‘I Am Groot’: Kirsten Lepore and Brad Winderbaum on Embracing Groot’s Dark Edge and Working With Vin Diesel

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From creator and executive producer Kirsten Lepore, the first series of animated shorts known quite simply as I Am Groot follow the wacky misadventures of everyone’s favorite tree creature as he gets up to various antics in the downtime between Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Of course, even on his own — and maybe especially on his own, Groot (Vin Diesel) finds no shortage of trouble, both with creatures we’ve never seen before and familiar faces on board the Guardians’ ship. In addition to Diesel, Bradley Cooper appears in a brief cameo in one of the first season’s five shorts, as well as executive producer James Gunn, who provides the voice of a character known as Wrist Watch. I Am Groot also hails from executive producers Lepore, Gunn, Brad Winderbaum, Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito, and Victoria Alonso.

Ahead of I Am Groot’s premiere this week on Disney+, Collider had the opportunity to speak with Lepore and Winderbaum about bringing this first season of shorts to life. Over the course of the interview, which you can read below, the duo discussed following Gunn’s method of writing dialogue for Groot, whose idea it was to fast-forward through the Marvel Studios opening credits, and balancing the innocence and the dark humor that Groot is known for. They also talk about what fans can look forward to from a second season (which is now in development), which short is their personal favorite, and more.

Collider: I feel like I have to start this interview by asking my first question, which is I am Groot?

KIRSTEN LEPORE: Well, let me answer by saying I am Groot.

Silly a lead-in as that is, James Gunn has said that when he’s writing the dialogue for Groot in the Guardians movies, he writes the full dialogue of whatever is being said, and then it is translated into how Groot communicates, which is only through one sentence. Was that still the case in these shorts? Was there dialogue that was actually written for what he is saying, or is it more of an emotional affect that comes across?

LEPORE: Yeah, and keeping with the way James did it, we also have actual dialogue that’s in the script, that’s sort of the subtitle of the “I am Groot.” I don’t know if anyone will ever see it. I don’t know if that makes it out there, but I will also say that it is a board-driven show, first and foremost, as a lot of animated shows are. So really, we have a very loose outline and then the boards come first, and the boards are kind of the thing that start to dictate any of the dialogue and really just the vision of the whole thing, and our script actually comes later, and it’s sort of made way after the fact after we’ve recorded and have our animatics. But, the intention of the line is always there.

I have to ask whose idea it was to include the fast-forward through the Marvel Studios intro.

BRAD WINDERBAUM: I feel like I don’t really remember the exact inception. Kirsten, maybe you do.

LEPORE: I think it was actually Perception’s idea. Perception is the vendor we were working with, who’s doing the titles, and we had a really fantastic meeting with them where I pitched them a couple ideas of, “Okay, I want to get really irreverent with it. How far can we push this?” Luckily, Brad and the other execs were on board, which I was thrilled with. Again, another weird idea that I tried to push through. Brad, he was really championing that opening, but I think it was ultimately Perception that came back with this idea of fast forwarding, and we’ve loved it.

WINDERBAUM: We’re always trying to find ways to reduce that opening flip, and this seemed like a great way to do it.

LEPORE: Because you don’t want to be the three-minute short that then has a minute-and-a-half opening, and then a five-minute credit sequence. We tried to balance that out in a creative way.

I’m honestly amazed that no other Marvel property has done that until now, but it kind of feels very appropriate that it is Groot.

LEPORE: It’s perfect for Groot. It’s perfect.

One of the things that I thought was really great about these shorts is that we get, obviously, the innocence and the wide-eyed way that baby Groot goes through the world, but then also, there are some darker moments of humor. How did you try to find the balance between the more innocent humor and the dark comedy?

LEPORE: I think it’s just sort of in his character. We really tried to strike a balance of making Groot really lovable and really relatable, but [at] the same time, the thing that makes Groot Groot is how mischievous he is and how he’s got a little bit of a dark edge. So, there’s a couple moments in there that maybe skew a little dark, but it’s very in his character, and I think he still retains… I think it’s like having a kid. They might do some bad things here and there, but you’re going to love them at the end of the day.

WINDERBAUM: I would also say that you could see that kind of dark humor going way back. Even the earliest cartoons at Disney, when you look at Mickey Mouse and Donald, they do some stuff that is equatable to what we see.

LEPORE: They’re always sawing people in half or doing magic tricks or whatever.

Were there additional recording sessions that you had to do with Vin for the show? Did you bring him in to do some extra dialogue?

LEPORE: Yeah, it was interesting. When we initially wrote them, we thought, “Oh, it’s just ‘I am Groot.’ How hard could it be? Let’s maybe take some existing recordings we have from Guardians and put Vin in there.” But, like we talked about with the script, each line really does have its own inflection. So, we ended up needing to do a whole record just for the shorts, and I’m so glad we did because once we got Vin in the room, he just nailed it. He would just watch one for the first time and then just run through the whole thing and give us so much personality in each of them. So, it was fantastic to have the luxury of recording with him on these.

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