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To 'Guardians' director James Gunn, music is more than an afterthought

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There's a ton of pop music in the film — mostly '70s and '80s tunes — that are personally selected by Gunn.

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" may be going into its third weekend in theaters, but it doesn't show any signs of slowing down. 

The follow up to Vol. 1 has already brought in a worldwide box office of $650 million, and it's poised to surpass the first film in box office revenue.

The "Guardians" franchise, along with "Deadpool," helped redefine the modern comic book movie by adding a lot of irreverent humor, with the superheroes often joking about themselves and their own powers. 

"Guardians," which stars Chris Pratt as  Star Lord and co-stars Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista, also injected a ton of pop music into the story — mostly '70s and '80s tunes that are personally selected by Gunn.

We caught up with Gunn recently at his Malibu home where he was busy working on the screenplay for "Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3."  It may be no surprise to find, that for Gunn, comic books hold a very special place in his heart.

Interview Highlights:

On his early love for comic books:

I've loved Marvel comic books since I was a little kid. I love comic books in general. I learned to read simultaneously with Dr. Seuss books, children's books, but also Carl Barks' Donald Duck comic books. Those were the first things I fell in love with, in terms of reading. But Marvel Comics, the comics of especially Spiderman. Also DC Comics — Batman — these are some of the earliest stories that I became very attached to and they meant a great deal to me. I had a huge comic book collection growing up — enormous — but I sold it so that I could move to California.

On casting his films with people who really mean something to him:

Michael Rooker and I have made, I think, five movies together. We've done two web series, two reality shows, and a video game together. And he's over at my house, stopping by all the time without calling first. And my brother Sean and I just love working with him, probably more than anyone else — all the way back to his first professional acting role, in "Tromeo and Juliet" [James Gunn's first film], where he's in the very first scene of the movie.

On the unique way he and composer Tyler Bates work together on the film's score:

I met Tyler when he wrote the music for "Dawn of the Dead," which was a screenplay I wrote. And we've worked together ever since then. He's done every single one of my films and most of my web series. The way we work together is unique in that I write the screenplay, I give the screenplay to Tyler. I give him a list of seven to eight scenes that I say, I would love to have the music for this scene and this scene and this scene and I'd love for it to sound like this. And then Tyler will start writing music for the movie before we ever shoot a single frame. And we'll actually decide upon various themes and various pieces of music that he will demo. And then we will play that music on set so that the actors are able to act to that music, the cinematographer and the cameramen are able to move the cameras to that music and we'll have earbuds in so that we can still have dialogue while the music is playing, and we'll all know where exactly the film is going to go from a musical perspective. I find that music is something that is vastly underrated in cinema in general, and it's a huge element to how much we can enjoy a film .... When I first came to [Hollywood] and saw that movies were being made and they weren't putting songs in until after the film was made, and sometimes even editing before the song was in. I was astounded. I thought it was ridiculous and just not the way it should be.

On whether he was nervous to ask David Hasselhoff to play himself in the film:

Oh, that was exciting! I mean I've become good friends with "The Hoff." We wrote and performed a song together for the soundtrack, which is great, and I think asking him to do a little bit for me in the movie was an honor. I'm a "Knight Rider" fan and it was exciting to have David Hasselhoff in the movie. And he ends up being a really great guy. A very interesting thing is on set, we've had every single famous person you can imagine in this movie — it's Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone we had in the last movie, we had John C. Reilly and Glenn Close and all these sort of Hollywood luminaries. But the only time the crew has stopped to form a line to get their photograph taken with an actor was when David Hasselhoff came on set. And that's the sort of power that Hasselhoff has. 

On his Facebook post about feeling alone and suicidal early in life and finding relief through popular culture:

The artist I always use as an example, who really, truly means a great deal to me, is Alice Cooper, who may seem like a silly shock-rock-and-roller to a lot of people. But to me — as a kid who was 13-years-old and went out and bought an old Alice Cooper record for $1.99 at Peaches Records in St. Louis — I listened to his album and I felt alone, and there was this guy out there who was so weird and so off-the-wall and so whacked-out. But for some reason I related to what he was saying. And it made me feel like maybe I wasn't alone in the world, maybe I wasn't the only one who had these weird feelings, [who] felt like an outsider, who felt strange. And I think the same was true of the music by The Clash and Elvis Costello and other people who I related to as a kid — not to mention the movies of Steven Spielberg or David Cronenberg or John Carpenter. All of these things really spoke to me on a level that was beyond what I think you'd think of as just escapist fantasy for a couple of hours. They were things that touched my soul in a certain way and made me feel like I wasn't alone. And I think that helped me survive my early years. 

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