The third and final entry in the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy has landed on Disney+. Written and directed by James Gunn, executive produced by Kevin Feige, starring returning Guardians Chris Pratt (Star-Lord/Peter Quill), Zoe Saldaña (Gamora), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Dave Bautista (Drax), Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, and Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot, with newcomers Maria Bakalova (Cosmo), Chukwudi Iwuji (The High Evolutionary), and Will Poulter (Adam Warlock), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now streaming on Disney+.
Writer-director James Gunn started working on the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy nearly 12 years ago. Back then, he could only dream of the reception the series would have. “I had hopes. I felt really good about it from the beginning; I felt like we were doing something different; I felt like the world kind of needed a space fantasy that was different from ones we had seen before. So I was very pleasantly surprised when my hopes did come true,” he said. “But I think in terms of the story that we were telling over the three movies, I did have a sense of how it was going to go from the beginning.” But Gunn’s biggest takeaway from the past decade will be the people involved in the making of the films. “In terms of this family of people, I’ve been really good at hiring non-jerks — not only non-jerks, but people who are actually positive, compassionate, loving, kind people,” he shared. “I’ve just grown incredibly close to these people, I really love them, and it makes making movies a much more pleasant experience. So my main memories are not going to the premieres or going on these press junkets, it’s being on set and having the little moments.” Chris Pratt, who has led the series as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, agreed. “Making movies is really fun. When you get to do it with people that you love, it’s even more fun,” he explained. Despite that, he said, sometimes the resulting film can be a disappointment. However, “with James, both the journey and the destination have been glorious. The films are incredible. I don't know how he does it. Selfishly, I’d be willing to deal with a terrible journey to get to this destination — but it happens to be an incredible journey as well.”
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has a bird’s-eye view of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a hand in each of its entries, but this conclusion feels momentous even to him. “You know, we’ve had trilogies before — we've had a number of them actually — and I was thinking, why does this feel so different, and so much of a passage of some sort?” he wondered. “And it’s because Guardians really was the first movie that was completely outside the realm — it tied in with Thanos and Infinity Stones, but the Avengers were not in it, and we weren’t setting up Tony Stark’s next adventure, or Captain America... So it does feel like this trilogy represents something unique within the pantheon of the MCU that I’m very proud of.”
As Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 commences, Peter Quill is in a far different place than he was at the start of the series. “He’s lost. He’s definitely lost,” said Pratt. “There’s a wonderful monologue that [Drax] gives, that comes from Mantis, that Quill is a guy that needs to learn how to swim. He’s been hopping from lily pad to lily pad, woman to woman, relationship to relationship.” As a result, Quill is at a particularly low point at the start of the film. “He’s a guy who’s constantly been searching for who he is,” Pratt explained. “In the beginning he was running away from the death of his mother, but he got to pretend to be this character based on these pop culture icons of his childhood of the late ‘80s… And then he thought he could find himself with who his father was… And then he found it again with his relationship with Gamora.” But after the events of the Infinity War saga, Quill has been floundering. Pratt continued: “He’s a guy who’s realizing that all of these various people that he’s found that are Quill, none of them have been the real him.”
Since bursting onto the scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Mantis, played by Pom Klementieff, has become a core member of the Guardians. “I remember James [Gunn] telling me that Mantis was the glue that kept the Guardians together in some ways,” Klementieff shared. “Mantis [is] an empath, so [she has] a deeper connection with everything and everyone. It’s beautiful to tap into really deep, profound, layered emotions.” The emphasis on emotions — unusual in the genre — was intentional on Gunn’s part. “It’s cool to have somebody whose superpower is empathy,” Gunn explained. “Emotions are so important to Mantis, and we’re so used to this very male, hardcore, macho [style of Super Hero], and she comes in with emotions and is equally if not more powerful. She was the one who almost took down Thanos.” As the character of Mantis has progressed throughout the films, so has the mannerisms Klementieff has given her. “Mantis evolved so much throughout the movies, and she gained so much confidence,” she explained. “At the beginning I was [acting] more bug-like, doing little hand gestures like a fly. And then I was like, okay, she’s spent more time with the Guardians, so she’s more used to being around other people and doing less weird stuff,” Klementieff laughed.
