Marvel’s Guardian of the Galaxy: Actors Jon McLaren and Alex Weiner reveal all

The actors who brought Star-Lord and Rocket to life discuss the game, their similarities to the characters and the pros and cons of being a Scorpio.
By Duncan Heaney

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has an amazing (and award-winning) story, and much of that is thanks to its stellar cast!

The actors who portray the Guardians not only voiced the heroes but brought them to life with full motion capture. Everything you see on-screen in the game is their performance, from movements to facial expressions.

We recently sat down with two of the main figures in the ensemble: Jon McLaren (Peter Quill / Star-Lord)...

Jon McLaren performing motion capture for Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

and Alex Weiner (Rocket)...

Alex Weiner performing motion capture for Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

We wanted to learn about their time working on the game, their unique takes on these beloved characters and much more.

Hi guys. So, how did it feel to be cast as one of the Guardians of the Galaxy?

Alex: Oh, it was a classic actor moment right here when I found out (laughs).

I was walking down the street, and I got a call from my agent… and yes, I did jump up and do a big yell in the street (laughs)!

To be honest, it felt like an honor to be trusted - not only by Eidos Montreal and Square Enix, but also Marvel. Because there’s a responsibility to playing a well-known character like Rocket.

So, there was an initial excitement. Also, a little bit of fear because of how popular the actors and characters are in the MCU - but once we met with Eidos Montreal and they explained it was a unique take on the Guardians, it gave us the freedom and comfort to explore and have fun with the characters.

Jon: Yeah, I remember my agent calling me, and us getting super-excited over the phone. And then the second we hung up I had a little cry (laughs). A good cry!

Alex: He’s a crier!

Jon: I am a crier (laughs).

But I grew up watching Spider-Man, the X-Men animated series… I’m a big fan of all things Marvel, the movies and the comic books. So, this has been a dream come true.

It was a very emotional moment when I got off the phone - it’s such an iconic role and a real honor to step into shoes of Star-Lord.

I mean… it’s wild to me. I’m still sort of speechless about it (laughs).

Did you do any research for the role or go in straight with a clean slate?

Jon: I mean, I’ve watched the entirety of the MCU over the last 15-odd years it’s been going (laughs).

But no, what was nice was that from day one, they were very clear that they wanted this to be a unique take on the Guardians of the Galaxy. They wanted it to be separate from the MCU, separate from the comic books, and to just stand on its own.

So, I actively stayed away from that stuff while we were making the game because I didn’t want it to affect the performance at all.

Mary DeMarle, our Executive Narrative Director, gave us a massive guide to our character’s backstories - where they came from and who they are in this universe. So, I dug into that and worked from there.

Alex: That’s true for me as well - Eidos-Montréal really took care to give us the backstory. But I did also want to explore a little bit of the history in the comics because I knew that fans would appreciate that the game leans into them to an extent. I wanted to know what was already out there, so I could respect it.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy group shot

What makes your versions of these characters unique?

Alex: When I think about Rocket, there are similarities with other depictions in terms of the trauma, the rage… he is that character. But one thing makes this take on him unique is his fascination with tech - it’s something we don’t see in the same way in the movies.

In this version, tech is something that Rocket loves. He’d be delighted if you gave him a PC or something - he could take it apart for days (laughs).

My rationale is that he’s fascinated by his trauma, because of the experimentation and tech that went into him. It’s a little bit like the fascination you might have with sharks after being bitten - you fear it, but you also want to understand it.

The other thing I wanted to do with Rocket - because I think I’m the first person to do performance and voice acting at the same time for the character - is imbue him with animal qualities. So, you’ll see some tics, some scratches, some teeth-baring. This was all a conscious decision to not play him as a human. To retain - even if he’d never admit it - some of that raccoon quality.

Jon: One of the things I love about videogames is you’re able to spend of time with these characters and learn a lot more about them over 20+ hours, versus the two hours in a film.

In this game, you do get to spend a lot of time with Star-Lord. He does have those aloof qualities where he’s stumbling around life and messing things up, but he also has really great moments with Rocket, with Drax and Gamora.

I love that you get to see a softer side to him - and I’m really lucky to be able to play both ends of the emotional spectrum.

But really that’s all thanks to Mary and her team’s phenomenal script.

Rocket can be an abrasive character…

Alex: (sarcastically) No!

Jon: That’s putting it mildly!

…how difficult was it to find that balance between him acting like a jerk, but not letting him become truly unlikeable?

Alex: That’s something we talked about a lot through the entire production - because it would be easy to go to ten on the anger scale all the time, right? I would trust Darryl Purdy, our Cinematics Director, to pull me back a lot of the time.

What’s very interesting about Rocket, from a storytelling point of view, is that he does go into the realm of the antagonist sometimes. But we understand why near the end - because of his trauma.

But I won’t lie - I’m sure there are some players out there who were extremely frustrated with him. Now the question is: is that a good experience? Is that an interesting experience for a game? People may have different answers for that.

It’s a risk, but I think we did a good job of getting close to the edge but pulling back before we fell off.

Jon: You did a great job man. You’re such a good Rocket.

Alex: (laughs) and you’re a great Star-Lord.

Jon: Awww.

Speaking of Star-Lord, he goes through quite an arc over the course of the game, from his sort of arrested development to becoming more responsible by the end.

Jon: A little more… (laughs)

How difficult was it to chart that growth through the performance in the game?

