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James Gunn Talks Writing ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ in Just a Few Hours and the Latest on His Final ‘Guardians’ Film

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The world of James Gunn has never been more eventful than it is right now.

The filmmaker is set to release The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special on Nov. 25 on Disney+, and he’s also deep in post-production on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, his final film in the Marvel Studios franchise. Last but not least, he just became co-chairman and co-CEO of DC Studios, alongside producer Peter Safran, and the duo are busy planning the next decade of storytelling.

The Holiday Special is about Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis’ (Pom Klementieff) effort to help Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) rediscover his love of Christmas, so they decide to gift him his favorite actor, Kevin Bacon. It took Gunn just a few hours to write the screenplay for the 44-minute presentation.

“I’ll be honest, I wrote the screenplay in a few hours, so it just kind of spilled out of me. It was very easy,” Gunn tells The News84Media. “Everything about shooting it was easy. Everything about getting the performances out of people was easy, whereas Vol. 3 was torture in every way.”

Gunn also has an update on Vol. 3‘s status in post-production.

“It’s a big movie, and it’s so different from the special because the special is so wacky and insane. The movie is so emotional, but it’s been a real joy making it. So it’s coming along great,” Gunn shares. “I still have a ton of visual effect shots I’m working on, and of course, putting the score together with John Murphy, which is gigantic. So those are the things I’ve been focusing on most, lately.”

In a recent conversation with THRGunn also explains the benefits of shooting the special and Vol. 3 at the same time.

James Gunn, congratulations in more ways than one.

(Laughs.) Thank you so much.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Kevin Bacon in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

So was Kevin Bacon the germ of this idea?

Well, the germ of the idea was just doing a holiday special. I love the holidays and I love Christmas cookies and I love getting together with my family and giving presents to each other. It’s my favorite time of the year. When I was a kid, I loved the Star Wars Holiday Specialbut I also loved Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I still think [How the Grinch Stole Christmas!] is one of the greatest cartoons of all time. So the idea of ​​doing a holiday special with the Guardians was both a really funny idea to me and also something I really wanted to do. And once I sat down and started trying to figure out what the story was, the Kevin Bacon idea came up very, very quickly, and I wrote the whole story within a few hours.

“Introducing Kevin Bacon” is such a funny gag in the opening credits. Was there any guild red tape that you had to navigate?

No, I don’t think so. It was just Kevin agreeing to it saying, “Introducing Kevin Bacon.” When we showed him the trailer and it said “introducing Kevin Bacon,” he lost it. He lost it. So we knew that we were probably going to be fine with that.

Just out of curiosity, if Kevin wasn’t available for this, what favorite musician of Peter’s (Chris Pratt) would you have sent Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) after?

Oh, I don’t know. Peter Quill was pretty young when he left Earth, so I’m not sure how much awareness he had. When I was eight, I knew who The Monkees were, but I don’t know who would’ve been famous in 1987 that Peter would’ve loved when he was still on Earth. MC Hammer, maybe.

So how’s the post going on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3?

Great. It’s great. It’s a big movie, and it’s so different from the special because the special is so wacky and insane. The movie is so emotional, but it’s been a real joy making it. So it’s coming along great. I still have a ton of visual effect shots I’m working on, and of course, putting the score together with John Murphy, which is gigantic. So those are the things I’ve been focusing on most, lately.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special

Karen Gillan and Pom Klementieff in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Jessica Miglio

Did you shoot the special immediately after wrapping Vol. 3?

I shot them simultaneously. One of the great benefits of the special was being able to introduce elements into the movie that I don’t have to then explain at the beginning of the movie, such as Cosmo the Spacedog. [Maria Bakalova] or the fact that they live in the Head of Knowhere, their new residence, or introducing their spaceship, the Bowie, which, in real life, is this four-story set. It’s the most amazing set I’ve ever been on, and so we were able to utilize those sets that we had the money to build for. Vol. 3, in the special. We otherwise wouldn’t have had that type of money to build these million-dollar sets.

So are you ready for the flood of articles about a certain voice that Kevin Bacon does?

