[This story contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.]
Will Poulter is proud to be your newest Guardian of the Galaxy.
The Emmy-nominated English actor landed the highly coveted role of Adam Warlock in September 2021, and now he’s finally able to openly discuss the redemptive arc for the Sovereign weapon, who was created by the Golden High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). From his introduction in which he’s tasked with assassinating the Guardians and retrieving Rocket (Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn) for the High Evo (Iwuji), to saving Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) life in the end, Poulter’s character learns the value of second chances, a fittingly meta theme for James Gunn’s concluding Guardians of the Galaxy film and potentially final MCU effort.
Poulter is particularly impressed with Pratt’s generosity on set and off, as the franchise’s leading man not only shared his resources with him during prep, but he also made sure that he, as the newcomer, felt welcome on set at all times. So, as one might expect, Poulter’s most memorable day on set involves rescuing Pratt’s Star-Lord from imminent demise and completing Adam’s own arc in the process.
“Chris, from the outset, was an incredibly supportive and encouraging role model to me on set,” Poulter tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It typified what I know of Chris as a colleague, and [the rescue scene] also felt like a momentous moment in the movie. So, as a relatively small character, I felt very lucky to be a part of that moment, and I also knew that it was the moment that tipped the scales as far as Adam being an antagonist to then becoming one of the protagonists.”
As for what’s next for the newest Guardian, Poulter is just as in the dark as the audience is.
“I would actually wager that your guess is better [than mine] because I’m a bit of an idiot,” Poulter says with a laugh. “So I don’t have a clue, but I’m really keen to continue the evolution of the character and I really hope I get that chance. But I’m certainly not taking for granted how lucky I am to be in this third installment.”
Below, during a recent spoiler chat with THR, Poulter also discusses how his first audition barely resembled the final version of the character, before explaining why nothing will ever top Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant in terms of difficulty.
Well, congrats on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3.
Thank you so much. I’m sorry that this is taking place from what is obviously a bed. I played 20 minutes of soccer and rolled my ankle like an idiot, so I’ve got my leg up to stop the swelling.
It’s quite alright. You’ve earned a bit of rest after this whirlwind experience.
I appreciate the empathy. I only have myself to blame.
So when you were coming up, did you imagine yourself in one of these superhero roles?
Gosh, I certainly fantasized about it, but whether I thought it would actually happen is a different thing. I feel especially lucky that it has happened in a franchise as special and unique and quirky and bold as Guardians is. I really admire the pluck of Guardians and the creative singularity of James Gunn and his movies, and what it’s brought to the MCU. So, to have that be the means by which I get to live out that boyhood dream is really cool. It puts some extra fairy dust on the whole thing.
I don’t like questions that begin with the phrase “what was it like …?” but what was it like to see yourself fly for the first time?
(Laughs.) Very cool. It’s something that obviously involves a certain amount of rehearsal with the stunt people and strong, talented riggers and technicians, and then our incredible visual effects team pulled it all together to make that happen. So, to see it come to life on screen was very cool, and it was fun to experience. But it was actually really cool to simulate flying. It’s really improved the quality of my flying dreams in a way that I could never have imagined. I’ve always enjoyed a flying dream, but I had them so infrequently that I now get them more frequently. My flying dreams also have a higher budget in my head now than they did previously, so the quality has improved. (Laughs.)
Was the casting process pretty arduous?
I would say it was, mainly because it started in June of 2021 and finished in September of that year. So it was three months and several different stages, culminating in a screen test and in a version of the costume and makeup. So it was arduous and not particularly easy because I didn’t know exactly what I was auditioning for, initially. I didn’t actually get to read a full script until after I was cast, but it’s not too difficult putting your faith in the idea of the third Guardians movie, having seen the first two and knowing everyone who’s involved. So it wasn’t like I placed some kind of crazy bet.
When I was watching Dopesick, I remember noticing how good a shape you were in at the time, so had you already committed to that lifestyle before this role came your way?
Yeah, I was really lucky. I’d been working out for a number of years anyway, more for my mental and physical well-being in general. I worked especially hard before Dopesick because I knew that there was a shirtless scene, plainly speaking. So I just ramped up my training for that and for another job that I’d done prior to [Dopesick]. It came immediately after lockdown, and my character had to be physically imposing, so I worked out throughout the pandemic. But more than anything else, it was just a really great way to sustain my mental health. It was really good for my sense of mental balance while in lockdown.
And thankfully, come June , when Guardians came about, I had the foundational strength and experience with training to again ramp up the intensity of my training. I was able to do so with a team of people who really helped me do it in a way that was safe and natural, while preserving my mental health through the process and preventing any injuries. Although, as you can see now, I’ve suddenly fallen to pieces after I stopped working with them. But it was really important to do it that way, and I give my thanks to Ben Caraway, who designed my program, Daryl Richards, one of my other trainers, and Aaron Deere, my nutritionist. And then Chef Patricia [Homma], who is Chris’ personal chef. Chris kindly made Patricia’s services available to me, and she’s amazing. So she was an integral part of me getting ready.
You have quite the introduction as Adam gives all of the Guardians a sound beating.
