Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt has made the jump to Hollywood leading man in a big way, with his role in this summer’s hit Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. With the film now hitting Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD, Pratt discusses his role as Peter Quill/Star-Lord in this Q&A.
Q: You’ve been pretty busy lately. Does it feel like your time has come?
Pratt: [Laughs] Man, I am busy! And yes, it does feel like that. But is it overwhelming? Not really. I have the benefit of not over-thinking much in my life. I’m kind of just along for the ride. Also, I learned at a very early stage in my career to always lower my expectations, no matter what. If you don’t, you just get your heart broken. [Laughs] So I’m just expecting that something is going to go horribly wrong.
Q: Amy Poehler from Parks And Recreation says you’re a brilliant improviser. Was there much call for that on Guardians Of The Galaxy?
Pratt: We got to do a little bit but you’ve got to be careful when you’re on a movie that costs, you know, $15,000 a second. You can’t just go blowing takes by trying out some new material. It was less improvisation and more collaboration in terms of the comedy. I would go to James [Gunn, the director and co-writer] and say ‘Hey, this is what we should do in this scene…’ Like having people go ‘Star-Lord who?’ That whole thing was not written that way originally. I said ‘People don’t know who Star-Lord is, you know? It’d be kind of funny if everyone is going “Who?” That was a collaboration, and there were little things like the joke about the legend of Footloose. I came up with that because I was thinking, ‘If this kid was nine years old when he left earth he would have seen Star Wars and he would have seen Footloose, all the movies I loved when I was his age’. We were both born in 1979 and I was nine years old in 1988, just like he was. That kid is the kid I was too. Granted our circumstances were very different; his mom dies and he gets thrown into space and is given the opportunity to be a space adventurer.
Q: You’ve said that your spirit was right for the character of Peter Quill. Can you explain that further?
Pratt: I didn’t have to change all that much. If anyone else had done the movie it would be a different movie. I didn’t pull a Daniel Day-Lewis or anything like that. I just threw on a space jacket and pretended it was me, and I think it works. That’s what I meant by that.
Q: What were the biggest physical challenges?
Pratt: The preparation. That was a big part of it. The first five months of my involvement on this film were spent transforming myself physically. I was in LA working with personal trainers and nutritionists every single day. It became my job. The thing I loved most about comic books as a kid was the imagery: The covers and these super-ripped dudes and mega-sexy women. It was fantasy to me. It’s what I appreciated most as a kid and it was what was most important to me in approaching this role – so I tried to get my body to look as much like those guys as I could. I enjoyed it but it was pain.
Q: Were you on a strict diet?
Pratt: Definitely. It was like chicken, broccoli and rice; chicken, broccoli and rice; chicken, broccoli and rice.
Q: What was your wife Anna Faris’ reaction to your new physique?
Pratt: She would vacillate between being turned on and happy and like ‘Oh my God honey, look at your body, that’s crazy!’ That was one side but the other side was ‘Oh will you just eat something, you grumpy bastard!’
Q: How did you feel when you looked in the mirror and suddenly saw this amazing body?
Pratt: Well, it wasn’t that short of a process. Maybe to the media it seemed that way, going from Parks And Recreation and Delivery Man to this, but it was about seven months in total, working hard every single day. So I saw the process slowly and I was documenting it as I went. I was taking photos. But for the first three months there was almost no change. I was gaining muscle but my body weight stayed the same, although my body composition changed. I would lose fat and gain muscle, lose fat and gain muscle, but I stayed around 270 lbs. for the longest time. I couldn’t break below 270 and then I couldn’t break below 260. I kept hitting these plateaus where I couldn’t lose any weight, then all of a sudden I’d drop 7 lbs., then there was another plateau. I just kept pushing through. It feels from the outside looking in that it was an instant transformation but it did take a pretty long time. I was probably training for three hours a day and I put in something like 400 or 500 hours in the gym.
Q: You’ve mentioned that Peter is a mix of Han Solo and Marty McFly. Why those two iconic characters in particular?
Pratt: They were two of my favorites growing up. I imagined that for this kid who would have seen Star Wars and Back To The Future they’d be some of his favorite characters too. I wasn’t necessarily aiming for that so as I’ve talked about the movie since it probably seems it was more intentional than it actually was. But it’s a good way to describe Peter Quill… If you’re looking at the taxonomy of it he’s one part that, he’s one part this. [Laughs] But really I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just trying not to get fired every day!
Q: Your son Jack is going to love you when he’s a bit older and he realizes his dad was in The Lego Movie and Guardians Of The Galaxy.
Pratt: He’s too young now, but there’ll be a moment when he figures it out. [Laughs] He’s gonna be completely screwed up.
Q: Is working on a Marvel movie like a dream come true for you?
Pratt: It is, yeah. Of all the roles that are out there, anything that could potentially be a franchise, something that’s different and something that caters to my strengths in a nice way – anything like that would be a dream role. But the fact that it’s commercially successful, that’s an extra bonus. It’s like the full house and I’m feeling pretty good about it.
Q: For a kid, seeing Guardians for the first time must be as exciting as seeing Star Wars for the first time.
