Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 might have one of the most despicable villains in Marvel Cinematic Universe history. The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) is a cosmic being and geneticist who aspires to create the perfect race, carelessly discarding his failed experiments along the way in shocking acts of genocide. Anyone who follows him must be a monster, but far be it for Guardians of the Galaxy star Miriam Shor to question her creator.
Shor plays Recorder Vim, the righthand woman of the High Evolutionary, whose job is to record each of his failed experiments and help him improve the next batch. As a creation of the High Revolutionary herself, Vim sports icy white eyes, a shaved head, and an apparatus in her skull that records everything she sees. But throughout the course of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which delves into the gruesome creation of Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), what she sees isn’t pleasant. And it starts to make Shor’s villain question her own existence.
“Can you just sit and be an observer? Is there a moment where you have to say what I'm observing is not tenable?” Shor asks Inverse. “What's kind of amazing about comic books and Marvel movies is that they can take something that is so fun and ask those larger questions about why we were created.”
These kinds of big existential questions are nestled within the funny (and heartbreaking) final chapter of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy. A remarkably dark film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 absolutely requires a heavy dose of levity to offset all the animal cruelty and genocide. It’s why Shor half-jokingly suggested a musical number with her fellow High Evolutionary henchman, Theel (Nico Santos). Unfortunately, despite the franchise’s history with dance-offs, the musical number didn’t make the cut.
“I was thinking how hilarious it would be if our characters did a musical number, and we just started writing lyrics,” Shor recalls. “And then we did it for James, and he got his phone out and filmed it, and we were cracking up because it's so improbable.”
Maybe, like the many dance-off outtakes from the first Guardians of the Galaxy, we’ll get to see it in the deleted scenes.
Inverse spoke with Shor about other improvised moments that didn’t make the final cut, the secret backstory of Recorder Vim, and why music is so integral to the Guardians trilogy.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How did you come to be involved with Guardians of the Galaxy 3?
I auditioned. They were like, “Do you want to audition to play a role in Guardians?' and I had just finished watching the entire MCU at the behest of my oldest daughter, in chronological order, no less. Two weeks before, we finished the final movie, and it's such a journey. And then two weeks later, they were like, “Do you want to be a part of this? Do you want to try it?” And I was like, “Oh, yeah. I'm prepared.” I was already like a dorky nerdy fan. But this really steeped me in it.
“I was already like a dorky nerdy fan.”
So did you know who you were auditioning for during that process?
No. We're in the new era of, “It's going to be something, but these aren't the exact lines that you will play.” And normally, I will say that's not really my thing as an actor. I'm here to create a role and I need the tools to be able to do that. But given that it was Guardians, I know the tenor of that. And given how much I just really wanted to be a part of that world, I was like, “Alright, let's do this.”
Recorder Vim is a new character created for the movies. How much freedom were you given to shape this character, or was she pretty exact to what was presented on the page?
On the page, her job is to be the henchwoman of the High Evolutionary, so it's very specific. But that said, James Gunn as a director is all about play. He really lets you live in that world. And there were times, especially when I was with [Chukwudi Iwuji] who plays the High Evolutionary, when he would just let us go. He was like, “Go as far as you can go, make it Shakespeare.” Which [is incredible] to stage actors. When he gave us the freedom to do that, we were taking scenery out of our teeth.
“James has a really deep understanding of how music plays ties into our sense of story.”
There was a day when we were having the best time doing this in a really intense scene. And James kept pushing us to go further and further. James is like, “This is never going to be in the movies. Let's do it again,” because it was just so fun. You can tell that James Gunn loves these kinds of stories. It means something to him, so it means something to all of us.
Recorder Vim is a character of questionable morals, to say the least.
In a lovely way.
What was it like approaching a character who is the support person for a really heinous villain?
It makes the role more fun for me when I can really dive deep into it. I would start thinking about what it is that lets people follow the worst people with the worst intentions because that doesn't only happen in the movies, unfortunately. It's part of human history. It’s something we have to grapple with, and it's equal parts apparent and fascinating.
What’s interesting about being an actor is you get to explore things like that in a safe space. You can really kind of delve into why a person, or an alien, or humanoid would choose to follow someone who's making the absolute worst choices, and what would lead a person to be a follower in that way.
Recorder Vim’s backstory of how she came to be the henchwoman of the High Evolutionary still remains sort of a mystery. I had the idea that she was created by the High Evolutionary, but what is the backstory that we have for Recorder Vim?
Recorder Vim is called a recorder because there is this apparatus in her skull that records everything. So she is that ultimate scientist. All of the information that happens ever stays inside this apparatus, and then she helps create what the High Evolutionary wants. That's her purpose.
But the arc that happens for my character is when there's some challenge to that. Can you just sit and be an observer? Is there a moment where you have to say what I'm observing is not tenable? What's kind of amazing about comic books and Marvel movies is that they can take something that is so fun and ask those larger questions about why we were created.
In a way, her arc is more powerful because she's basically rebelling against her creator.
Exactly. But that is the whole piece, it’s about our relationship to our creator. Are we beholden to how we think we were created and what we think we were created to do? And can we break free from that in some way?
Speaking of all the visual elements of being a creation of the High Evolutionary, you wear a lot of prosthetics to play Recorder Vim. How difficult was it to perform underneath those prosthetics?
I find things like that very helpful because you want to feel different than yourself. You want to be put in a place where you are challenged. There's something really magical about being an actor and sitting in front of a mirror and looking back at yourself and being unrecognizable to yourself. Yeah, it can be uncomfortable. But I am a woman in the world, so I have had to walk through the world wearing uncomfortable shit a lot. So this was really fun for me to be a part of creating a character and to watch the artists because they're incredible.
“I am a woman in the world, so I have had to walk through the world wearing uncomfortable shit a lot.”
Do you have any memorable stories from the set while you were shooting?
I would have to say any scene with Nico Santos who's the Tweedledee to my Tweedledum in the movie. It's funny because we have so much fun on set, so it's really funny to play the worst people on screen.
There was a day when James was pushing us to improv and go as far as we could. Chuck [Chukwudi Iwuji] is also a trained theatre actor, and we were pushing each other to see how far we can go. At the end of the day, we had screamed for 16 hours, basically performing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth through the prism of Marvel.
Speaking of Nico Santos, what's this I hear about you and Nico Santos having a musical number?
Right away when I met Nico, I was like, “This is my person.” Being ridiculous humans, I was thinking how hilarious it would be if our characters did a musical number, and we just started writing lyrics. And then we did it for James, and he got his phone out and filmed it, and we were cracking up because it's so improbable. These two characters would be the last ones who would be in a musical — which is why it needs to happen.
I mean, it's a Guardians movie. The first movie ended with the dance-off so why not a musical?
James has a really deep understanding of how music plays ties into our sense of story. And that's why his choice of music and all three of these movies makes it so enjoyable. It ties you emotionally to each. Whenever he plays a new song, you immediately are gripped by the emotion of the song, as well as the emotion of whatever the scene is. He's basically doing a musical already, so I'm just helping him with an interstitial number.
So what is the music that defines Recorder Vim?
Apparently, it’s Broadway!
At the end of Guardians 3, the fate of your character is left a little up in the air.
[Laughs] Is it?
Well, you don't see any bodies! We don't know where the bodies land.
It’s outer space. It's a galaxy billions of light years away. We don't know what happens. We don't know their lives.
Well, if Recorder Vim survives, would you return for another Marvel movie?
Oh my god, are you kidding me? A heartbeat — less than a heartbeat. Whatever the fastest measurement of time is, that's how fast.