James Gunn Admits Only 1 of His Dream Actors for Guardians Got Cast

By Jennifer McDonough Posted:
James Gunn Guardians Galaxy Marvel

Out of all the people James Gunn had on his personal shortlist for Guardians of the Galaxy stars, only one ultimately made the cut.

Although he has since left the MCU behind for his work with Warner Bros. and the DCU, Gunn got his start in the world of comic book movies with 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

The film, which starred Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, and many other big names, was a bona fide success and ended up making some of its actors into household names.

James Gunn Kept a Guardians Shortlist, but Just One Got Cast

James Gunn with cast on Guardians of the Galaxy 3 set

In the Marvel Studios: Assembled documentary for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 on Disney+, director James Gunn revealed that he had “a little book” of actors in mind when he went to Marvel Studios with his thoughts on the original Guardians movie:

"When I first went to Marvel and I pitched 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' I brought a little book. I had worked very hard trying to put this little book together of all the little pictures and photo references, and all that stuff. And in that book, there were all the characters listed and who I thought should play those characters.”

Despite Gunn putting all that thought into dreaming up who could bring the Guardians of the Galaxy to life on the screen, he noted that “none” of them ended up being cast except for Zoe Saldaña as Gamora:

“And of course, none of those actors who were in that book ended up playing the characters, except for Zoe Saldaña, who I met and loved from the beginning.”

Gunn’s fondness for Saldaña and her take on the Zen-Whoberian warrior wasn’t lost on the actress herself, who offered kind words for the “wonderful” MCU Guardians mastermind, elsewhere in the Assembled special:

"I want to thank you [Gunn], you have been a wonderful person. You believed in me before I even believed in myself. So thank you for sticking by me. I'm going to miss Gamora, but I'm not going to miss the four hours of makeup."

Zoe Saldaña, who already possessed some serious film franchise credentials prior to the role (Star Trek, Avatar), certainly wound up putting her time into the MCU, making five live-action appearances as Gamora.

The Guardians of the Galaxy’s Casting Was a Home Run

Most fans would agree that James Gunn, working alongside Marvel Studios’ casting director extraordinaire Sarah Halley Finn assembled one heck of a cast for the Guardians movies.

Playing Drax the Destroyer put Dave Bautista, who was ready to make the jump from wrestling to acting, on the map.

The actor’s time in the MCU has now concluded, and although Drax and his antics were usually played for over-the-top laughs, Bautista, on occasion, got to display a great deal of sensitivity and vulnerability as the character.

Then there’s the one-two punch of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel in voice roles as Rocket and Groot. Despite Diesel uttering no more than eight different words in the entirety of his MCU tenure, he always precisely conveyed what Groot was feeling at any given moment. 

Cooper was also able to cut to the core of a CGI raccoon and imbue him with some serious emotional depth. No mean feat!

Chris Pratt, who reportedly almost blew his final audition for Peter Quill aka, Star-Lord, was championed by Sarah Finn, who pushed the Parks and Rec star into Gunn’s view more than once, since he didn’t see Pratt as a fit at first. Gunn eventually saw the light and found his lovably roguish Guardians team leader.

The rest of the principal players, like Pom Klementieff as Mantis and Karen Gillan as Nebula went on to become memorable fan-favorites. And to think that the Guardians of the Galaxy’s lineup would have looked vastly different if Marvel Studios adhered to Gunn’s original ideas.

Marvel Studios' Assembled: The Making of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 can now be streamed exclusively on Disney+.

- About The Author: Jennifer McDonough
Jennifer McDonough has been a writer at The Direct since its 2020 launch. She is responsible for the creation of news articles and features. She also has a particular affinity for action figures and merchandise, which she revels in discussing in the articles she writes, when the situation calls for it.