Nathan Fillion on the Very Petty Master Karja

May 4, 2023

Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the final installment of the trilogy that director/writer James Gunn started when he introduced this band of misfits who found family amongst each other, saving the world for humans and creatures alike. This time around, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, struggles to deal with a Gamora (Zoe Saldana) that is alive but doesn’t know who he is while also trying to save the life of his best friend Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and being forced to face his own past that he left behind before heading out into the larger galaxy.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Nathan Fillion (who plays Master Karja, a foot soldier in charge of a team of foot soldiers that he likes to remind who’s boss) talked about his very petty character, why Master Karja has it out for one specific member of his security team, being an innocent bystander in whatever the Guardians were up to, how today’s superhero and comic book movies measure up to what he hoped for as a kid, what it was like to put on his costume and walk around the set, one of his deleted moments, why people trust Gunn as a filmmaker, and his guilty pleasure music.

Collider: When this character was described to you, how was he described? What were you told about who he would be?

NATHAN FILLION: I really didn’t get the rundown. I learned his name and did a quick Google search because I’m a comic book fan, since I was a kid. When I heard his name, I said, “I don’t recognize that name. Is this somebody I should know?” And there was really nothing to search. We determined that he’s a very basic security guard, basic in that he’s a small man. He’s not a nice man. He’s a petty man. He’s a little bit of power on a tiny little ant hill, but he’s the king of that particular hill, and power corrupts and now he’s a jerk. That’s him.

Image via Marvel Studios

Were there things about him that changed, over the course of playing him, or once you figured out who he would be, that’s who he stayed?

FILLION: I’ve never played a jerk who was so relentless. One character in particular, the lizard alien fella, his actual name was Kyle. I actually called him Kyle, throughout the filming of it. His character name was Kyle, as well. I don’t think that made it to the film. Master Karja clearly has it in for Kyle. They’ve got a history. He’s very, very threatened by Kyle. Kyle is probably up for his job.

One of the things I love about these movies is how they always make me want to learn more about the supporting characters.

FILLION: There are a bunch of characters in this movie who are clearly having their own day that’s not about the Guardians. They’re sweeping through here and messing everything up as they go, and we have a couple of very innocent bystanders who are just having a day. Master Karja, if anything, is just an innocent bystander.

You’ve talked about being a comic book fan and collecting comic books. When you were reading those comics, as a kid, did you ever hope for or picture what they might look like as movies someday? Are today’s comic book movies anything like what you imagined they could be when you were a kid? How do they measure up?

FILLION: The Incredible Hulk was a valid TV series. They tried with Spider-Man, a couple of times, and it was very bad. It failed miserably. It was really hard to watch. They tried with Captain America, with this poor man wearing a literally rubber suit, poor guy. It failed. It was bad. I think they even tried Thor once. When I was a kid, I could not conceive of that stuff. I wasn’t like, “Oh, eventually, Jurassic Park will have dinosaurs that look real.” For me, everything was just a dream. Everything existed in my mind, in my imagination, and in my dreams. Now that these things have come to life, it is more than I dreamed.

Image via Marvel Studios

What was the wildest moment for you, on this shoot? In the costume, on the set, surrounded by all these wacky characters, was there a particularly ridiculous moment?

FILLION: You do look around, and you’re on an alien space station. Everything you see , you’re like, “No human has ever set eyes on any of this, that’s for sure.” And then, you look down and you’re wearing one of these orgosentry suits, and you feel like you belong. You feel like you’re part of this environment. You feel like you ought to be there. It’s a good question. You feel of a place.

What was it like, the first time you saw what the costume would be and put it on? How challenging was it to put on and take off?

FILLION: It took a couple of guys to help me get into it. It was only about five minutes getting in, and about two minutes getting out. It was heavy and not super comfortable, but I can’t complain because your audience is Karen Gillan and Zoe Saldana Dave Bautista, who just spent hours in prosthetic makeup and body painting. I think that would rob me of my sanity. So, sticking it out in a heavy suit for a couple hours, I was getting away with murder.

How was it to get the team together, with you all in your suits, with the guy in the prosthetics and makeup, and you’re surrounded by all these fun and funny and silly things happening? Were you like, “Okay, this is my team. I can lead this group.”?

FILLION: Yeah. When it all starts to come together, and (writer/director) James [Gunn] is explaining how it’s gonna go, you’re like, “Okay, so that’s our relationship. When we walk, you’ll be my right-hand guy. Great, this will be perfect. We’ll be strutting down here.” You start to put it all together and your brain fills in the little details. I’ll confess though, there are moments where you have a slightly disembodied experience, where you float out of your body a second and you’re watching it seemingly from the corner of the room like, “Oh, my God, this is totally a scene in Guardians of the Galaxy, and these are the Guardians that you’re talking to right here. This guy doesn’t even know that he’s talking to the Guardians.

Image via Marvel Studios

You mentioned referring to the other character as Kyle, but were there scenes or other bits you shot that didn’t make the film, that we might be able to see, at some point?

FILLION: There was one line that was a bit of a callback, that didn’t make it into the movie. Basically, there was a bit of a victory for Master Karja and he says, “Great job, everyone. Great job. This one’s for all of us.” And then, he turns and says, “Not you, Kyle. You’re ruining it.” That was one of those that didn’t make it in. But poor Kyle. I think he had enough, by that time.

You worked with James Gunn on his directorial debut, Slither. You’ve been working with him throughout the years, now doing this movie together. How has he most grown and changed, as a director, and how is he exactly the same?

FILLION: I’ll say he’s exactly the same, in the way he approaches his work. He’s very, very passionate. He honestly loves telling stories, and I love hearing them. I love stories. I’m extremely picky about how I’m entertained, how I wanna spend my time being entertained, and how I select my entertainment. James is able to make me feel things. James is able to have emotions well up within me. James can get me invested Those things have never changed about James. I will say what has changed is the trust and faith that more people have in him now. People hand him projects and say, “Do your thing,” and then walk away. First of all, congratulations James. It’s really hard to get to that point where people trust you enough to say, “Do whatever you want. Do what you do. Just make it one of your projects.” People have come to trust James now. They know that he can be relied upon to tell a fantastic story.

Image via Marvel Studios

Did you see that in him, the first time you worked with him? Did you see that there were these bigger ideas there? Is the fact that he’s here now, not surprising to you?

FILLION: I find it hard to look into the future and predict like that. I often find myself living so much in the moment. Am I surprised at his journey? No. Am I impressed? Yeah. No way, he could have dreamed this level of success. I’ll tell you what else stays the same about him is his happiness. He is happiest when he’s doing this. He is happiest when he’s bringing in his friends to participate in this wildly global extravaganza event. That much has never changed about James.

Music plays such a big role in the Guardians of the Galaxy universe. What is your guilty pleasure music?

FILLION: I’m a real fan of Top 40 pop. I’m not gonna lie, I like boy bands. I can’t help it because they’ve got it. Backstreet Boys were amazing, but *NSYNC was in sync.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is in theaters on May 5th.

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