Will Poulter on Adam Warlock’s Moral Compass

May 4, 2023

It can’t be easy joining an ensemble packed with big personalities audiences already know and love, but Chukwudi Iwuji and Will Poulter certainly manage to make a significant impression in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

Poulter steps in as Adam Warlock, a golden superpowered being engineered to be perfect in every way. As described by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, “More powerful. More beautiful. More capable of destroying the Guardians of the Galaxy.” Not only do the Guardians find themselves facing off against Adam, but they also must deal with an especially sinister force from Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) past, his creator, Iwuji’s High Evolutionary. His goal? To create the perfect species — even if it means eradicating older ones.

With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 hitting theaters nationwide on Friday, May 5th, I got the chance to chat with Poulter and Iwuji about their experience joining the MCU. Check out the video at the top of this article or read the transcript below to find out if there are any limits to the High Evolutionary’s disturbing operation, which Guardians 3 cast member was deemed most likely to spoil the movie, what’s the greatest challenge of filming a James Gunn-directed movie, and loads more!

Image via Marvel Studios

Can you tell me the biggest difference between the Adam Warlock that was first pitched to you and who he became in the final cut of the film?

WILL POULTER: Wow. I mean, the costume, the visual effects, makeup definitely improved compared to the audition that I sent in from home, I will say that. There was a marked improvement in the budget. But, no, outside of that, honestly, and outside of the kind of obvious physical elements and the CGI and all the kind of major things that really do help to make him who he is, costume etc., character-wise I think James always had a pretty consistent and clear view of how he wanted Adam to be, and so I just tried to match up to that as best as possible.

Was there any particular quality of his that you didn’t discover until you were on set working with your co-stars and developing those relationships he has with them?

POULTER: I think it wasn’t until I observed the performances of my incredible actors, like Chuk and then the Guardians and to see where they plotted themselves on a moral compass that I was able to really understand where Adam wanted to be. It wasn’t until I kind of saw them play out their own morality that I was — it wasn’t until then that I was able to really kind of work out where Adam lied on the scale.

I get a little obsessed with character backstory, especially when you’re playing such curious, complex characters who have clearly gone through quite a bit to get them to the point that we see in the movie. Did you come up with any backstory or do any research with the source material that maybe we don’t directly see or hear about on screen, but you found informing your work all along the way?

CHUKWUDI IWUJI: For me, it wasn’t the source material. There’s that whole incredible history in the comic books of being Wyndham and whatever, from banished from Oxford or Cambridge. It was great to read, but for me, I really like using what’s in front of me James has this way of creating his own bible for a text, and the beginning, middle, and end is there, all that. What I did use that I would say that I brought that people don’t necessarily know is that I had an idea that this guy doesn’t sleep. There was something about the royal guy, almost like religious zealotry about him that I go, ‘What if on top of that, he’s so obsessed with his mission, he doesn’t sleep,’ but that was mainly for me and that was what made me feel that whole thing that when I’m in front of people, I turn it on because when I’m not with them, it just goes into a dark morose place, you know?

I love details like that, especially when even though it’s not there, I can feel it and I believe it.

IWUJI: Oh, good! That’s what I was playing with.

Image via Marvel

POULTER: The comics were definitely helpful to me in addition to the script, but the script is such a fantastic blueprint, and I think James has such an intimate psychologically appreciative understanding of all of his characters that he does a lot of the work for you in that respect. And then, as I say, when I turn up on set, I’m really leaning on the strength of the performances of other people, whether it’s observing Chuk or whether it’s watching the Guardians’ response to me. I think like Chuk said, it’s about getting that prep done and then being in a position where you could just kind of respond instinctively.

You’ve both emphasized how James plans everything and walks you through it so you have the information you need, but what about when you hit set? What’s the biggest difference between what he gives versus any other director you’ve worked with in the past?

IWUJI: I love the fact that for someone who’s so prepared and storyboards everything himself, lives the characters as he’s writing them, he’s still completely open to you surprising him.

POULTER: 100%.

IWUJI: My favorite scenes when I’d come home bouncing is when you’ve gone, you’ve done a take, and you’ve given him what he’s written, and he’s happy, and he says, ‘Okay, do whatever’ — he always does this, ‘Do whatever you want.’ And then you do it, and every now and then you do something that he really loved, then he pushes it to the nth degree, and that you feel a new scene has come out of the scene that was there. It’s a weird combination for someone to be so prepared, so ready, and at the same time, so flexible, you know? That’s the gift you want as a performer.

