Film

Dreams made in a galaxy far, far away

by George Hadley-Garcia

Special To The Japan Times

Is Chris Pratt on his way to becoming Hollywood’s next big action hero? The guy whose face you may recognize from various romcoms, but more likely know as Andy Dwyer from the U.S. sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” has been raking in the praise for his latest film, “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

“I was thinking recently how . . . ironic-ish it is when you get to be an actor in this kind of (sci-fi adventure) movie,” Pratt tells The Japan Times. “People say you inspire them — I mean, they’re just being polite, but it can be really true for a kid or a teen, or, like, someone grown-up but young and having troubles in their life.

“So they look up to you. Mostly the character — but the character rubs off on you, the actor. So they kinda look up to you, too. Isn’t that ironic . . . ish?”

Judging by his excitement, the 35-year-old Pratt is as surprised by his sudden rise as the public is. There was no doubt that he had the comedic chops, but now he’s starring in a film that’s scoring a lot of No. 1s: It has dominated the summer box office and has held the top position more than any other Marvel Comics-associated movie title — even the soundtrack took the top spot on the Billboard albums chart.

Pratt is set to star in a “Guardians of the Galaxy” sequel that has been scheduled for release in July 2017, and he’ll star next year in the sure-to-be-big “Jurassic World,” but the 188-cm-tall Minnesotan says he never dreamed this would happen. Last year, photos of him flexing were uploaded to the Internet and the reaction from celebrity-news websites was nothing less than astonishing: Lovable, doughy Andy from “Parks and Recreation” had become buff action star Peter Quill for “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

“You really do feel better when the discipline kicks in,” Pratt says of the exercise regime he undertook for the role. “You gotta have a goal and there’s gotta be limits to how hard you party or indulge.”

Pratt is a self-confessed party guy. He also wound up homeless on the island of Maui where he admits he spent too much time “smoking weed.” He’d dropped out of college after one semester and even stripped for a time to pay the bills, but fortune smiled on him when, as a waiter, he served actress and director Rae Dawn Chong. She cast him in his first role in a film called “Cursed Part 3” in 2000.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he recalls of the encounter. “First, that she was a director — my fault — and then, that she was the daughter of Cheech and Chong!”

Rae Dawn is the daughter of comedy legend Tommy Chong, who along with Cheech Marin was one half of a comic duo famed for its marijuana-related schtick.

“That she really wanted to cast me in a movie, you’d think maybe (it was) a come-on. I mean, I’m OK-looking,” Pratt jokes. “But I’ve just been lucky. Damn lucky.”

However, Pratt’s character Peter — who stylizes himself as “Star-Lord” — catches a bit of bad luck in “Guardians of the Galaxy” when he crosses paths with Ronan (Lee Pace), one of the star-studded picture’s villains. Peter is in possession of a powerful orb and Ronan sets a slew of mercenaries on him in an effort to get it back. Our hero’s luck starts to change when some of those tasked to catch him come over to his side and together they work to stop Ronan from destroying the galaxy.

The film was co-written by James Gunn, who also took on directing duties. The 44-year-old began scripting movies in 1996, starting with the low-budget indie flick “Tromeo and Juliet.” He has written a novel titled “The Toy Collector” — which is not for kids — and co-wrote the book “All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger.” The spiky-haired moviemaker is also no stranger to comic-book culture.

“The villains in today’s world are so large in their impact and publicity,” Gunn says. “They’re so numerous that it’s bringing out almost an excess of heroes.”

Gunn’s first Hollywood screenplay was for “Scooby-Doo” in 2002, and now it looks like he’ll be writing and helming big-budget comic-themed epics for the near future in a turn of events that may be as exciting as Pratt’s sudden rise.

“It’s stimulating,” he says. “Very first thing — it’s intimidating. Once you’re caught up in it, it’s stimulating. There’s so much to it, there is so much energy in all the components and the varying — and (the characters, performers, etc.) really vary! Then the special effects are a whole other thing, and that’s where any director who’s honest knows he needs plenty of help — and the best help money can buy. And the money has paid off. You know we’ve gotten great reviews, right?”