Another character that’s grown immensely since audiences first met her is Nebula, played by actor Karen Gillan. “She’s had quite the arc,” Gillan noted. “Post-Thanos being eliminated from her life, she’s starting to flourish a little bit more, and she’s starting to have a lighter personality and she’s a little more willing to show vulnerability.” Related to the elimination of Thanos, Nebula’s relationship with her sister Gamora has changed dramatically since audiences first met the characters. “Nebula was always the kind of bitter one — so jealous of Gamora. And then she evolved, and Gamora helped her gain some compassion along the way,” said Gillan. “And now they’ve kind of switched places in a way, which has been really interesting to play around with. It’s been really beautiful to watch their relationship evolve and become what it is.” Reflecting further on the family dynamic, Gillan couldn’t help but sense how the cast’s relationship on-screen has its real-life parallels. “It's just so lovely to come together and see everyone as human beings, but then to play these characters as well, it feels like [we’re] two families.”
Actor Sean Gunn, who plays former Ravager Kraglin, agreed that there were uncanny parallels between the characters’ paths and the actors’ own, especially in regards to finding their place among the wider team. “One thing that really impresses me about the movies is I do feel like in a way, the journey of the cast has mirrored the journey of the characters,” Gunn explained. “Just like all the Guardians, Kraglin had to figure out what his place in the family was… and over the course of the movies, [I] learned that I felt at home with all these people, that I felt fully accepted and a full member of the cast and of the group, and that’s what happens with Kraglin over the course of the movies.” This endeared Kraglin even more to Gunn: “His journey to learn why he belongs is my favorite thing about him,” he smiled.
Then, of course, there’s the other role Sean Gunn plays on the set of the Guardians movies — that as the on-set Rocket. “It takes a team of people to create Rocket. I’m a member of that team,” he said. “I think of the creation of Rocket almost like a relay race, where James takes the baton of the character that he’s created and passes it to me, and I work with the cast on set and do the first part. And then we hand it to the visual effects team, and they start to put the whole thing together. And then you give it to the anchor, and Bradley makes the whole thing work,” he explained. Reflecting on what this multilayered process has taught him, he said, “It’s really a reminder to me of the importance of collaboration to the creative process, and that the whole experience of acting is about giving, and not about yourself. You don’t become an actor because you think that you’re special. You become an actor because you think other people are special,” he explained further. “So the idea of trying to give what I have to the creative process, I’ve never felt that more fully as I have [when] collaborating with all these other minds over the course of these three movies. And [it’s] a reminder to always try to do that.”
Maria Bakalova as Cosmo the Spacedog is a newcomer to the series, though audiences initially caught a glimpse of Cosmo when the Guardians visited The Collector on Knowhere in the first film before getting to know her a bit in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special this past winter. Bakalova immediately took to Cosmo. “[Maria] just came in and embodied this character and was great,” said director James Gunn. And he means fully embodied — the role wasn’t just played out in a voiceover booth. “I found out that I could be on set and work with a mo-cap suit, and imagine that I'm a child again and use my imagination to be like, ‘Okay, today I'm going to be a dog. Tomorrow I will be a flower. The next day, I'm going to be a butterfly,’” Bakalova laughed. “It's interesting, we tend to forget about imagination when we grow up. And it's been just incredible.” But Cosmo still has access to that imagination. Bakalova explained of her performance, “You can dare to be a little bit more over the top, because she's a puppy and she has more energy.” Bakalova’s own energy extended beyond her own scenes. “The other fun thing about Maria that a lot of people don’t know is... Maria comes and she sits on set every day, all day long,” said Gunn. “So even though she's not the biggest character in the movie, I spent more time with Maria than almost anybody, because she just loved being on set and watching all the other actors. And she is an absolute joy to be around in every way.”
