Sean Gunn is known for playing the ever-eccentric Kirk on Gilmore Girls and space-pirate Kraglin in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. On Nerdette, he talks about what it’s like to be in a movie directed by his big brother, and how intense Gilmore Girls fans are. Plus, Sean shares his little-known obsessions with math, cats, and rap.
Greta Johnsen: What’s it like to be in the biggest superhero movie of the summer?
Sean Gunn: It’s trippy. I’m very proud of the movie, and I’m very glad that it’s out because it’s something that I’ve been working on, in some way or another, for years. Now that it’s out and doing well, it’s been very strange. I was just in the UK shooting something, and I was surprised by how many people had already seen the movie. So that’s gratifying.
Johnsen: It’s worth noting that in Guardians of the Galaxy, in addition to playing Kraglin, you get a unique credit for performing the body of Rocket the raccoon.
Gunn: Yes. What I do is basically get down on my hands and knees, and I play Rocket on set. My brother James wrote and directed both Guardians movies. And when he was preparing for the first film, he wanted an actor that he knew and trusted to play Rocket on set, so that the other actors weren’t looking at a blank space or hearing a disembodied voice from someone reading lines off-camera. He wanted someone to really embody the character, so he asked me to do it. But we didn’t know what the process was going to be.
We started rehearsals, and I just squatted down and started doing it. And that’s what worked best. And now I’m several movies into it. I did it for the second movie, and I’m currently doing it on the next two Avengers movies.
It’s become a very unusual job. Not a job I would have ever predicted in my career, but I love it.
Johnsen: We have to talk about your role as Kirk on Gilmore Girls. He was sort of like the town handyman, but he did everything from alarm-system installer to handmade soap maker. Do you know many jobs Kirk had?
Gunn: Somebody out there does. It depends on how you count. Do you count based on what you actually saw him do, or do you also count jobs that he has mentioned that he has when he’s on the show? Because those are two different numbers.
But I think the one number – the number of jobs we saw him actually do – is in the 50s, and the number of jobs that he mentions is, like, 100 more. But there are superfans out there who will be more than happy to go into great detail about exactly how many jobs Kirk has. Because I’ve met them.
Johnsen: Are there any jobs that Kirk had that you thought, “You know, I actually might be kind of good at that”?
Gunn: The hockey announcer. Because it’s something that I feel like I could have done in another life. Because I like sports and I think I could have been a good sports announcer if that had been my passion. The other thing I really liked is that I got to sit down the whole time on set when we were shooting. And I’m a little bit lazy. So when I just have a scene where it’s like, “OK, all you have to do is sit there, and we put the camera on you, and you get to be funny” – that’s a pretty sweet gig.
Johnsen: When we sent your publicist an email asking what it is you’re nerdy about, she forwarded an email you wrote in response, which I think is one of my favorite emails that Nerdette has ever received. Here’s what you wrote: “Rappers and cats. That’s pretty much what I bring to the table. Unless they want to talk about propositional calculus and other forms of abstract mathematics.” Like, Sean Gunn, who are you!?
Gunn: [Laughs.] This is something I’ve never talked about in an interview! I actually finished all of my college math requirements when I was 14. It was a very strange thing because I sort of had this choice at that point in my life, where I could have – or maybe should have, who knows, depending on what people said – gone on to be a mathematician or an engineer or something like that. But I always wanted to be an actor anyway. Math always felt like a hobby to me.
When I was doing it, what I was really good at was the study of axiomatic systems and analysis of how they work. I won’t get into it.
Johnsen: And how did you get into cat rescue?
Gunn: It’s weird because I grew up thinking I was a dog person. We always had dogs growing up. And it wasn’t until I got a cat when I was in college that I loved very much, and then I got a cat seven years ago, and his name is The Business, and he was only 10 days old when we got him. We bottle-fed him and, through that, I learned to really love that process.
And then I started to get more active in learning about the rescue where he came from, and I learned that I had this knack for bottle-feeding kittens and just understanding cats in general.
I feel like cats chose me. I understand how they think a lot of times.
Johnsen: You also mentioned that you’re really into the “art of being an MC.” What does that mean to you?
Gunn: What I really love is rap music and rappers. Really, when you ask the question, “What do you geek out on more than anything else?” – for me, it’s rap music. I’ve not only studied the history of rapping, but I’ve listened to almost every rap album that I can, particularly from the mid-’90s or earlier.
I’m fascinated by a voice over a beat. I also really love old folk and old country music for a similar reason. My favorite instrument in the world is the human voice. So you have a storyteller telling a story with their voice over a simple beat. And I’m fascinated by the dance. I really look at the way an MC raps. It’s like he or she is waltzing with the beat.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation.