It began, like so many great American success stories, with a selfie. While Chris Pratt trained to play a member of SEAL Team Six in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, his brother convinced him to take a picture of his chiseled bod and unveil it on Ellen. For years, the breezy Minnesotan had been pigeonholed as the dim-witted-but-lovable sitcom schlub on shows like Everwood, The O.C., andParks and Recreation, and struggled to gain a foothold in Hollywood. He’d auditioned for the roles of Jake Sully in Avatar, Capt. James T. Kirk in Star Trek, Duke in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Sam Flynn in TRON: Legacy, and countless others to no avail. 

“I mean, shit, if there was a big movie coming out, I auditioned for it,” says Pratt. “I auditioned for movies both good and bad. I was willing to do anything.”

James Gunn, the director Marvel handpicked to helm the sci-fi opera Guardians of the Galaxy, was facing a similar quandary. He’d auditioned, he says, well over 100 actors and screen-tested in excess of 20 for the role of Peter Quill/Star-Lord, his wisecracking lead. And these weren’t no-name guys. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eddie Redmayne, Jon Krasinski, Aaron Paul, Lee Pace, and James Marsden were all rumored to have read for Quill, but none of them clicked.

“Truly, I wanted to be blown away and feel like this guy would be just like Robert Downey Jr. was in Iron Man,” says Gunn. 

Guardians’ casting director, Sarah Finn—who’s cast virtually every Marvel film since Iron Man—kept suggesting Chris Pratt for the role. Gunn was confused, and unimpressed. “I said, ‘The fat guy from Parks and Rec? That’s insane! What are you talking about?!’” he recalls. “I was actually getting kind of upset with her because she kept bringing it up.”

Gunn was so turned off by the suggestion that he refused to see him read for the part. But one day, he’d just read another actor for it when Finn said, “OK, now Chris Pratt’s here.”

“I’m pretty sure she tricked me into seeing him because I don’t ever remember agreeing to see him,” says Gunn. “Chris came in, and he was still chubby at that point, and within 20 seconds of him auditioning I just knew that he was the guy. I just knew it immediately. I turned around and looked to Sarah and I almost had tears in my eyes, because we’d gone through so many people.”

But Pratt and Gunn still had to convince Marvel brass that he’d look the part. They were soon directed to that infamous selfie he’d snapped for Zero Dark Thirty. 

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