Another newcomer to the series is Chukwudi Iwuji as The High Evolutionary, a terrifying figure that Iwuji himself described as a “villain with a God complex.” How does an actor even begin to approach a character like that? “The first thing that's written when you meet him is him listening to space opera. So immediately I knew classical music was going to be a big part of this character,” Iwuji explained. From this starting point, he continued his analysis: “If he's listening to opera and he's this mad scientist sort of person, I thought of someone who doesn't sleep.... He needs the music as he wanders through his castle at night.” Extrapolating this backstory helped Iwuji further build out the character. “It wasn't really about how do I play the character written; it's like, how do I bring this guy into the room? Because I knew that would be taken care of in the script. The motivations and the moments and stuff are impeccably written. So it was about, who is this guy before he turns up on the set?”
Rounding out the newcomers is Will Poulter as Adam Warlock, who comes crashing into the Guardians’ lives and immediately causes havoc. Despite the superpowered messes he makes, it’s clear he’s doing his best to learn and grow and do the right thing. “I think the thing that I shared with Adam Warlock was probably that sense of trying to work out what the hell was going on,” Poulter laughed. “I was the new kid on the block arriving on this set, very much like how Adam Warlock was kind of arriving into the world, trying to find his way and work out the rules.” And although Adam Warlock isn’t always the face the Guardians want to see, Poulter’s experience couldn’t have been more different. “I couldn't have been made to feel more welcome by everybody. I was nervous from the outside looking in, because I was a really big fan of the Guardians movies. …And something that I thought was going to be really scary actually just [ended up] being really good fun,” he explained.
Music has been a huge part of the Guardians movies from the beginning, both on-set and on the soundtrack. Actor Pom Klementieff agreed that hearing the soundtrack on set while filming helped the actors get into character. “We have this slow-motion walk with the [song] “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” and they were blasting the music on set. It was so cool, and we felt so cool with the Guardians of the Galaxy costumes, and just walking slow-motion,” she laughed. But how does a song like that even get chosen for the soundtrack, especially that early in the process? “I keep a list of hundreds of songs that would be Guardians 3–type songs,” shared writer-director James Gunn. “Mostly it’s like what fits the scene, and oftentimes it’s a song I don’t know very much… But when I’m writing, I put the music in along with the script.” The process of choosing a song became even more complicated with this third installment. “It was very difficult choosing the music for this movie because in the first two movies, they were basically all a.m. [radio] ‘70s pop hits. In this one, you know, Yondu gives Peter Quill a Zune at the end of the second movie, and it’s music from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s, and I could choose from anything. So it was very difficult because of that.” Then, there’s the fact that these soundtracks have become highly influential. As a huge music fan, this is something Gunn can’t ignore: “The first two albums were huge hits. They changed the lives of some of these artists, who now have big hit songs. And so I know that when I’m choosing a song, it’s going to be something that a lot of people listen to. I want to give people good music by good bands.”
It was emotional for the entire cast and crew to wrap up the series and say goodbye. Actor Chris Pratt shared, “I knew how important it was to be present in that moment… I was present, and it still felt like a whirlwind. And for the most part, the feelings that I was writing down in the back of my mind about the experience were just gratitude.” Writer-director James Gunn had been with the Guardians for over a decade. “I’m going to miss the characters. That’s the saddest part for me, is I really truly love these characters,” he shared. “I’m going to see all these people again, they’re all friends of mine; but I’m not going to see the characters. I’m not going to be writing the characters again, at least not in the near future, so that’s a real sadness.” Gunn told a story about Pratt spilling coffee on Klementieff’s beautiful, expensive purse, and Klementieff bursting into tears — but instead of being sad about the purse, she cried about their time together concluding, saying, “I feel like something is ending.” Klementieff explained her reaction in that moment, saying, “It’s like mourning, you know. Sometimes it just comes at unexpected moments, and you just can’t control it. And it’s the beauty of it too. It just comes like that, and I just couldn’t contain it.”
Be sure to catch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, now streaming on Disney+.