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St. Louis native Sean Gunn is back as Kirk in 'Gilmore Girls' revival

St. Louis native Sean Gunn as Kirk in the "Gilmore Girls." The pig is named Petal.
St. Louis native Sean Gunn in a scene from the "Gilmore Girls" revival. The pig is named Petal.

If actor Sean Gunn isn’t out promoting the Netflixreboot of the “Gilmore Girls,’’ which premieres on Friday, you might find him at a comic book convention meeting fans of the film “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,”which will be released in May.

The two projects meant months of commuting between the West and East coasts for the 42-year-old St. Louis native who follows Cardinals baseball wherever he is and admits to liking both Imo’s and Pi pizza. And, yes, he went to high school here — St. Louis University High.

Nearly 10 years after the “Gilmore Girls” ended its seven-season run on The WB television network, Gunn happily rejoined the cast for the four-part Netflix revival, which has been long-awaited by fans of the series.

He would film his scenes portraying Kirk, the quirkiest of the lovable eccentrics who live in the fictionally quaint town of Stars Hollow. And then he’d get on a plane and fly to Atlanta to reprise his role as the space pirate Kraglin in "Guardians.'' The film is the sequel to the 2014 Marvel Studios hit, which was written and directed by James Gunn, his older brother.

“ ‘Gilmore Girls’ and ‘Guardians’ both shot in the first half of this year,’’ said Gunn last week during a phone interview with St. Louis Public Radio. “So, I was having to fly back and forth from Atlanta, where we shot ‘Guardians,’ to LA, where ‘Gilmore Girls’ was shot. And you’ll notice if you see the ‘Gilmore Girls’ reboot, Kirk’s hair and facial hair are a little different than they were on the show. That’s because I had to keep my ‘Guardians’ hair. I couldn’t shave and grow it out in a more Kirk-esque style.”

Gunn has embraced his hectic schedule.

“When you’re an actor like me, who’s been at the grind for a long time, it is always a gift to be busy,” he said.

Sean Gunn
Credit Sean Gunn
Sean Gunn

Gunn grew up in the St. Louis suburbs, the youngest of six children of James and Lee Gunn. His brothers — James, Patrick, Brian and Matt — all found success in Hollywood, while his sister Beth chose the legal profession, following in the footsteps of their father, a partner at Thompson Coburn.

“We’re all pretty close in age. We’re all pretty tight,’’ said Gunn, who frequently works with his brother James on film projects. Those include another soon-to-be-released film — “The Belko Experiment,” which he describes as “a psychological horror thriller” that they filmed in Bogota, Columbia, during the summer of 2015.

We both trust each other a great deal. He is as good a director as I could ever hope to work with. And I know that he has a lot of confidence in my ability as an actor. So we really work well together,’’ Gunn said. “I get questions a lot about sibling rivalry. We really just don’t have much of that. We’re not in competition with one another. Our professional relationship is great because we have such a history of working together.’’

Here are excerpts from our interview with Sean Gunn:

Q. It’s been 10 years since “Gilmore Girls” went off the air. Why is there so much interest in the Netflix revival?

Gunn: It’s been really crazy how much excitement there is. I think it shows you how profound of an effect Netflix has had on television and on content and the way people view content. When the show was released on Netflix in its entirety about three years ago, it just had this resurgence of popularity. I think it’s more popular now than it ever was, which is a very unusual thing for a TV show that’s been off the air for a decade.

Q. What was it like to get back to Stars Hollow and meet up with the rest of the cast?

Gunn: It was wonderful. Often, you don’t get to appreciate what you’re doing while you’re doing it all the time. Particularly when, as you said, I started it in my 20s and had a whole different set of things that I was concerned about — about my career. While I always enjoyed doing "Gilmore Girls,'' it felt more special to me after the show had ended. Just getting the opportunity to get back into the skin of Kirk and have these great scripts again and work with all these great people was really a gift and something really cool. I’m really happy I was able to do it.

Q. So, no one had to twist your arm to come back?

Gunn: No, definitely not. Out on the road I see fans from all over the country. And I saw how much excitement there was. And people asking, "Is it going to come back? Is it going to come back?'' So I knew that if we were able to put it together and schedule it, that I wanted to be a part of it.