Pratt: I just missed seeing Star Wars in the theater but I remember it being this all-consuming thing. I’d be playing in the back yard with a fake light saber and I was either Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader or my brother was like Luke Skywalker and I was Darth Vader. I had Chewbacca toys too. So Star Wars was a big part of my childhood and Guardians does feel like that. Having read about it or seen documentaries about it, I now know what Star Wars was at the time. There was all this mythology around it. The actors had seen it and kind of thought it sucked. Then there was the first screening, after George Lucas had put in the score and added the effects, and it was amazing. There were moments on this film where I was, like, dancing in front of 200 alien extras and they were going ‘Oh my God, this is the movie they’re making?’ There were moments where I too wasn’t fully able to see James’ vision, just as all those guys weren’t able to see George Lucas’s vision. With Star Wars nothing like it had ever come out before and it had pushed technology to its absolute limits. It was an epic space adventure with fabulous music. There were a lot of similarities, so yeah, I think this is going to be something that will last.
Q: How does it feel to think that, just as you pretended to be Luke Skywalker when you were a kid, there are now kids who will pretend to be Peter Quill?
Pratt: I guess it’s a bit surreal. There’s not an appropriate feeling to process so I guess I don’t feel anything quite yet. I feel fortunate, I guess. Fortunate and kind of weirded-out! I know it’s a good thing. I don’t want to over-think it but down the line I could have Peter Quill’s wardrobe at home and there is something that Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, does. I’m from Seattle and I’m a big fan of the Seahawks and he’s a great quarterback. Anyway, every Tuesday he goes to the Seattle Children’s Hospital and he hangs out with the kids. You see these pictures on Twitter and he’s there with these kids who are in various stages of terminal illness or who are really injured or hurt. They have this huge smile on their face and they feel so special because the winner of the Superbowl has come to their room to say hi to them. I’ve thought about that a lot, you know? There’s a possibility that this character could become so iconic that all I’d have to do is throw on this wardrobe, drive down to some hospital or set it up with them, and I could give a kid a memory and a picture that they would never forget. That would be really cool.
Q: Do your friends react differently to you now you’re a big movie star?
Pratt: They make fun of me. Have you ever heard of Flat Stanley? It’s this cultural phenomenon where there’s this little paper doll named Stanley and people take him places and have a picture with him. You take Flat Stanley to the Grand Canyon or you take Flat Stanley to the ocean. Well, my friends are doing that with my Star-Lord doll. They’re going ‘Hey, I’m having lunch with Star-Lord’. The weirdest one? My friend somehow snapped a picture of himself in the toilet with Star-Lord watching. That wasn’t very respectful!
Q: What kind of director is James Gunn? What is it like to work with him?
Pratt: You have to be a maniac to direct a movie like this. [Laughs] There has to be something wrong with you mentally, I think. It requires a type of hyper-focus over the course of many years. Day in and day out you’re thinking about the same thing, which is basically micro-managing and making critical choices when it comes to every single department. He’s somebody who has a strong point of view and he was perfect for this movie. He’s a huge fan of Marvel comic books and of all comic books. He knows all of the comic books, how they go back, how all of the characters were introduced – he’s a fanboy so the audience is in good hands. I remember seeing the animatics for the pod chase sequence – a cartoon that he essentially directed before he even shot the movie. He showed me my character and what he’d be doing, this little animatic Peter Quill, so he knew exactly what he wanted. Then when he shot the movie he matched it to the cartoon he’d already directed. It’s a pretty awesome way to do things. The cartoon of the whole movie probably took six months to direct, then he made the actual movie based on that. I remember watching this cartoon of the pod chase and I was like ‘That’s good enough for me’. I would have paid 12 bucks just to watch the cartoon, it was so good. I was amazed but James was looking at it and going ‘It’s not right, do it again’. At that moment I thought ‘Wow, I could never be a director’. When you have this magnitude of scope and budget you’re seeing the most amazing toys you’ve ever seen and the most amazing sets you’ve ever seen, but James was never blinded by the enthusiasm of seeing all that. It never deterred him from his critical thinking. He knew exactly what he wanted and the reason the movie is as good as it is is because he never settled for anything less than perfect.
Q: On set, how did he direct you personally?
Pratt: He develops techniques for working with each actor. He had to learn how to wear me out. He’d beat me down and wear me out. Two thirds of the way through the movie I was really easy to direct because I was tired. He told me exactly what to do and I did it. There was one time where I was going ‘It doesn’t make any sense to me’ and he said ‘It doesn’t matter what you think or feel’. Was I OK with that? Yes I was because I get neurotic and I get inside my own head, and I don’t have the experience on film that he does. He was right; at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what I feel. He has an overall vision knowing exactly what this thing is going to look like whereas I, as an actor, assume the entire thing lives or dies by this moment I’m creating. That moment is maybe just three percent of what’s happening. You’ve got everything leading up to that moment, you’ve got all the music surrounding it, you’ve got the camera moves, you’ve got the visual spectacle of it all… Watching that animatic I realized all I had to do was speak as clearly as the words were written at the bottom of the cartoon and it would work. The only way I could screw it up would be by not speaking clearly and you wouldn’t believe how hard it was sometimes because as an actor you don’t always want to speak clearly, you’re like ‘I have to take a moment to act, I have to take a moment to process’. I can’t tell you how many times James was like, ‘Dude, just say it louder and faster’. I’d be like ‘That’s not an actionable direction’ and he’d go, ‘Just shut up, say it louder and say it faster!’ I’d get so furious but when I watched the movie I was going, ‘I wish I’d said it louder and faster’.
Q: Are there any scenes that were cut out you’d be happy to see in the DVD and Blu-ray extras?
Pratt: I think the film is perfectly paced and pretty economical. I don’t think it should be any longer than it is. It’s the perfect length. But there were some comedic moments I’d be happy to see on there – things that play up Peter’s penchant for the femaliens.