Image via Disney

I have to follow up on that. Can you give me an example, a non-spoiler example of course, of a really big swing you took when you got that opportunity that we can now see in the final cut?

IWUJI: Without spoiling it? Hm.

POULTER: It’s really hard — especially as I’m very conscious of the fact that everybody nominated me as the person who was gonna give away …

IWUJI: The most? [Laughs] I remember one. There is a moment in it where, I think I don’t give away to say I’m confronting Rocket early on where I realize what Rocket is. There was a piece of music I had sent James. Purcell’s ‘Remember Me.’ It’s from, I believe it’s Tristan and Isolde, and they use that in the soundtrack, and James, we came on set and we did the scene and then he put it on the speaker to play and play and play, and he had it play and play, and then we did this scene and he just kept saying, ‘More.’ He kept saying, ‘You can go further with it,’ and the music is playing and it’s really emoting and he’ll go further and further, and I’m at the point where the adrenaline is pumping. And that scene, wherever it was beforehand, went to an nth degree and I think you see it in the movie, in this little interaction because my last line as I leave the room in that, the High Evolutionary does it slightly exhausted. I was completely exhausted, and that worked for it. Does that make sense?

POULTER: That makes sense. There’s an awkward hug in the movie, which was added in by James from behind the monitor, and we just tried it in a number of different ways and he was like, ‘More awkward, more awkward!’ And I was like, ‘If there’s one thing I do well, it’s awkward.’ I had fun with that.

IWUJI: And it was such a great moment because the audience loved it. You know, they went crazy.

POULTER: What they don’t know is I was just trying to do a normal hug. [Laughs]

Image via Marvel Studios

Why does everyone think you’re gonna give away all the spoilers?

POULTER: I’m the new kid. And I get it. I get it. I get what it is, but I’m being very tread careful. So I’m really trying to not be that guy.

Chuk, I have an important question for you that’ll help me sleep at night. Do you have any pets?

IWUJI: I do. I have a gorgeous dog. A Schnoodle, Schnauzer/Poodle mix called Cicero who I adore and who, every time I saw the finished Rocket, I saw — they have the same eyes! I was heartbroken. I was completely destroyed watching the movie because they literally have the same eyes,

There’s always been a lot of themes and ideas in the Guardians movies that have wrecked me, but the pet and animal lover element here, it gutted me while I was watching it. But I’m glad you have a wonderful pet to go home to and that is your reality! [Laughs]

IWUJI: Absolutely! [Laughs]

When you’re playing a villain in a movie, the villain never really believes that they’re a villain, so for the High Evolutionary, where do you think that he draws the line between right and wrong, if he does at all? Is there a line he won’t cross?

IWUJI: I sort of mentioned the word zealotry, and I don’t think there’s a line he won’t cross if he believes it’s gonna get you there. He does believe that he is the only one that can bring civilization to the next level and save it. Very Thanos-like almost, but in a very scary way. So I don’t think there’s a line. And that was the joy of playing him. I’m not sort of pretending and winking at the audience that, ‘Don’t worry there’s a line. We’ll do another movie and I’ll be much nicer.’ No, this guy is completely disturbing, and it was completely delicious to play that.

Delicious is such a good descriptor there. He’s so incredibly disturbing, but I can’t explain why it was so joyful to watch you go to the nth degree and go big with that character.

Image via Marvel Studios

Here is my overly sentimental question that I love asking now because, in this industry, we give each other awards and that’s wonderful, but I don’t think anybody says ‘good job’ to themselves nearly enough, so what is something you accomplish in this movie that you can now look back on and say, ‘Damn, I am proud of what I did there?’

POULTER: Oh my gosh.

IWUJI: That is a really difficult thing to ask.

A challenge with purpose!

IWUJI: Honestly, I’m glad there were some days I was shooting with Nico Santos and Miriam Shor. I’m glad I actually managed to pull off that scene finally because I was laughing so hard during it. There were so many days where I almost laughed myself into getting fired, so it was great that I finished off the scenes. [Laughs]

POULTER: [Laughs] It’s so true. I would maybe second that and say there are times where Sean Gunn was throwing out alts to me and is such an adept improviser. Chris, too! When that was being thrown at you, pelted with funny stones, and you can sort of hold it together, which is something I’m not very good at.

IWUJI: With a James Gunn project, holding it together, finishing off a day of filming, and you managed to still be employed because you haven’t screwed up is a good thing.

I’ll let you guys get away with those answers, but there’s a mile-long list of exceptional performance beats in this you should be very proud of!

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