James Gunn Has Opened Up To Reveal How He Really Feels About Being Fired By Disney

In 2018, Disney horrified fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies by removing director James Gunn from all future installments of the films. The firing came after series of extremely inappropriate tweets from way back in Gunn’s Twitter account came to light. And while some considered the dismissal justified; others did not. But then Disney suddenly changed their minds and rehired him.

Now, though, Gunn has starting speaking out about what happened. After the initial firing, lots of people – especially the actors involved with Guardians of the Galaxy franchise – came out in support of the director. When interviewed for the first time about the whole incident, one of the first things he did was thank them.

But Gunn had lots of other thoughts about the firing, too. In an exclusive interview with Deadline, he explained his feelings about both the ones who had sacked him and his own actions. Guardians of the Galaxy had always been a series about characters overcoming bad things in their past. And it seems as though life has imitated art.

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Gunn began his career as a sort of provocateur, “shock-jock” type of character. He made horror films at the studio Troma Entertainment, movies which were schlocky and full of gore. Even when he graduated towards more family-friendly and mainstream fare – he wrote the scripts for the Scooby-Doo films – he kept making violent, vicious horrors.

The writer/director also told offensive jokes, ones that were sexist and homophobic in nature. These he apologized for in 2012, before the first Guardians of the Galaxy came out. “A couple of years ago I wrote a blog that was meant to be satirical and funny. In rereading it over the past day I don’t think it’s funny,” he wrote in a statement.

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Gunn went on, “The attempted humor in the blog does not represent my actual feelings. However, I can see where statements were poorly worded and offensive to many. I’m sorry and regret making them at all.” But there were more bad jokes from the past left behind on his Twitter feed. Unfortunately, the director had never deleted them.

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When the tweets came to light they appalled many people. The posts, in fact, referenced some very disturbing subjects, including child abuse. Some of them, however, were clearly out of context. Those were stupid pranks Gunn was playing on his friends, including Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman, to make it look like they said crude and offensive things.

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Disney, the studio behind the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, reacted swiftly as soon as the tweets came out. “The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values and we have severed our business relationship with him,” then-chairman of the movie company, Alan Horn, said.

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Gunn then issued an apology. “My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative,” he said. “I have regretted them for many years since. Not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don’t reflect the person I am today or have been for some time.”

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The director also said he didn’t blame Disney for firing him. “Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today. I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then,” Gunn said in his statement. He then added that he would be “far more thoughtful about my public statements and my obligations to our public discourse.”

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Many people, though, came out in support of the director immediately. Dave Bautista, who plays Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, was one of the loudest voices. He was angry not just because of the firing, but also at the alt-right conspiracy theorists who had been the ones to expose Gunn. “Who will punish you for horrible JOKES in the past instead of defending you for INSPIRING millions?” he wrote.

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Bautista also suggested he would ask to terminate his contract if Gunn’s job wasn’t secure. On Twitter he wrote, “I will do what I’m legally obligated to do, but [Guardians of the Galaxy] without @JamesGunn is not what I signed up for.” The former wrestler also said that he now found the idea of working for Disney “pretty nauseating.”

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The rest of the main Guardians of the Galaxy cast also rallied around Gunn. The actors then released a statement signed by all of them: Bautista, Chris Pratt, Michael Rooker, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Pom Klementieff and Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn. In it, they requested Disney rehire the director.

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The letter read, “We fully support James Gunn. We were all shocked by his abrupt firing last week. And [we] have intentionally waited these ten days to respond in order to think, pray, listen and discuss. In that time, we have been encouraged by the outpouring of support from fans and members of the media who wish to see James reinstated as director of [Guardians of the Galaxy] Vol. 3 as well as discouraged by those so easily duped into believing the many outlandish conspiracy theories surrounding him.”

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Other actors connected with the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise also spoke out in support of Gunn. Actor Michelle Yeoh had a cameo in the second movie, alongside Hollywood legend Sylvester Stallone, and both were expected to return for the third film. In fact, they played members of the original Guardians team from the comics.

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Yeoh said she was “horrified” by Gunn’s firing. “You’re talking about things that he said in the archives,” she told Yahoo! Movies UK. “If he had said it yesterday, or today, or something like this, then you can make a big fuss. But why dig up something now?” She added that she thought the director was an “incredible filmmaker and human being.”

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Even people who had no connection with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies spoke out against Gunn’s firing. Actor Selma Blair, a good friend of the director’s, was one of them. She shared a petition asking for Marvel to rehire the director, and then she quit Twitter. However, she did eventually return.

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Lloyd Kaufman, the friend Gunn had pranked on Twitter, also made it clear he supported the director. After the firing, Kaufman posted a Twitter video in which he called him “the nicest, most generous, talented and decent person I’ve known in my 50 years of making movies.” The Troma boss then suggested that Disney “should look at their own movies” when talking about offensive content.

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And the firing had wider implications for the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe. In August 2018, Bautista went as far as to say he wouldn’t return for a third Guardians movie that didn’t use the script Gunn had written. He was extremely passionate about it. “Nobody’s defending his tweets, but this was a smear campaign on a good man,” the former wrestler told Shortlist.

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Suddenly, there was the possibility of no more Drax in the hugely popular films. “Where I’m at right now is that if [Marvel] don’t use [Gunn’s] script, then I’m going to ask them to release me from my contract, cut me out or recast me,” Bautista said. “I’d be doing James a disservice if I didn’t.”

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Throughout all of this, though, there was one voice missing: that of Gunn himself. He remained very quiet even as the media discussed who might replace him at the helm of the franchise. Most tellingly, the director didn’t try to make any excuses for what he’d previously said. And he did not publically criticize Disney.

