SDCC 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy’s Nicole Perlman

DSCN9950Nicole Perlman is the first woman to be credited as a writer in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it wasn’t easy getting there. She chose one of the hardest Marvel comics that seemed more difficult to adapt to the big screen. This comic book series had several different types of aliens – including a talking raccoon (don’t call him that!) and a plant monster – that many could not imagine on the big screen. That did not stop Perlman from writing a script that impressed the people at Marvel so much, it had to become a film – Guardians of the Galaxy.

During San Diego International Comic-Con, we had the opportunity to sit down chat with Guardians of the Galaxy screenwriter, Nicole Perlman.

Nerd Reactor: With Guardians of the Galaxy, how did this all start?

Perlman: I started writing screenplays in 2007. I did a lot in school, but that was the first time I really started writing them. I moved to Los Angeles and most of the work I was getting was science-related or technology-related or history-related, it just became my thing where I started. I loved projects like that, but I wanted to do something more exciting and on a larger scale. So when I had the chance to work for Marvel and be part of the writing program, I took the chance. They had this program where they had 4 or 5 writers that they chose to come in and choose from their library that they were thinking about making into a film, but they weren’t sure. So we each chose one and I chose Guardians, because I thought it was fantastic. I loved all the space and science fiction elements and it went from there. I worked on that for two years and they brought me back in to do another draft. It was a long journey and I got to play with all the characters and figure out the storyline. It was wonderful.

NR: Of all of them, what was it about Guardians that appealed to you? Was there a specific person you wanted to create?

Perlman: You know, I wanted to do science fiction and Guardians felt the most science fiction in that way. It’s not really a standard superhero story. The comics have superheroes in it, but the characters are aliens, the last of their kind, genetic experiments, and I think that allowed it to have a different feel. I thought I could do something new and fresh with it. I also thought it was a fantastic tone. The 2008 reboot of the comic series was funny, sarcastic and reverent. I just really enjoyed that. So I went for it.

NR: After you finished the complete script, were there any changes made when it was given to director James Gunn?

Perlman: He definitely put his stamp on it. He added a couple of characters and he definitely brought his unique visual style and comedic tone. It comes from a cult film background and gives it that fun, colorful feeling. I was bumped up far more when he came on.

NR: How was it working with Gunn on the script?

Perlman: We didn’t co-write it. I wrote it for two and a half years and it came to a point to work with a director. Marvel brought in James and he’s a writer/director. So that happened.

NR: Were you into comic books prior to writing this?

Perlman: I was into graphic novels and comic strips, but I hadn’t really dove into the world of Marvel and they gave me so much reading to do, so I could catch up to these characters. I didn’t realize this, until I started working on it, how in-depth the history is for these characters. They have backstories going back decades. So I really needed to get to know who everyone was and reading some things and keeping some things the same. I did a lot of reading. It took a lot of time. A lot of comic book reading on weekends was great.

NR: Were there other comic books you read, other than Guardians, that caught your attention?

Perlman: I read some related in that world. I was really trying to read a lot about these characters, but I read a lot of Black Widow stuff. I read the Nova comics a lot. It was great.

NR: Was there a particular favorite comic? Or storyline?

Perlman: I really enjoy the Annihilation storyline. I thought it was really fun. I thought Annihilus was a good villain. There was some question whether if Marvel owned him, so I just stayed away from using Annihilus as a character. I loved the idea of the insects swarm. I hate insects, so the idea of insects is so creepy. But, I’m glad we decided to not go that direction and went with Thanos instead.

NR: Of the villains in the movie, you have Thanos, but you also have Ronan. He is usually the good guy in the comics, but what made you choose that direction to make him the villain?

Perlman: Well, James did a lot more with Ronan. That was more his call. I think the thing about Ronan, in the comics, is that is he a good guy but he’s also a bad guy. It’s all black and white. He sees the world one way or the other – you’re either with him or against him. So I think what James did with Ronan was really bumped up in that level of symmetry.

NR: For Thanos, did you base him from the comics or did you add your own edge to elaborate him more?

Perlman: I’m a big fan of Thanos. He’s a great and powerful. He’s the best cosmic villain. It’s a question of when you have such a fantastic character, where do you use him if you’re Marvel studio executives. Do you use him as the primary antagonist for Guardians which is sort of a new and tested product or do you save him for larger movies down the line? Marvel is planning their slate all the way to 2019. So they got a lot of movies left to fill and there will be several that involve the cosmic world. Thanos was a bigger deal in the beginning of my drafts, but then we found out they want to emphasize him later on. So there was a decision to hold off on using him too much in Guardians.

NR: Since Avengers came before the Guardians film and the new Avengers film coming out next year, did you have their storyline in mind when producing this script?

Perlman: I didn’t. I actually started working on Guardians before the Avengers came out. I started working on it in 2009, so I worked on it from 2009 to early 2012. James came on it in 2012 and they shot it in 2013. So it’s been a long journey. But, in terms of Avengers, if they are going to interact with these characters, we actually wanted to produce it as a standalone. Its own thing. So, it’s very much of the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] world. It happens in the same world. I didn’t have to worry so much how they would conflict or interact.