I didn’t even think about it, but I’ve already been asked about it a couple times today. (Laughs.) I don’t really think about these things, but yeah, I’m ready for people to bring it up. I realize now it’s a thing which I didn’t realize so much at the time. I mean, I knew it was funny when I did it, but you know…

“Gunn was leaving a trail of breadcrumbs the whole time.” I can see it now.

(Laughs.) Maybe.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special

Sean Gunn’s Kraglin in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

When I saw Sean Gunn’s character, Kraglin, in the opening scene, I immediately thought of you and your siblings at Christmas. What’s your go-to Christmas memory together?

Christmas was a great time in my family. My family was a crazy place to be growing up, but at Christmas, people really mellowed out for the most part. Of course, we have those famous family fights during Christmastime, too, but there’s six of us in my family. So the six of us would be sitting at the top of the stairs, and my parents would open up those doors so that we could come down and open up all our Christmas gifts or look at the Christmas gifts. They weren’t usually wrapped; they were just down underneath the tree. And so those were fun times, being with my family. And it always gave me the chance to just really tune into family and be there with my family during the holiday season. It’s the reason why I love Christmas, and so the holiday special, for me, is completely unironic. It’s funny because it’s not what you might expect, but it’s unironic because I love Christmastime. It’s great.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special

Chris Pratt in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Jessica Miglio

It sure was nice to hear that Smashing Pumpkins song again. Did you have “Christmastime” in mind pretty early?

Yeah, the music I picked out very early. I’ll be honest, I wrote the screenplay in a few hours, so it just kind of spilled out of me. It was very easy. Everything about shooting it was easy. Everything about getting the performances out of people was easy, whereas Vol. 3 was torture in every way. And so it was kinda like going back and forth between these two things. So it was really fun and really easy, and the score was instant.

On a sad note, it was quite a moment to hear Low’s “Just Like Christmas” given what happened recently.

What happened?

Mimi Parker, Low’s co-lead vocalist and drummer, passed away a couple weeks ago.

Wow, I actually didn’t know that until now. God, that’s so sad.

So that moment with their song took on a whole new meaning for me while watching, but I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

No, it’s okay. Thanks for telling me. Gosh, wow.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special

The Old 97’s in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Jessica Miglio

Besides buying their records at Amoeba, can you share your history with the Old 97’s?

They’ve been my favorite band since the ’90s, and I’ve seen them in concert a billion times. I met [lead vocalist] Rhett Miller in 2005 because I put an Old 97’s song at the end of Slither, my first movie. It plays over the end credits, and Rhett and I have stayed in touch ever since then. And so I started writing this song for the beginning [of the special], “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime Is Here).” So I had all these lyrics for it, and it kept changing. I walked around my house, singing into my iPhone and trying to figure out how the song was going to work. And finally, I approached Rhett and asked, “Will you help me write this song? Because I can’t do it by myself.” And he said, “Absolutely.” And so we started sending tons of recordings and lyrics back and forth, and we wrote that song together.

And after we wrote that song, I was like, “Why don’t you guys play this alien band? Why don’t you come on set and act?” And he was like, “Okay.” And then we took a previous song that they had recorded, and they re-recorded it with Kevin Bacon for the end of the show. So Rhett had to act, and he’s never really acted before. He said, “I’m really nervous about it. I don’t know what to do.” So I said, “This is like when I saw the Doobie Brothers on What’s Happening!! when i was a kid They were terrible actors, but that almost added to the charm. So if you’re a terrible actor, it’s going to be just fine. I don’t care if you’re a terrible actor.” And instead, he was great. He’s great in the role. So the whole thing was really a joy.

Could they actually perform in their costumes and prosthetics?

Yeah, they totally played. It was amazing. These guys are the greatest guys in the world, but they had to be in hell because people complain so much about that makeup when they’re in it. But they never once complained. They were singing and playing their instruments for eight hours, and they just kept going and going and going, cut after cut. So they were amazing. They’re just the greatest guys, not to mention the greatest music. So I hope this turns a lot more people on to the Old 97’s.

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The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special premieres Nov. 25th, on Disney+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.



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