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Three months after the firing, Warner Brothers unexpectedly hired Gunn to direct a sequel to DC property Suicide Squad. The first film had long been seen as DC’s poor attempt at a Guardians of the Galaxy anyway, so getting the director on board was clearly a good move.

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And then, something even more unexpected happened. In March 2019 news hit that Marvel had rehired Gunn. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 was back on with its old director. And he would still direct the new Suicide Squad film, now titled The Suicide Squad, before moving back to the franchise.

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Bautista made a comment about Gunn’s rehiring even before the director did. Indeed, the former wrestler told Variety in April 2019 that he might not have done the third film without Gunn. “I am contractually obligated [to do the third movie], but I think that Marvel and Disney, if I had really stood my ground and said, ‘I don’t want to do this without James,’ I think that they are decent enough that they would’ve let me out of my contract,” he said.

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But before too long, Gunn started to talk about everything that happened. And in May 2019 he gave an in-depth interview to Deadline. He explained that Disney boss Alan Horn had reached out to him. “Alan asked me to come talk to him. I really believe he is a good man. And I think he hired me back because he thought that was the right thing to do,” he said.

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Gunn said he hadn’t expected to be asked back. “I was writing Suicide Squad and thought of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 as being long gone,” he told Deadline. “I guess it was a possibility for a while. But the initial conversations with Alan weren’t, ‘Let’s figure out if I should come back.’ It was, ‘Let’s talk about this.’”

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The director went on, “It was like the break-up of my marriage. I got divorced and then had those conversations with my ex-wife: ‘Let’s get along as well as we possibly can and be kind to each other, because we’re both a large part of each other’s lives.’” Gunn’s ex-wife is actor Jenna Fischer, star of The Office.

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Gunn then further compared the Disney incident to the period around the break-up of his marriage. “There were some problems. We just weren’t supposed to be married, but it was well worth living that six years with my ex,” he told Deadline. “I wanted to feel that way about Disney. I didn’t want to look back and feel bitter, upset or angry.”

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The interviewer then mentioned how “muted” Gunn’s response to his firing had been. “I don’t blame anyone,” the director said. “I feel and have felt bad for a while about some of the ways I spoke publicly; some of the jokes I made, some of the targets of my humor, just the unintentional consequences of not being more compassionate in what I’m putting out there.”

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Gunn continued, “I know that people have been hurt by things that I’ve said and that’s still my responsibility, that I wasn’t as compassionate as I should be in what I say. I feel bad for that and take full responsibility. Disney totally had the right to fire me. This wasn’t a free speech issue. I said something they didn’t like and they completely had the right to fire me.”

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The director also went into detail about what the day he got fired was like. “I’m going to say it was the most intense of my entire life,” he said. “It happened and suddenly it seemed like everything was gone. I just knew, in a moment that happened incredibly quickly, I had been fired. It felt as if my career was over.”

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And yet that dark period in Gunn’s life clearly brought some unexpected good things. He mused in the interview about why he made movies in the first place. “My apparatus for being loved was my work and being famous,” he said. “In that moment, the apparatus, which was my only hope for feeling love, was torn away from me and I had absolutely nothing. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”

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But seeing the Guardians of the Galaxy cast rally round the director was amazing. “And then came this outpouring of real love,” Gunn declared. “From my girlfriend Jen; my producer and my agents; Chris Pratt calling me and freaking out; Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan, all calling and crying. Sylvester Stallone FaceTime-ing me. And, of course, Dave Bautista, who came out so strong.”

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Gunn then got philosophical. “That amount of love that I felt from my friends, my family and the people in the community was absolutely overwhelming. In order for me to have fully felt that love for the first time, the thing that needed to happen was, the apparatus by which I was feeling falsely loved had to be completely taken away,” he said. “So a part of that day was the worst of my life and a part of it was the greatest day of my life.”

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The director also had some deep thoughts on the incident which led to his firing. “The truth is I had a lot of anger at myself and I really had to try to put that aside,” he said. “Because in the same way where I know what I’ve done wrong, I know that I’ve done a lot of wrong things in my life, things that led to this moment. I had to realize what I needed to do differently in my life. That was a part of all of this.”

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Deadline then asked Gunn what he was looking forward to most in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. The director immediately had an answer. “When you asked me what was saddest for me when I thought it was gone — and anybody at Marvel can tell you — it’s this very strange and attached relationship to Rocket. Rocket is me, he really is, even if that sounds narcissistic.”

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Rocket was, of course, one of the few Guardians to make it through Avengers: Infinity War and into the events of Avengers: Endgame. Gunn doesn’t feel like the gun-toting raccoon’s tale isn’t over yet, though. “I relate to Rocket and I feel compassion for Rocket. But I also feel like his story has not been completed,” he said.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will also most likely finish the story of Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. She was one of the characters killed in Avengers: Infinity War, but she returned in Avengers: Endgame, having traveled through time and been spared her death. And in April 2019 Saldana gave an interview to the New York Daily News about Gunn’s rehiring.

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Saldana told the publication that she was “very proud of Disney and all of the executives there.” She thought they had made an important move. “They’re sending a very strong message that, yes, accountability is important. It is a must. We’re not going to surrender that moving forward,” the actor began.

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But, Saldana went on, “When the opportunity presents itself where it’s just the first step, redemption must be the second step.” That’s a line which could have come out of Guardians of the Galaxy all by itself. Indeed, right from the beginning it was about people who had done regrettable things attempting to make up for them, and usually succeeding.

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