'Guardians of the Galaxy 2': Sean Gunn on Film's Powerful Final Moments

Director James Gunn asked his brother to watch 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' for inspiration for that emotional scream.
Courtesy of Chuck Zlotnick

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2]

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one of Marvel's funniest movies yet, so it was quite unexpected that it's also its most poignant.

The final moments of the film saw Yondu (Michael Rooker) sacrifice his life so that his surrogate son Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) could live, with the blue Ravager giving Star-Lord the only functional space suit.

The complicated nature of the scene was only fully realized during Yondu's funeral, in which the Ravagers (who previously had excommunicated him) returned to give the blue alien his proper honors. When Yondu's friend Kraglin (Sean Gunn) realizes Yondu has posthumously been let back into the fold, he delivers a scream that is both joyful and heartbreaking in one of the film's most arresting moments.

Gunn was all over the film in more ways than one, performing motion reference-capture as the film's on-set Rocket. And in a conversation with Heat Vision, Gunn reveals the classic film his brother (writer-director James Gunn) asked him to draw upon for that emotional Kraglin scream, the somber mood the cast and crew felt during Yondu's funeral, and his future with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

My favorite shot in the entire movie is Kraglin's scream during the funeral. What did you and James talk about drawing from for that moment?

I hope I'm not betraying a trade secret here, but my brother mentioned the moment at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with Christopher Lloyd's character. I knew the moment already, and I watched it again, just in case. At the end of the movie when Chief [Will Sampson] throws the thing out and he's breaking out, there's this beautiful shot — it's only a few seconds — of Christopher Lloyd just cheering like crazy. And so I watch that the night before. For me, an emotional scene like that, I love playing it, but I'm just really careful about taking my time to feel mentally prepared when we start to shoot. I just try to make sure I'm right in the pocket of what my character is feeling at that time and I agree with you. I love that moment. It was my favorite moment of my own, I would say, in the whole film.

The last shot of the movie, before the credits, is Rocket's face. So you are all over that ending. Do you remember much about that scene from Rocket's perspective?

That was a super emotional day for everybody on set because we are all there. It's kind of a rare moment in either film, really, where it's a scene where all of the Guardians who are on set are there, and also Tom [Flanagan], the new Guardian. Chris and Zoe [Saldana] and Dave [Bautista] and Tom and me are all there in that scene and we're just having this quiet moment. There's not a lot of dialogue. There's a little bit, but for the most part we're watching the fireworks. And the song is playing and it is really a similar type thing. I just get myself emotionally where I think I need to be. That was definitely a favorite moment on set as well.

Is there anything that was particularly challenging or that you look back at watching the movie and you think, "I'm really proud we got that?"

To some degree, the movie is littered with lots of moments like that. There was definitely a day on set I was doing double duty. It's the scene in the forest where Yondu first has Rocket by the arrow and then Nebula [Karen Gillan] comes in and shoots them. That whole scene was just super tricky to shoot. Both characters are in the scene and both characters are important to that scene. Not like they're not important in other scenes, but you know what I mean. They have a lot to do there. So yeah, Rocket is kneeling over the dude and the arrow gets there and we are playing all that, but then Kraglin is one of the people that circles around them and engages in the argument that's going right over Rocket's head and both characters have dialogue there. When we are running those scenes, I would be doing my best to do both characters' dialogue and I would do the Rocket lines as Rocket and the Kraglin lines as Kraglin, which can be confusing for the other actors and not to mention me. That was probably the most challenging day or couple of days on set. But we got there. 

I love that scene with Karen where she delivers the monologue. She's a beast of an actress. She could have done it 20 times. Every time was different, but magnificent and perfect and I have endless respect for her as an actress.

Many of you got time to shine in a bigger way, and Nebula is a prime example.

I think all the characters that people loved from the first one are just as fun and just as lovable. And I think in particular, the characters of Yondu and Nebula and Drax are really expanded. They are so fun. People get to see what's great about all of those characters.

You have Avengers: Infinity War coming up and presumably Guardians Vol. 3. Is there a scenario in which you would say no to a Marvel movie, as they can be pretty demanding for an actor's schedule?

I think that scenario would only happen if the physical nature of Rocket ever got too difficult. As of now, I'm loving doing it. As an actor, to be a part of this franchise. I don't even know how you describe it, this series of connected franchises, that we call the MCU, I don't know what more I would be looking for. I definitely want to go on and do other varied roles. I consider myself an old-school character actor, so I want to go do different types of challenging roles, but it's hard for me to imagine I won't be there to answer that call when Marvel calls.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. is in theaters now. For more, check out what those last-minute cameos mean, and read interview part one of our Sean Gunn conversation as well as our chats with Michael Rooker and cinematographer Henry Braham.

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