Reporting by Eric Ditzian
In a few short months, Marvel takes off for the stars with "Guardians of the Galaxy," its newest superhero movie about a team of thieves, mercenaries and assassins joining together to save the universe. Did we mention that the lineup includes talking trees and raccoons? Yeah, it's a little weird.
Leading the weirdness is Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, the roguish hero at the heart of the tale. Best known for his weekly work on "Parks and Recreation," Pratt leaps from small-screen sitcom to big-screen stardom with "Guardians," a role that required him to muscle up and work endless hours around the clock. To hear him tell it, the hard work is more than worth his while.
Here's what Pratt told reporters about playing Star-Lord during our visit to the "Guardians of the Galaxy" set:
Who Is Star-Lord?
Unlike Iron Man and Captain America, the protagonist of "Guardians of the Galaxy" isn't a well-known quantity — even among some comic book readers. As such, Pratt enters the role with a little more freedom than Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans enjoyed as they approached their iconic superheroes.
"It's probably helpful that people don't know who [Star-Lord] is," said Pratt, "because it would be my intention to make him my own anyways."
Even in the universe of "Guardians of the Galaxy," Star-Lord isn't a household name. In trailers for the film, Pratt's character is cornered by gunmen and asked to reveal himself. When he identifies himself as "Star-Lord," the soldiers still have no idea who he is.
"But what's great is that the stakes of what happens in the movie legitimizes this nickname he'd love to have himself be called," said Pratt.
But, Seriously, Who Is He?
Star-Lord's real name is Peter Quill, and he's one of few characters in "Guardians" who lived on Earth before he lived in the stars.
"When he leaves Earth, he's nine or ten," said Pratt. "You get to see the origin of who he is and why he is the way he is when you meet him as an adult later in space."
With his history as an Earthling, Quill still holds nostalgia for the world he left behind. He owns a walkman (the source of the "Hooked on a Feeling" music in both the trailer and the final film), and his behavior is very much modeled after his life on Earth.
"The arc of the character, it's a very human arc," said Pratt. "It's really based on who he was and what was taken from him as a kid, and something that he missed and lacks that he has to gain through the course of the movie."
The Guardian of Pawnee
Pratt faced some challenges in joining the cast of "Guardians of the Galaxy," not the least of which was his commitment to "Parks and Rec," the NBC sitcom starring Amy Poehler and Aubrey Plaza.
On the show, Pratt plays Andy Dwyer, a doughy dimwit with a heart of gold and an irrepressible imagination. For "Guardians," Pratt had to shed some of the Dwyer weight to become the super-cut Star-Lord. On top of that, he had to navigate a tricky shooting schedule, between his commitments to "Parks" and "Guardians."
"That was something that NBC and Marvel worked out beforehand, as they were finalizing the details of my deal," he said. "They said, 'We'll let him out for some episodes, but he does have to come back.' NBC was awesome to let me out and I'm missing probably six episodes."
Even if the schedule proved a challenge, Pratt had no trouble balancing playing a goofy government employee and a star-spanning badass.
"By badass you mean Andy Dwyer, right?" he laughed. "They're both super badass, so it's really easy."
When Peter (Kind Of) Met Marty And Han
Even if Star-Lord isn't the most popular superhero out there, he might have some familiar qualities for fans of the "Star Wars" and "Back to the Future" franchises.
"I've heard Kevin Feige say he thought the stuff he's looking at is like Han Solo meets Marty McFly," said Pratt, "which I think is cool, but that wasn't an intentional thing at all."
Indeed, Pratt says that he's doing his best to bring his own individual personality to the role of Star-Lord — it just so happens that his own individual personality is a little like Han Solo and Marty McFly.
"I think if an actor can stick to trying to make the character resemble something from their own spirit, it will automatically be unique," he said. "It's not necessarily going to be trying to be Han Solo, or trying to be Marty McFly, or trying to be any other character you've seen before. It's like, 'This is me in this role.'"
Besides, Screw "Star Wars"
Yeah, you read that right. At least, from Pratt's perspective, "Guardians of the Galaxy" will make "Star Wars" look like a chump.
Okay, some proper context: Pratt believes that the relatively low-profile of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" franchise and characters, even among many comic book readers, is an advantage that something as high-profile as "Star Wars" doesn't have.
"Think of the prequels that came out," he said. "There's a lot of expectations there, and to shoulder a project with preconceived notions, expectations and all these things, it really makes it difficult. It makes it difficult if you spend the whole movie trying to satisfy what people think they know about a character. The first 'Star Wars' didn't have that problem, because it was all brand new. You just take it for what it is."
"So what I'm saying is, we will be better than 'Star Wars,'" he laughed.
As if that wasn't enough, on Monday, May 19 the cast will be chatting on the official "Guardians" Facebook page at 10 am PT, followed at 10:30am PT by the second trailer for the movie. So get excited, Marvel fans: it's going to be a crazy couple of weeks.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" hits theaters on August 1.