Last year James Gunn was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. With Brightburn in theaters, Suicide Squad 2 next in the pipeline, and rehired by Disney, Gunn spoke with Deadline about the past year and where he finds himself now. How did the firing change him and why does he consider the day he was fired the “best” and “worst” day of his life? Gunn’s story and experience is one that we should all be paying close attention to and learning from. In his own words “People have to be able to learn from mistakes. If we take away the possibility for someone to learn and become a better person, I’m not sure what we are left with.”
Gunn’s “jokes” were vile. Pedophilia and rape simply aren’t funny. They were made a decade ago. He was called out for it once, apologized, and chose to leave those tweets up as a reminder of who he didn’t want to be, instead of sweeping them under the rug and trying to pretend he wasn’t ever ‘that guy’.
That decision came back to bite him in the ass a bit almost 10 years later. Chosen as a target for his anti-Trump rhetoric, James Gunn was lambasted over his tweets again. Disney likely knew about it when they hired Gunn, but the optics of it all, the renewal of the outrage was something they felt they couldn’t ignore. Instead of sticking to their Gunns (pun absolutely intended) they folded to fake and legitimate outrage alike. Like the class act he is NOW, James Gunn accepted responsibility and the punishment that came with it.
“Deadline: For a filmmaker with a reputation for being outspoken on social media, your public response to the firing was muted. You didn’t blame anyone but yourself, which clearly factored into Horn’s decision to reinstate you. What was going through your head at that time?
Gunn: I don’t blame anyone. 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. 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. There was never any argument of that.
That first day… I’m going to say it was the most intense of my entire life. There have been other difficult days in my life, from the time I got sober when I was younger, to the death of friends who committed suicide. But this was incredibly intense. 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.
I think the one thing that is the most important for me from that day is this: I’m like a lot of people who come out here and want to be rich and famous, to have people love them. I am an artist first and foremost; I love telling stories, I love interacting with my characters, I love designing sets. But I’m also a guy who found what I thought was love, through people loving me, and through my work.
My apparatus for being loved was my work, and being famous. I had never really experienced before that feeling of being loved so deeply. It has been a problem for me in relationships, in friendships; I can experience loving another person but I have a very difficult time experiencing being loved. 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. Should I be locked away?
And then came this outpouring of real love. 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. 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.
So a part of that day was the worst of my life, and a part of it was the greatest day of my life. I certainly haven’t been perfect in my spiritual journeys since that time, but I have been better.
That first couple weeks, I completely stayed off social media. I just completely disconnected from all of that. It was hard as hell and I was really living minute-to-minute, but it was also rewarding, in being able to see life from a different perspective.
What about the part of you that realizes: I did this to myself; this injury is self-inflicted?
The truth is I had a lot of anger at myself and I really had to try to put that aside. 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.
But in the same way, I needed to not be lashing out at whoever fired me, or whoever spread links online or cut up pictures to look like this or that, I also had to let go of some of that rage towards myself as well. Otherwise, I just wasn’t going to be able to make it through.”
James Gunn’s story is an important one. One that both sides of the political aisle need to pay attention to and learn from. If the apology is sincere, and action and course-correction follow that apology, we need to allow people room to grow and change. Otherwise, what’s the point? What are we fighting for if not CHANGE?
“Deadline: From one who has come out the other side, what do you make of the current industry climate, in which behaviors are being exposed and people often banished?
Gunn: There’s a lot of really positive stuff that’s coming out of all of this, and one of those positives is I was able to learn. People have to be able to learn from mistakes. If we take away the possibility for someone to learn and become a better person, I’m not sure what we are left with. I’ve learned all kinds of things about myself through this process.”
Again, if the apology is sincere and the acceptance of blame and responsibility is sincere, you’ll get a reaction much like James Gunn’s. Even when you are being raked over the coals again for it 10 years later. But just because sincere apologizes should sound like this, even 10 years later, doesn’t give us the right to drag it up again. We need to acknowledge when changes have been made and people are actively striving to be better people. When they’re calling out others who act the ways they used to, defending the weak and marginalized, being outspoken against corruption and wrong-doings, much as James Gunn had been in the years leading up to his firing.
If we knew nothing else about James Gunn, the love and support his cast and crew showed him should be enough proof that he’s no longer the person he used to be. That kind of loyalty is hard to foster for someone who cracks jokes about rape. To steal a quote from Prince Edward in ‘A Knight’s Tale’ “Your men love you. If I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough.” Those they drew parallels between Gunn and Roseanne Barr’s racist comments that lead to her dismissal from the show named after her should note that her cast and crew didn’t come out in support of her. That too is telling of one’s nature.
To read the entire interview, visit Deadline and learn all about those who supported Gunn, publicly and privately, as well as his relationship with Warner Bros.
What do you think? Have the wrongs in this case been righted? Or should Gunn continue to be ostracized for his poor attempt at humor a decade ago? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter!