I Am Groot’s Kirsten Lepore had a pipe dream that involved giving Baby Groot a nose, and she never imagined that Marvel Studios would actually say yes to the zany idea.
The head writer-director is back with a second volume of animated shorts for Disney+, including the aforementioned episode, “Groot Noses Around.” The noseless tree-like creature from James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy discovers the wonder (and the horror) that a sense of smell can offer, culminating in a gag that perfectly illustrates how young children will often take the path of least resistance.
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“‘Groot gets a nose’ was the original logline, and I felt like I was sneaking it under the door at the eleventh hour,” Lepore tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I was like, ‘There’s no way [Marvel Studios is] going to choose this one.’ So I was shocked when that one came back circled.”
Lepore is also looking back on Bradley Cooper’s role as Rocket Raccoon in season one’s “Magnum Opus,” and she still feels a tinge of guilt for putting his voice through the wringer.
“We had to go from zero to 60 into shouting, and so he was just shouting for an hour,” Lepore recalls with a laugh. “He was such a good sport about it, but at the end, we mailed him some tea. I was like, ‘I feel so bad. I feel like I killed your voice. I just made you shout for an hour, Bradley Cooper.’”
Lepore — who recently served as the animation director on the Oscar-nominated Marcel the Shell With Shoes On and as a VFX artist on the best picture-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once — remains open to directing live-action, whether it’s the potential next chapter of the Guardians of the Galaxy or something else entirely.
“Yeah, I’m open to it, for sure,” Lepore says. “I really enjoy working in animation — and I would be totally happy to work in animation for the rest of my life — but I would also be very curious to experiment with live-action.”
Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Lepore also discusses the key takeaways from her one-on-one meeting with Gunn before embarking on the series.
Well, now that James Gunn has left the building, you are Groot’s new legal guardian. Are you enjoying this newfound responsibility?
Definitely. As we get to see in [season two’s] first episode, Groot is also the parent and custodian of a child. There’s all the emotions and everything. You run the gamut between the good and the exhaustion, but Baby Groot hasn’t been too exhausting for me. He’s been a lot of fun. He’s less exhausting than my actual son.
And your actual son was a big inspiration on Baby Groot?
Yeah, he definitely was, and he continues to be, especially in that episode I mentioned. It’s very autobiographical for me as a parent, and we lay it all out onscreen through Baby Groot in a fun way.
When you signed on to this project, did you receive some kind of Groot bible or document from James?
There wasn’t a document, but we did have a special meeting that was pretty much just to talk about the character. It was really nice and great. It was just us discussing Groot, one on one. He created him, so it was all about who he is and what to think about as I’m writing him, so we can stay true to the character. He said that I have to remember that Groot is a bad baby and that Groot is kind of like an emoji guy, which really resonates with me as someone working in animation. His face is so expressive, and it’s like an emoji. He just strikes a pose and you know exactly what he’s thinking about, what he’s talking about and what’s going on. So we tried to keep that in mind throughout the writing of both seasons one and two. I always had that James nugget replaying in my head.
What’s the general process behind these shorts? Would you write a bunch of treatments and then gauge Marvel’s interest in each idea?
Yeah, pretty much. We would come up with 30 loglines at the very beginning of both seasons, and then the execs would just get together and pick their favorites. So that’s how we figured out which ones to make. I was actually really pleasantly surprised during season two because I threw some weird ones in there, including [“Groot Noses Around”].
That’s my favorite one!
Thank you! “Groot gets a nose” was the original logline, and I felt like I was sneaking it under the door at the eleventh hour. I was like, “There’s no way they’re going to choose this one.” So I was shocked when that one came back circled. That was one of the ones I was most excited to make, so I was really happy that they let me get super weird and wild with it.
The cleaning supply gag was sheer genius.
We went back and forth on that a lot, so I’m glad that ending worked for you.
So have you actually given Vin Diesel a performance note during his Groot sessions?
I don’t think he needed any notes. He runs through them. He just watches and does all the “I am Groots” in one go, and he pretty much nails it. And then if there’s a different reading we need, it’s going to be somewhere in there, in the first or the second [take]. So he really hits it on the head every time.
Cynics out there might say, “How hard can it be to say ‘I am Groot’ over and over again,” but there’s a lot of nuance to it all, isn’t there?
There truly is so much nuance, and we know this from doing the sound editing. Every time we would slot in an “I am Groot,” we would go back and forth on so many of those. If it’s not perfect or the right inflection, you won’t understand what he’s trying to say. So every “I am Groot” truly has a specific read and a nuance to it that Vin is able to nail.
Bradley Cooper is credited for Rocket’s voice in the season one finale. Maybe you had to do things over Zoom with him at that time, but did you still get to witness his jarring transformation into Rocket?
Yeah, it was an amazing record session. It was incredible. It only took him two seconds to find it, and then there was also a lot of shouting in that episode, so I felt bad. We had to go from zero to 60 into shouting, and so he was just shouting for an hour. (Laughs.) He was such a good sport about it, but at the end, we mailed him some tea. I was like, “I feel so bad. I feel like I killed your voice. I just made you shout for an hour, Bradley Cooper.”
At the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, we heard Groot say, “I love you, guys.” He was still speaking his usual language; we were just finally understanding him. Were you as moved by that moment as the rest of us?
Of course. I was so excited to see Groot continue on in Guardians 3. I’m a big fan of every iteration of Groot, and he’s got such a big heart, even when he’s that big beefy guy. He always brings it home in all of the movies, and you’re like, “Ah! Groot made me cry again!”
I know you worked with studios like Luma and Trixster on I Am Groot season two, but in general, animation is taxing work. How do you keep yourself sound?
I’ve been doing it for so long, and it’s such a shared thing at this scale. Luma and Trixster, two of the studios we worked with, each have their own massive teams of people. So, when that workload and responsibility is shared, it becomes manageable. It also becomes better with that collaboration. It becomes much better work than I could ever do on my own or even with a couple of people. So, kudos to all of the artists working on this show. They’re all incredible, and it’s because of them that I have a life and I kept my sanity. Thank you to them.
If the Guardians franchise gets going again someday, you should be on the shortlist as far as I’m concerned. Are you open to live-action opportunities under the right circumstances?
Yeah, I’m open to it, for sure. Years ago, I was like, “I definitely want to do live-action!” I was trying to move into live-action, and now, I think I’m more at peace. I don’t even want to say “at peace” because I’m not settling. I love animation so much. I think I better understand what I bring to animation because it does take a really specific type of person to direct it. I’ve been doing it for so long and I feel very comfortable in that space, and I feel good at it. So I really enjoy working in animation — and I would be totally happy to work in animation for the rest of my life — but I would also be very curious to experiment with live-action.
What’s the status of a potential season three? Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to keep these shorts going while the Guardians franchise is on ice.
I’m going to keep my silence as to whether there’s no more or more.
I Am Groot season two is now streaming on Disney+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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