are in and of themselves funny, so it wasn’t so much a matter of me trying to pack in the comedy, it was just letting these characters and these actors here fully express themselves so that the humour was able to come out in a natural way.”
When Ong reminded all present not to broach personal questions, Gunn sportingly leapt in with “You can ask personal questions of me – ask about my personal life, my love life, my cat, I’m an open book, ask away! I’ll give you all the gory details,” to uproarious laughter.
Turning to pro wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista, Ong jokingly said to the 1.98 m tall man, “thank you so much for increasing the average height of people in Singapore, for this week at least”.
Bautista said he still finds his fame and recognition “weird”. “I don’t know man, I think inside I feel like such a normal guy and also somewhat of an introvert too,” he said softly.
“Yes, he’s very shy,” co-star Saldana confirmed.
Commenting on playing a physical brute, Bautista observed “that’s always been the easy part for me. I’m a physical guy, working out is kind of my thing, it’s my release and my therapy, so physically it wasn’t as tough as it was as just stretching myself as an actor. It’s all kind of new to me, it’s such a large role, stepping on stage with some of the best and most talented people in the world, actors and directors, it was challenging.”
Elaborating on the character of Drax, Bautista said “he’s always described as this warrior who’s hell-bent on rage, I always say ‘no, at the core of Drax, Drax is heartbroken over the murder of his family and he’s just this very vulnerable guy.’ Very literal, and there’s that insane side, that sociopath side – I don’t think Drax knows it’s wrong to kill people,” he laughed. “Actually, he’s got a heart that’s bigger than his brain, he’s a very noble character and his core is his heart.”
It became very clear that Bautista was a surprisingly sweet, shy person behind his musclebound exterior. When a reporter asked if he shed a few tears upon receiving the news that he would play Drax, Bautista replied “It was true. I literally broke down, it wasn’t a few tears! I was driving…I literally just broke down, I drove home, I was a mess…It was a big deal to me, I can never explain how big it was to me, it was a life-changing moment.” He confessed that the transition from wrestling to acting was far from an easy one. My first acting gig, I did as a favour for a friend and I realised two things: one of was how hard it was and two was that I loved it, I wanted to pursue it. There’s just not a lot of similarities, the only similarity is that cameras are pointed at you and that’s all it is. Wrestling is so broad, so conversational and acting is so much more intimate and intimidating!”
He continued, “It was hard for me to leave behind wrestling, and I worked and struggle, worked and struggled and auditioned I finally got the dream role of a lifetime, it was like make or break, I pretty lost everything I gained while wrestling, I lost it all because I took a chance on myself because I was passionate to pursue it. So it was worth a few tears, I broke down. It meant that much to me.”
Gunn was moved by Bautista’s earnestness. “From the beginning, sometimes you meet actors that you really like as people and you really want to get them the role but they aren’t right for the role, you give the role to the person who deserves the role and from the moment I met Dave, he and I have a sort of connection. Within minutes of talking, I kind of liked Dave and I liked him so much as a person that I was rooting for him to come through, through a series of screen tests and a lot of different things he had to go through to try and get the role, and when he proved himself to be by far, the only person we ever thought of for the role was Dave Bautista despite some stuff that the press might have said, Dave was the only person we offered the role to because he was the best. Dave actually was that good, it was touching for me and I say this of all the cast: they’re people whom I really like as people, but they’re also the best people for the role.”
Zoe Saldana said she had stayed up all night to watch the World Cup semi-finals game and was overjoyed that Argentina emerged victorious. In spite of this, she looked alert and radiant. Even though she was contacted directly by Gunn for the part instead of having to go through multiple auditions, she still found it a nerve-wracking experience. “The first thing you feel is flattered, super-blessed, your ego gets a little peaked a lot, but the second thought is absolute panic because if you say ‘yes’, there’s a lot of expectations lying on your shoulders because work that you’ve done before has [been] brought [to] the attention of this awesome director and he’s relying on you delivering what he’s seen you deliver before, which he thought was so cool.”
Saldana was hesitant given the demanding nature of the role, but decided to leap right into it. “ I was a little nervous when they said yes, and then they told me about the 5.5 hours of makeup every day, and then they told me about the shooting it for five months and we were going to be shooting it for six day weeks, and there was going to be a lot of action and fighting and rehearsals and then I said ‘okay, yes’. I kind of went ‘okay, I’ll do it, I’ll do it!’ because I didn’t want to realise what I was getting myself into but it ended up being a great experience, because it had everything that I grew up wanting movies to have: it had action, it had comedy, it had a lot of imagination and the story was really complete and all the characters had such a beautiful journey from beginning to the end individually, but also as a collective, and I thought ‘this is a great ensemble picture to be part of’.”
