James Gunn Opens up About Struggle With Addiction: “My Demons Change Over the Years”

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James Gunn at SDCC

Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) director James Gunn is opening up about his struggles with substance abuse, and revealed how the process of filmmaking has helped him deal with his past traumas.

Zoe Saldana as Gamora (left), Chris Pratt as Star-Lord (middle), and James Gunn (right)
Credit: Marvel Studios

Ahead of his transition to DC Studios, Gunn has been enjoying his winning streak in the aftermath of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, his third and final movie in Marvel’s Guardians franchise.

The film is well on-track to become one of the top-earning blockbusters of 2023, grossing just under $700 million at the global box office. It also remains one of Marvel Studio’s best-rated MCU installments to date, sitting at an impressive 94% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Guardians walk into battle
Credit: Marvel

Following Vol. 3‘s release, Gunn has been particularly active on social media, on top of doing several press junkets to promote the movie. And in a recent interview, the director diverted away from Marvel talk to shine a light on the topic of addiction—something that he’s had to overcome throughout his life.

James Gunn at SDCC
Credit: Flickr

Speaking with EL PAÍS, Gunn got candid about being “alcoholic as a young person,” and revealed how the process of making films has helped him to overcome adversity. He told the outlet that while his “demons change over the years,” moving from substance addiction to making high-profile movies has helped him to shift focus to “the creative process”:

My demons change over the years. I was an alcoholic as a young person, and a drug addict. I went through a number of crazy years. I think that for me, it’s really about focusing on the creative process and not being distracted by money, power, attention, negativity, and just focusing on the creative process.

James Gunn smiling on the red carpet
Credit: Chris Pizello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

While he still faces more current challenges a high-profile director such as “money, power, attention, negativity,” he added that the creative process has been somewhat of an anchor for him, and that if he maintains this focus, then “everything works out really well” in both his personal and professional life:

If I can do that, then everything works out really well. It still can be a struggle, mentally. But life is difficult enough without me making it more difficult.

In the past, Gunn has been extremely open about his personal struggles, explaining in a message (via Twitter) that he was once a “violent teenager addicted to drugs,” but was able to embark on his journey to recovery and heal with the “help and love” of his family.

James Gunn SDCC DCU
Credit: Flickr

One of Gunn’s outlets for his sadness, anger, and “suicidal thoughts” was popular entertainment, with Marvel comics, specifically, giving him solace throughout dark times.

In 2017, he explained in a viral Facebook post that this was a huge inspiration behind his decision to direct Guardians, who he described as “a group of heartbroken misfits whose lives have been bereft of tenderness and connection and who have a nearly impossible time trusting themselves or others.”

Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, James Gunn, Sean Gunn, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista and Karen Gillen on the set of 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3' (2023)
Credit: @JamesGunn via Twitter

Sadly, drug and alcohol addiction continue to be commonplace in Hollywood, and even some of Gunn’s fellow Marvel veterans have opened up about their similar struggles. MCU actors Simu Liu and Tom Holland have previously spoken on the lasting impact of social media and superstardom, and how that can damage peoples’ mental health.

Earlier this month, Holland, who plays Peter Parker in the MCU’s Spider-Man franchise, revealed that he’s been sober from alcohol for over a year. He confessed that the “mental aspect” of playing a character with with dissociative identity disorder in the Apple TV+ crime thriller, “The Crowded Room,” took a toll on his mental health, and that he needed to take a long time to “recover” after filming wrapped.

Tom Holland as peter parker back to the future
Credit: Marvel Studios / Sony Pictures

The role was so intense that it ended up changing Holland’s perspective on caring for his own mental health, influencing his choice to become sober. Similarly to Gunn, Holland seems to have noticed the warning signs of what could’ve morphed into addiction, and it’s empowering to see both men share their experiences.

For Gunn, the creative process continues to offer him some respite, and hopefully, his recent remarks will inspire others to overcome similar issues in their own lives.

What do you think of James Gunn’s recent comments on battling addiction? Let us know in the comments below.

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