Q. When people are asking about “Gilmore Girls,” is it younger fans? Is it older fans? Who’s interested?

Gunn: I am often surprised by how young the fans are. I went to see my nephew’s play here in LA a couple of weekends ago. He’s a sophomore in high school and he had people in his show who were really excited that his uncle was on the "Gilmore Girls" and wanted to come meet me. And they were 5 years old when the show went off the air. So, they’re definitely new fans. But I also have a lot of people telling me they watched the show when it was on originally. And a lot of mothers and daughters who watched it together. Which is kind of my favorite thing. When you see the mothers and daughters who bonded over the show, that’s a pretty cool thing.

Q. Has Kirk changed?

Gunn: My short answer to that is, not really. Kirk is still certainly Kirk. Kirk is a bit of an immovable object when it comes to how he looks at the world.

Q. You’ve got a couple of other projects coming up that are very different from the "Gilmore Girls."

Gunn: I did a psychological horror thriller called "The Belko Experiment,'' which comes out on March 17th of next year. It’s an MGM movie. A really cool project about a bunch of people in an office building who are forced to start killing one another.

It’s another movie that my brother James wrote and produced. I’m excited about it. It’s a really interesting film. If you don’t like violence you’ll probably want to stay at home for this one. But I play the character Marty who’s sort of a stoner/cafeteria worker who starts to lose it when things start to really go down.

And then, of course, "Guardians of the Galaxy Volume II" comes out on May 5th, and I reprise my role as Kraglin. That was a wonderful project. I’m very excited for fans to see it. I think if people liked the original Guardians — which a lot of people did — I think they’ll really love this second movie. I certainly love being a part of it.

Q. You have another role in "Guardians,'' and I’m not sure how you'd put that one on your resume.

Gunn: I know. It’s tricky. I play Rocket Raccoon on set. The way that works, when we shoot those scenes, I get down and play Rocket. It takes a whole team of people to make Rocket Raccoon from the visual effects team all the way down to Bradley Cooper who does the voice. I’m a member of that team. I play Rocket with the other actors so they’re acting with another actor and not a blank space or a tennis ball or whatever. I also do the motion reference. Which means the visual effects team uses my face and hands as a visual reference for where Rocket is, where’s he’s looking. It’s a very interesting job. We didn’t have any guidelines for how we were going to do it. My brother asked me to do it in the first movie. You’re right. It’s hard to put on my resume because we sort of invented the job ourselves. But I love doing it.

Q. How often do you get back to St. Louis?

Gunn: Not enough. My parents have five of their six children living out in LA, and so they come out here so much that I don’t get back as often as I like. I try to at least once a year go down and visit them at their place at the Lake of the Ozarks, which I love doing. If I can get in to St. Louis, I have a couple of old friends there. Mostly, I just need to see a Cardinals game and have some Ted Drewes and eat both Imo’s and Pi pizza. And check out some of my old stomping grounds. I do wish I got back more often.

Q. What about those Cubs?

Gunn: I don’t want to talk about it. But let me tell you this. For anyone who is nervous or upset about the state of the world today — that maybe all is not right with the universe.  We, Cardinals fans just want to say, "We told you so." The Cubs were not to be allowed to win the World Series. And now that they have, "We told you so." But, you know, what are you going to do? They won. And I congratulate them for it.

Q. Because your family has found much success in Hollywood, I’m sure you get lots of questions from people who want to know how to break into the film business. What is your secret?

Gunn: First of all, there is not much of a secret. You have to stay at the work. One thing that I have, and my brother has — we are driven by telling stories and creating stories. We’re not driven by fame or success. You can’t just love the idea of it or the dream of it, you have to love the work itself. It is hard work. Finishing what you start is a big part of it. Staying curious and interested in the world is important because that’s where your stories are going to come from. You can’t just withdraw up into your Hollywood bubble. You have to stay engaged with as many people as you can. And some of it is luck. If you work hard enough, when luck hits you, you can make the most out of the opportunity. It’s a combination of a lot of different things.

Q. You’ve also had the support of your family.

Gunn: That helps a great deal. I know that when I meet people who tell me that they want to pursue acting or any career in the arts and they say, "But my parents say I can’t do it or it’s too hard" or "I have to be realistic or have a fallback,'' I’m always incredibly grateful for my parents. That they were really encouraging to say, "If that’s what you want to do, then that’s what you should do."

At the end of the day, while input matters, it isn’t everything. And criticism certainly isn’t helpful. And people who say you can’t do something, there’s no reason to take their word for it. You have to get out there and do it. And have an objective view of it yourself. But it’s a tough industry. It’s not for everyone.

Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @MaryDLeonard

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.