On being the only female member of the Guardians, Saldana said “It feels great, it’s empowering because I know that it delivers a very strong message to young women that besides being beautiful and delicate flowers, that you can also channel your strength and not be afraid of it. It’s very rewarding when you know you can climb a tree, or you can grab a weapon, even though we’re in the world of make-believe, you can see yourself kind of doing all these things and you feel very empowered.” She was grateful that she was not alone – Gamora has a fearsome adopted sister whom she clashes with. “I’m actually very happy to say that I’m not the only female in this cast and Karen Gillan, who plays Nebula, did an amazing job and it’s really great to know that I was sharing screen time with not only amazing male actors, but also with another female actress because sometimes being the only female actress can be a little lonely.”
Gunn chimed in with “Karen and Zoe were a lot of fun to watch on set because they had a huge fight scene, with these two super-powered females fighting each other, and it was like two female Clint Eastwoods battling it out and duelling and all of a sudden I would yell ‘cut!’ and they would go ‘tee-hee hee hee! Hee hee hee hee!’”
Gunn was given the job of taking the wild and woolly Guardians and making them movie stars to stand alongside their better-known Marvel counterparts. “I feel like because Guardians of the Galaxy in the comics, they are not quite as well-known as say Captain America, Iron Man or the Avengers, I felt like that gave us a lot of freedom to really create the cinematic version of Guardians of the Galaxy. And I think that Guardians of the Galaxy is more at home on screen than in the comic books, and it is first and foremost a cinematic property, so I felt like it really gave me a lot of freedom to do something interesting with it and create loveable characters.”
Ong did a double take. “Did you just say ‘loveable’?”
“Yeah, they’re ‘a bunch of a-holes’ but they’re still loveable characters, even Drax!” Gunn affirmed.
Marvel movie fans have wanted to know the extent of Avengers director Joss Whedon’s involvement with Guardians, and Gunn confirmed “Joss and I have been friends for a long time, he read the script and gave me notes on the script, and the biggest note he gave was to make it ‘more James Gunn’. And I said ‘it’s your funeral’.” The character of Thanos, who first appeared in the mid-credits stinger scene in The Avengers and who is a major player in Guardians (played by Josh Brolin) is a figure who will link the earth-based Marvel movies and the “Marvel Cosmic” ones. “I pretty much had free rein and it wasn’t so much about making this movie lead somewhere but it was about creating a great foundation so that it could lead somewhere, you don’t want to just have ‘fill in the dots’, we want to create something that has substance that we can believe in it, that’s really exciting and real and true. Then it gives a lot of the fans some of the answers [that] we leave unanswered so that there are places to go, for the Guardians to go in future,” said Gunn.
Gunn maintained that he was given a satisfactory degree of freedom from the Marvel Studios higher-ups. “I pretty much do what I believe [in] and I don’t approach a small movie like Slither or Super any differently than I approach a big movie like Guardians of the Galaxy. I do everything I can with my heart, as true as I possibly can, and I’ve been very fortunate in my career thus far to have producers like [at] Marvel to let me have free rein and do something really creative and excellent even though it’s for such a large budget.”
Guardians is really about a group of outcasts, a group of people who feel like they don’t belong, coming together, finding something within themselves that they didn’t know was there – something heroic, something wonderful and very simply something good,” Gunn said pithily. “And I think what the movie is about includes all of us, no matter what country you’re from, no matter what part of the world you’re from, the love of ourselves and each other and finding the good within ourselves. And if there’s anything that makes this movie worthwhile and worth spending two years of our lives doing nothing else but this film, is for people to be able to walk out of the theatre feeling a little better about themselves, feeling a little better about the person they were sitting next to in the theatre and feeling a little better about the world in general.”
James Gunn couched Guardians of the Galaxy as a movie made by outcasts, about outcasts and for outcasts. “I think one of the things about Guardians of the Galaxy is it’s about this group of oddballs, outcasts who are plucked from obscurity in Marvel Comics and turned into these big movie stars, and I think that we’ve talked about this a lot, that we all feel like that. My last movie cost $3 million, it was an independent film, Dave is a wrestler whom people didn’t think of as a real actor, Zoe has been pushed to the sidelines for her whole life because she’s a person of colour from a place that not everybody is from in this industry, Chris Pratt was a chubby guy when he got this role, Vin Diesel’s a weirdo, Benicio del Toro’s a weirdo and the biggest weirdo of all was Michael Rooker. We were just a group of oddballs and outcasts and came together to make this movie and made something we all feel really good about. The parallels are very interesting to me all the time and I think we all feel this way, that through the process we’ve come to love each other. You’ll hear us all talk about how much we love each other and you hear this on all movies. The thing is, usually they’re lying but this time, it’s true,” he concluded to applause.
Saldana said what was on everyone’s minds: “part 2, everybody!”
We definitely like the Guardians enough to want to see more – like the Jackson 5, we want them back!
Guardians of the Galaxy opens in Singapore on 31 July 2014.
– Jedd Jong (Photos by Tedd and Jedd Jong)