Indeed, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a rare adventure super-hit that has pleased critics as well as audiences.

“This has made up for one of my big regrets in life,” Gunn offers tongue-in-cheek. “Back in 2005, I was nominated for best screenplay, for ‘Dawn of the Dead.’ It was for a Bram Stoker Award! I did not win. You know who Bram Stoker was, right? He wrote ‘Dracula,’ the most famous novel ever written. I was so crushed at the time.”

As I get to talking to some of the other cast members, I have the impression that they’re all delightfully surprised with the reception “Guardians of the Galaxy” has been receiving. Zoe Saldana, 36, from the Dominican Republic, is equally enthusiastic about her burgeoning Comic-Con cred.

“I was in ‘Avatar’ and ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Trek Into Darkness.’ Wow,” she says with a laugh.

When she was 9, Saldana’s father died in a car accident. She points out that her green-skinned character Gamora in the film has seen the murders of her family by super-villain Thanos (Josh Brolin).

“I guess like most women characters in a hero-battles-villain movie these days, mine is meant to be strong, but sympathetic and vulnerable,” she says. “Gamora is mysterious, but not overly.”

In her youth, Saldana trained as a dancer and appeared in theater works aimed at uplifting and inspiring inner-city teens.

” ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is wonderful on its own level, and it’s very, very successful,” she says. “You can’t knock that, and it makes two points I think are useful and I care about. (The first is that) it shows that villains will be with us always and all you can do is fight back. Evil is. You fight it and you do what’s right, meaning what’s fair and democratic. I identify strongly here, because in the land of my origin there have been dictators. ‘Dictator’ is a small word for a large evil.

“The other, even more important thing in movies like this is that you see a character like mine resisting. She fights back, she has some courage and she develops some more. She allies herself with Peter and she finds her own family of fair-minded people who have feelings for each other.”

Gamora’s new family includes a pint-sized raccoonlike creature named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a treelike being named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and the muscle-bound Drax the Destroyer, played by former professional wrestler Dave Bautista.

“If I believed my own publicity, I am Drax!” the 45-year-old Bautista says, referring to his previous career as the longest-running WWE heavyweight champion. “Of course, wrestling is very much about show. My role was a challenge because as someone who’s lived off his size and muscles, it makes me question which is more real — the outside or the inside?”

Bautista likes the complexity of Drax’s origin story. As Arthur Douglas, the character saw his entire family killed before his spirit was placed inside a different, powerful body to avenge them.

“In real life, the inside can get lost in what others, and you, think about your outside. And your outside isn’t anything (you choose as much) as what you choose to feel and think,” he says. “With Drax it’s more clear: There’s one inside and it’s the inside of a different outside.”

Bautista says the multi-layered character was a welcome break from the roles he had been getting.

“Co-starring in a film of this magnitude was magnificent,” he says. “I was in some so-so movies before — and that’s being very polite (laughs).”

He adds that making “Guardians of the Galaxy” was so rewarding that he felt a little sad after the process had ended.

“We were all on this wonderful ride. We worked real hard, but we had enough time to make friends,” he says. “Our director, the cast . . . working with Chris, everyone, it was so intense. To make it believable to an audience, you have to believe it yourself. And then the extra reward, even after the money: this ultra-popular success — everywhere. It’s conquering the world, man! (So, the sequel is) really something to look forward to.”

Pratt, who now has a multi-film deal with Marvel Comics, recalls the confidence boost he got from playing SEAL team member Justin in the critically acclaimed “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012).

“I was on the top of the world in my head,” he says. “But you can keep going on, like farther and farther, this is such an incredible business. I didn’t plan to be an actor. … (Now) I just wonder why more people don’t become actors. It’s just so over-rewarding, like being in a dream — you have to keep pinching yourself, saying, ‘It’s really real . . . and maybe I deserve some of it.’ I’m just humbled.”

“Guardians of the Galaxy” opens Sept. 13 in cinemas nationwide. For more information, visit marvel.com/guardians.