Each member of the Guardians Of The Galaxy is unique and brings their own individual qualities to make Marvel’s newest film so immensely entertaining, but there’s one character that stands head and shoulders above the rest, literally.
“[Groot] stole the show when we started working,” admits Zoe Saldana. “I just had a soft spot for this big tree.”
Groot is the enormous walking, talking tree who lends muscle and heart to the Guardians. Well, we say talking. He only says three words: “I am Groot.” Surely, this was a pretty huge challenge to the actor playing him.
“It was a role that felt like the most challenging role one could ever present to play,” Vin Diesel explains. “A role where you can’t use your facial mannerisms or your body, your physicality, and a role where you’d be limited to only three monosyllabic words. It was for me a challenge as a thespian and as an artist and as someone that’s been acting since he was seven years old that I couldn’t turn down. I just felt the challenge of it.”
“How do you create this emotional character? How do you create a character arc that is limited in that way? And that is what I focused on more than anything else. I grew up in a household with a father who was a theatre director, and one of the things he used to say was that there’s no small roles, only small actors. I took it to heart and now you have Groot.”
Diesel has been teasing his involvement in the Marvel Universe for years now, and he tells us that he was initially in discussions for a Phase 3 movie back in 2012 before the big tree came calling.
“I started to feel like I’d better pay more attention to Marvel and I’d better really work a little bit harder to find something for all these fans that are wanting some association within Marvel somehow,” he remembers. “I went there and talked to Louis [D’Esposito] and Kevin Feige…and we were essentially comparing notes and they were complimenting me on how I’d produced the Fast and Furious saga to this place that it’s at now. And they showed me a picture of Nick Fury and said that that concept of Nick Fury being black, being Sam Jackson, came from a film called xXx where he plays Gibbons and they were saying that that film inspired them to make Nick Fury black.”
“But I had this meeting and it was about Phase 3 plans. And last summer, the social media craze hit an all time high and we realized quickly that waiting for 2017, 2018 wasn’t going to be sufficient enough for the fans, and that they wanted something more immediate.”
With Diesel committed to Fast And Furious 7, appearing as the lead in a Marvel film for a 2014 or 2015 release clearly wasn’t going to happen. Instead, he got a call from Feige who urged him to keep an open mind.
“He prefaced the call by saying ‘This is the strangest character Marvel’s ever done.’ He said ‘Don’t answer me now. In lieu of not making the fans wait until 2017 something came up that we think would be a brilliant idea and we think that you would be the only person to bring the emotion to this very challenging task. Don’t answer me, Vin, let me send over my conceptual art.’ Someone in the office, before the conceptual art came in, heard the concept and was like ‘You’re crazy. That will never work. They want you as something huge and that won’t cut it.'”
However, rather than taking that advice, Diesel consulted someone a lot younger and found the guidance he was looking for.
“I go into the living room where my children are and I open up the book of conceptual art and I ask the children ‘Which character do you think Marvel wants Daddy to play?’ And my three year old immediately pointed to the tree. As we get older we lose a little bit of that innocence and the intuition fuelled by that innocence. So when you can see that intuition in a child, and if you can recognise it it’s very profound so in some ways it was my three year old that green-lit this concept.”
“And then jump cut to a couple of weeks ago where we’re watching the movie for the first time and it was the first movie I’d ever taken my son to see and we all know that moment, that first movie we see with our children, the first movie we see with our parents, it’s always sacred, so it’s a very sacred and wonderful moment. As we’re driving home, after watching the movie, we’re driving down this long tree-lined my road, my son’s looking out of the window and he’s looking at the trees and he says ‘Daddy, Daddy, it’s your brothers and sisters!’ Who in a million years would have imagined that you could play a role that would allow your children to look at the very trees…how profound. How tomorrow. How deep.”
Groot even had an affect on his co-stars, as Zoe Saldana attests. “Even though I’m mature, I’m pretty sane, I’m an actor and you go ‘OK, this is make-believe, I know it’s a fictional character,’ he moved me in such a way that I was just like ‘Screw that! I want to believe that he’s real because what he’s making me feel is very real.’ That’s Groot.”
Guardians Of The Galaxy is due in cinemas 31 July 2014. To read our behind the scenes feature, pick up the new SciFiNow, read our review here and find out more about the comics that inspired the film with new digital magazine Uncanny Comics.