(Laughs.) I get a bit of a hiding, myself.
Yes, Nebula stabbed him in the back, but he still did the lion’s share of the damage. Anyway, what was the highlight of piecing that sequence together?
I really loved the part with Dave [Bautista] in particular. It’s the part that probably tests Adam the most, just because Drax’s powers are pretty profound. It was written in the script as a battle of two behemoths, and I was like, “Well, Drax has established himself as a behemoth, but I’m a little bit of a new boy who’s trying to prove himself here.” And Dave is so technically proficient when it comes to the stunt work, as you can imagine. Heidi Moneymaker, our stunt coordinator, was also amazing, and she gave me an opportunity to rehearse a lot of it. The really cool stuff is done by Ben Jenkins, who was my super talented stunt double for this movie. So there were various different components to it, but the section with Dave was the bit that I enjoyed the most.
Similar to changing schools for your senior year of high school, it’s gotta be tough to join a close-knit family like this in their concluding chapter, especially after everything they went through between movies. So, compared to Adam’s own journey, how long did it take to feel like you were part of the family?
I gotta say that I was made to feel welcome from the very first moment. They are such an inclusive, kind, fun-spirited bunch, and their camaraderie is infectious. They actively make such an effort to have everyone enjoy the experience and feel a part of the ride. And Chris really led that front, as a leader. James certainly sets that tone on set, but everyone is just so nice. Pom [Klementieff] is so funny. Zoe is so kind. Karen [Gillan] is so sweet. Sean [Gunn] is so fun to be around, and Dave was amazing to me. I couldn’t have asked for more.
In the end, Adam saves Quill’s life and becomes a Guardian. Were those story points the pièce de résistance for you from day one?
Adam’s redemptive arc certainly was. It was also important in this introduction to set Adam up in such a way where you feel like you could conceivably support the rest of his journey, given that he is ultimately not an antagonist, although he starts that way. So it was fun — even in a short period of time and with a relatively limited arc — to explore the full curvature of that arc and arrive in a place where, as you say, he is a Guardian. He atones for his sins, he learns morality and he learns the difference between right and wrong. And so he aligns himself with a group who resemble that.
As far as what could be next, is my guess as good as yours?
Literally. I would actually wager that your guess is better because I’m a bit of an idiot. So I don’t have a clue, but I’m really keen to continue the evolution of the character and I really hope I get that chance. But I’m certainly not taking for granted how lucky I am to be in this third installment. Honestly, what an honor it is to have a character like this. I genuinely mean that.
The toughest day being a superhero on a controlled soundstage, versus the toughest day in the harsh winter of The Revenant’s set, which one was more taxing?
(Laughs.) To be honest, The Revenant was. From a physical perspective, I’d be shocked if I ever do anything harder than The Revenant, but the prep for Guardians was the most intense of any film I’ve done. So it sort of depends, but I’d give it to TheRevenant for the hardest day on set and Guardians for the hardest day, prep wise.
James has described Adam as a big baby since he was quite literally born yesterday. Was that note top of mind? Or did you have a different way into it?
James and I were pretty synchronized over the version of Adam that we were introducing, at least in this initial phase of his development. That was something that became more aligned over the course of the audition process. My first version of the character was probably off the mark, and I’m really grateful that James directed me further and further in the right direction and didn’t just give up on me. I’m pretty certain my first audition is trash, as are a lot of my first auditions. So we carved out the character during the process of auditioning, and over time, I think we got closer and closer to where we needed to be.
You really feel that childlike quality when his mom (Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha) is cradling him following Nebula’s stabbing or when he’s persuading her to let him adopt this puppy of sorts. We’ve seen so many scenes where a child bargains with their parents over a pet, and so it was amusing to have those parallels until he’s forced to grow up quickly.
Yeah, definitely, and I’m reflecting on just how funny Elizabeth Debicki is and how well she served that dynamic. We felt like the immaturity of Adam was not just fundamental to what is effectively his origin and his infancy, story wise, but it was also an opportunity for humor. And once he is separated from his mother and once she has all but disappeared, that actually calls for him to mature, and that requires him to be more independent than you’ve seen him previously. And therein lies the comedy and the drama and the humor and the pathos of his journey.
Decades from now, when you’re reminiscing in front of a crackling fireplace, what day on Guardians 3 will you likely recall first?
I think I’ll recall the day that I shot the “saving Quill” scene with Chris, because Chris, from the outset, was an incredibly supportive and encouraging role model to me on set. Proverbially speaking, the way that he put his arm around my shoulder and gave me belief and support and extended nothing but kindness and positivity towards me from the jump, was really, really appreciated. And to then shoot that scene with him, it was the culmination of a lot of different things, and while he was in heavy prosthetic makeup, he still found time to joke around and have fun. His energy at that time was infectious and it was lifting everybody’s spirits. So it typified what I know of Chris as a colleague, and it also felt like a momentous moment in the movie. So, as a relatively small character, I felt very lucky to be a part of that moment, and I also knew that it was the moment that tipped the scales as far as Adam being an antagonist to then becoming one of the protagonists.
*** Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.