NR: Rocket and Groot are CGI characters. When you were preparing this whole concept, did you imagine how they would look and how it would play out?

Perlman: Yeah, I think there is such a great visual aesthetic that are in the 2008 Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning comics for what these characters look like. Marvel Studios is also great with their concept design. So they went through a lot of different versions of what the character would look like. I knew they were going to come up with something awesome. There was a bit of a question whether or not to use Rocket. They were afraid he was going to come off as “cartoon-y”. Fortunately, Kevin Feige [Marvel president] was a fan of Rocket and let me keep him. So I put him in there. I think they did a fantastic job. They look really cool.

NR: Which character was your favorite to write for?

Perlman: It’s a good question. It sort of changes every time I think about it. I really like writing Gamora. I think she is a cool, kick-ass character, but she also got real emotions. She’s had a rough past. Everyone has had trauma in their lives at one point, so she has a tough childhood. It’s interesting to write about a character who is really strong but a little bit vulnerable.

NR: I did see the 17-minute clip shown a few weeks ago. The jokes were hysterical. Did you pull the sense of humor from the comics or did you develop it yourself?

Perlman: I think the tone is more from the comics. The tone is not from the 1969 comics, because those were more straightforward. But, the 2008 reboot that has this fantastic element, but I don’t think any of the jokes ended up in the film. James did a lot of the jokes. That’s his background.

NR: I really enjoyed the character of Drax and how he didn’t understand metaphors. Can you tell me more about writing him?

Perlman: The colloquialism thing was in the early drafts with Drax not understanding any human English colloquialism. No aliens really would, if you think about it. They come to Earth to know. It did come across very well. Dave Bautista did a great job as well.

NR: What made you come up with the current roster that you had? There were other Guardians as well, such as Cosmos, Bug, and Mantis. Was there a reason why you chose these five instead of others?

Perlman: I had a really nice luxury of time for working on these scripts. I was being paid salary, basically on staff to just develop this project. I had as many drafts as I could do in two years to play with and that was fantastic because I could try different things out. So I had different permutations of the group. For the most part, it was always Gamora, Drax and Groot. Then, we brought in Rocket about halfway through my time there. Of course, Peter Quill was always part of it. I think the reasons I went with those characters are that I liked them the best and also, I felt like five was the right number for a team when you’re starting out. I thought they each bring something specific into the project. But yeah, Cosmos does make an appearance but I can’t say.

NR: What would you like fans to take from this film?

Perlman: I think I’d like fans to take the concept that there is still a lot more to be done in this genre. Superhero movies were always “yawn” superheroes movies that have been done a million times. But, I think one of the many things Marvel is good at, is taking that genre that feels kinda tired and rebooting it in a way that is slightly different and allows for a lot of creativity and pushing boundaries. I love that they are taking a risk with Guardians and I think they will see a payoff.

NR: We know Guardians will be successful. It has gotten great reviews and it is anticipated to break records at the box office. Have they told you anything about the second film?

Perlman: I think it’s James’ baby for the sequel. We’ll see what happens but I would be surprised if I didn’t end up working with Marvel again down the line. We have a good relationship.

NR: Now that the film is complete, is there anything you wished you could have added in the film? Like moments or characters?

Perlman: No. I don’t think so. I think the movie has a lot of characters already. It would feel a little crowded. There are Easter eggs that ended up being in the film. The ones I wanted to be in there didn’t make it in, but I wanted to have some Star Wars references in there. It’s been drawing some comparisons – in positive ways, but I would have loved to have stuck a Millennium Falcon into the collection of Peter Quill’s toys. I would have liked that but I understand why they couldn’t do that.

NR: Are there any other comic book stories that you would be interested in writing about?

Perlman: I did a little work on Black Widow working on Marvel. I would love to see a Black Widow movie come to life. I think that would be a little while before they have room on their slate, but hopefully soon. She’s a great character.

NR: Definitely. They need more female character movies.

Perlman: I think so.

NR: So, would you say you’d like Black Widow to be your next project?

Perlman: I think Scarlett Johansson does a great job and brings the character to life. It would be great to play in that world. I couldn’t say the storyline. The thing I would like to tell is a storyline I gave to Marvel. There is always a possibility.

NR: Is there a previous Marvel film that you wished you took part in? Would you had changed anything?

Perlman: Interesting question. I don’t think I’d change anything about what had been done. I would have loved to have been a part of the first Iron Man. It was so groundbreaking and it started this whole ride. In terms of adding or changing anything, I would never want to trespass in anyone’s work. I think they all did a great job. The wonderful thing about Marvel is that there are so many characters to play with and add to future projects. I can’t wait to see what they have down the line.

NR: Thank you so much for your time. We can’t wait for the film.

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