Jon: I spent a lot of time mapping out where I wanted to go as Star-Lord, as he starts off quite similar to what I think people know from the character from the movies and comics. He’s a little bit lost, he’s trying to find himself in the universe.

What’s really nice is that there’s a lot of themes of loss, grief and family. Peter finds himself through the other characters - you learn more about Rocket’s trauma, what Drax is dealing with his family, Gamora with her sister, and Groot with losing his entire race. I think Star-Lord really does grow both through and with the other characters. By the end, they really do come together as a family unit.

So, you do have to chart that - it’s just a lot of planning and focus and trying to honor who Star-Lord is as a person.

I think it turned out okay (laughs).

He has quite a few very emotional scenes with Drax, Nikki and his mother. Was it hard to find that emotional space with the sweaty mocap suits, weird balls, et cetera?

Jon: Honestly, you put the suit on for your first day and it soon fades away. You forget about it, and it becomes about the work - creating great scenes with incredible actors.

I mean, I got to work with people like Alex, Jason Cavalier (Drax), Kimberly-Sue Murray (Gamora) and Robert Montcalm (Groot)… everybody on the cast came to work bringing their A game. In that kind of atmosphere, the suits and the balls and the headcams… that just fades away.

You mentioned Nikki - Romane Denis is phenomenal…

Alex: Incredible actress.

Jon: Yeah. I can remember that Nikki birthday party scene so well. Romane was crying by the end of the scene, and I was crying by the end of the scene, and when we looked up, our Cinematic Director Darryl and Mary were fighting back tears too. That’s the stuff that you dream of as an actor.

Groot and Rocket also have quite a tender relationship in the game… well, tender for Rocket…

Alex: Medium rare (laughs)!

Right. How did you capture that tenderness against a character who can only say one thing?

Alex: You just have to trust that Rocket understands what Groot says.

You know what Groot was saying?

Alex: I actually went to the writers and said: “do you know what Groot is saying?” And they said: “We’re the writers. Of course we do.”

So, I said: “Great. You know, it would be really nice if I knew!” (laughs) - because then I could genuinely react to what he says. And they actually did know - not far into production, I got a script where the translations were in brackets, purely for me.

What’s interesting about that is that Rocket lies quite a bit. When you can see what Groot is actually saying, you notice that Rocket’s often not really translating - or he’s translating for his own benefit!

But I do want to say that having Robert Montcalm there as an actor was essential. It’s easy to write off a role like Groot or record his lines in post. But they kept him there to keep him part of the group - and him and I had a very good relationship on and off the set.

Jon: If I can add, Rob is an absolute master of his craft...

Alex: Oh, he’s amazing. He does voicework for multiple characters in the game. He’s the voice for Kammy, the alpaca!

Jon: The Worldmind too, and the guard who reads out ‘Gardeners of the Galaxy…’

He’s brilliant - I think he said: “I am Groot” about 1,700 times in the script and he delivered it differently every single time with conviction and emotion. Even his physicality as Groot in the room was something to marvel at. It was so helpful to have him there.

So, I just wanted to add: thank you Rob (laughs)!

Alex: If you’re reading this (laughs)!

So Alex, what do you have in common with Rocket?

Alex: I probably have a similar level of anger deep down (laughs).

But I do like tech, and I think I share a sense of loyalty that Rocket has. While he may not seem it, he is extremely loyal - and I’m also extremely loyal to my friends. I’m a Scorpio after all (laughs)!

Jon: Me too!

Alex: Woah! (high fives)

Jon: It’s probably why we butt heads so much (laughs).

Alex: Oh, we definitely never butt heads(!) (laughs).

What about you Jon? How do you relate to Star-Lord?

Jon: Well, I’m pretty clumsy!

I think the biggest thing is that Star-Lord always wants what’s best for people. He might not always go about it in the best way, but he has a heart of gold. I don’t always do things the right way, but I always mean well, just like Peter.

Plus, I like to joke - I like to defuse awkward situations with a false sense of bravado and humor (laughs).

There’s an astonishing amount of dialogue in the game. How much of the banter was done on set together versus in post?

Jon: We were really lucky to be together for 95% of the time. It was so helpful - all of us became really close friends really quickly and having that actual family dynamic really translated well into the game.

It makes a world of difference when you’re acting across from someone, rather than going into a booth separately to record lines. Knowing how they’re saying the words, the tonality they’re using… it changes everything.

Alex: Not to mention the obstacle of COVID.

All the banters were recorded after the cinematics, and after the first wave. They could have very easily chosen to sacrifice the quality and have us record separately, but they took great efforts to ensure we could safely record in the same room.

The team was able to pull that off and keep that level of quality for the banters - which are just as important as the cinematics in this game.

So finally, the game’s been a big part of your life for a while now…

Alex: Yeah, about three or four years.

Jon: I mean, it still is to this day really.

How do you look back on that experience now the game’s out?

Alex: By year three or four, we were seeing each other every month for a week. That’s a dream for an actor. We have a career of inconsistency so it’s very nice to have some form of consistency!

Jon: And we’ve all come to really love these characters. Like I said before, as a fan of Marvel it really has been a dream come true. It’s something we’re going to take with us and hold close to our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Alex: Oh, absolutely.

Many thanks to Jon and Alex for answering our questions. You can see their incredible performances in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy - out now for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC.

If you’d like to read more awesome Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy content, make sure you check out these articles:

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