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From writer/director Kirsten Lepore, Season 2 of the five-episode I Am Groot series of shorts sees the beloved twig (voiced by Vin Diesel) up to all manner of mischief, whether it’s because of an intergalactic ice cream truck, a newly hatched bird, or getting a nose. When Baby Groot explores the universe, you can be sure that he’ll get into all sorts of trouble, but that he’ll also have a lot of fun doing it, hopefully learning something along the way.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, series executive producer Lepore talked about why Groot works so well in every iteration, how her own son influences the stories, ensuring the character is always learning and growing, how liberating it is to write for a character that has only one line, getting the nose exactly right, having Jeffrey Wright voice The Watcher for a guest appearance, why there should be a real-life intergalactic ice cream truck, and what Groot and Marcel the Shell (Lepore was the animation director for Marcel the Shell with Shoes On) might think of each other, if they were ever to meet.
Collider: First of all, I love the intergalactic ice cream truck. Can we please get one of those in real life, and then just park it on my street and leave it there?
KIRSTEN LEPORE: I know, right? That was my favorite things that we got to make. Once we made it, we were like, “Oh, we need this in real life. This should be at the Disney Parks. Someone needs to pick this up.”
As a character, Groot works and is funny, interesting and endearing, at any age. When you first saw the character and got a feel for who he was, what most deeply spoke to you about him and why do you think he works so well in every iteration?
LEPORE: I think because Groot is a tree of few words, it makes him even more relatable. He’s not bound by the limitations of the different languages that we may all speak. He’s always got one line, and you can just infer what he means. It doesn’t actually matter what he’s saying. He’s the every person, and I think that just makes him a wonderfully universal character that we can all identify with.
This version of Groot feels very much part toddler and part puppy. You’ve talked about being inspired by your son and that he’s informed some of your story ideas. Did he inform anything with this season, specifically?
LEPORE: Yeah, for sure. I was very excited that they allowed me to make the episode where Groot becomes a parent and takes care of the baby bird. I’d say that one is probably the most autobiographical, where you get everything about parenting – the good, the bad, the exhaustion and the excitement. Personally, I feel like it’s a very fun and honest story about all that experience can be sometimes. I love to see Groot go through it. It’s extra funny.
This show also feels very much like little life lessons with Groot. Even if he’s not necessarily learning a lesson, do you at least want him to learn something with each episode?
LEPORE: Yeah. He’s always learning and growing. Even if we don’t see an overarching arc to the whole thing, it is these little lessons and moments from a childhood that, if it were our childhood, we might have otherwise forgotten, but it all shapes who he is. I think he’s potentially a little less destructive in Season 2 than he was in Season 1, so maybe he has learned something there, or maybe that’s just us being conscious of that and going, “Maybe let’s not let him kill a whole civilization of little bean characters.” But yeah, I think he’s always growing and changing. We see ourselves in him, as well, in that way.
What is the key to writing for Groot? What can you do with a character like this, that wouldn’t really work for pretty much any other character?
LEPORE: I think it’s great that he only has the one line. A lot of people would consider that a writing challenge and be like, “Well, what am I gonna do? They don’t have any dialogue.” But most of my previous work in shorts before this are large without dialogue, so for me, it’s totally my wheelhouse and comfort zone. In fact, I get really intimidated when I do have to write dialogue. I’m too precious about it. I’m like, “No, it’s gonna sound stupid.” So for me, it’s liberating to actually work with a character where you have more limitations. There are limitations, in terms of his facial features. They’re very simple, which is one of the reasons we had fun giving him a nose this season. There are limitations in his dialogue and his stature. All of that creates fun things to play with. He’s already so well-established, in that way. You just have these few limitations, and I find it easier to come up with ideas within that sandbox.
To ask a fun, silly question, if Groot and Marcel the Shell ever met, what would they think of each other and what adventure would they go on together?
LEPORE: That’s such a good question. Wow, I’ve never thought about that. Marcel is sweet, but also very direct and honest, and isn’t gonna sugar coat anything. And Groot is like that, too. Maybe they would actually get along pretty well. I feel like Groot could be the body for Marcel and could carry him around, and then Marcel would maybe be more of the brains to the operation.
They’re just the two best characters, so picturing them together just makes me happy.
LEPORE: I love it so much. I’m gonna be thinking about this all day.
Is there any chance of doing something longer than these shorts? I feel like a full-length movie of this would be 20 to 30 minutes, with as short as the shorts are. Would you like to do a longer adventure, or do these work so well because they are short little moments?
LEPORE: It’s hard to say. I think doing a longer adventure would also be fun. Playing with Groot in any capacity is always a joy because he’s such a great and established character. Honestly, you can really drop him into any scenario and he’s just so fun to watch. It was easy to write these because he’s so rich in what he gives you already. So, a feature of Groot would be amazing. More shorts would be amazing. Now we’ve gotten to see, Alpha Groot and Teenage Groot, and Groot in all different iterations. I’ll take all the Groots. Give me as much Groot as possible.
You’ve given Groot a nose in this batch of shorts. How much time did you spend thinking about the nose, the shape of the nose, and what the nose would look like? Did you spend just an endless amount of time thinking about the nose?
LEPORE: So much time. I wanted to make sure that the color was like something that wasn’t too specific. It’s a pinky reddish color. Even just deciding on a color was a big decision. Shape was a big decision. It was very funny, actually getting the turnarounds from our vendor, Luma, of the nose, the first time. I really tried to describe to them the nose I was thinking about and gave them sketches And then, the turnarounds came and they were very close. I felt like I was giving him a digital nose job, where I was like, “Lift this. Pull this out. Do this thing.” And then, eventually, we landed on what I consider to be the perfect nose for Groot’s body. I also wanted it to be a very gender ambiguous nose. It shouldn’t look too specific, in either way. So, I think we landed on a good one. Of course, it’s too big for his face because it’s a human-sized one, but that adds to the comedy.
Bradley Cooper made a guest appearance in Season 1, and you have Jeffrey Wright in Season 2. What was it like to include The Watcher, this time?
LEPORE: That episode was so fun to do. Recording Jeffrey was amazing. He’s such an incredible actor. That was one episode where, before we recorded Jeffrey, we had three different versions of the scratch track for it, with the temporary dialogue. The first one, I had done, but I don’t sound anything like The Watcher, so it wasn’t very convincing. And then, we had an editor at Marvel, this guy Joel, do another scratch for The Watcher. He was a lot closer, but we still were not sure. And then, as soon as Jeffrey came in, we were like, “Oh, my God, yes. Okay, this is gonna work. This is great.” It’s just such a particular brand of magic, in that voice. He knocked that performance out of the park. I couldn’t be happier.
I Am Groot is available to stream at Disney+.