Sean Gunn helped launch Rocket Raccoon, now he’s flying high

By his own admission, actor Sean Gunn sometimes feels like he has a front row seat to the greatest show in the world.

As the man who provided the physical performance for Rocket Raccoon in four Marvel Studios movies, he’s not wrong.

While he may not have any face time in the billion-dollar Marvel franchises in which the character has appeared, Gunn acts as the point of reference for his fellow actors, filmmakers and visual effects technicians. Marvel loyals have probably seen him in behind the scenes footage, walking in a squat to mimic his character’s diminutive stature.

It’s not like Gunn, the younger brother of “Guardians of the Galaxy” writer-director James Gunn, has been lacking in on screen face time outside of his furry alter ego. He’s amassed dozens of film and TV credits over a twenty-plus year career, most notably as local oddball Kirk Gleason on “Gilmore Girls,” and, in a second Marvel role, the space mercenary Kraglin in both “Guardians” films. (He’s an “old school character actor,” he’ll say.)

But taking part in Marvel’s promotional “We Love You 3000” tour of Best Buy outlets and meeting fans to celebrate the home video release of “Avengers: Endgame,” the latest movie in which he performed as Rocket, Gunn is discovering that his seemingly anonymous efforts are gaining greater and greater appreciation.

“I’m learning the extent to which some people are just learning about some of the work I did as Rocket on the movie, which is not something that I really did for any kind of recognition,” Gunn tells CNN. “But people are starting to notice it and ask me questions about it, and I’m happy to answer what I can. It’s been interesting how much it’s made an impression on people.”

Bradley Cooper tends to get the lion’s share of credit for voicing the character. Gunn says his assuming the role of Rocket on the initial “Guardians” film was more than just a courtesy to his older sibling, whose films he frequently appears in “it was also a favor to me because I needed a job!” he jokes.

“I was hired for the first movie to sort of assist with Rocket so that we would find a way that the actors were dealing with a real actor, rather than a blank space, before they found a voice actor who was going to play the role. It just kind of evolved from there,” he says. “I ended up being on set and we did a rehearsal, and I just got down on my hands and knees and started doing it from down there.”

For reference, Gunn recalled his days in acting school in Chicago, when the class would pretend to be animals and just started doing that.

“It’s what worked! It looked crazy for a little bit, and then you got used to it and then it kind of just ended up being what helped the actors the most,” he says. “Since that’s why I was there, that’s what we stuck with.”

His close collaboration with his brother made for an effortless rapport on the “Guardians” films, and while working on “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” he was touched by how much ownership over Rocket the films’ directors, the also-fraternally-paired Joe and Anthony Russo, allowed him.

“There were certainly lots of times on set when we talked about ‘Does that make sense with your perception of who this character is?’ I think they afforded me that respect, and they certainly always know the right questions to ask,” he says. “That’s what makes them great directors.”

He’s especially gratified that he’ll be re-teaming with his brother for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” now that his brother has reassumed the reigns of the franchise after being briefly dismissed by Marvel’s corporate owner Disney after an outcry over some offensive social media posts.

“I think that the Marvel Cinematic Universe really felt like family to me and my brother really every step of the way, and sometimes things happen in families, but whatever. You move on and you kind of go from there,” he says. “And I was never surprised by the love that I felt from particularly the ‘Guardians’ castmates, but really everybody, and I’m excited to get back to work and go make another movie.”

Before production begins, however, James Gunn is off on a foray to another comic book universe as he helms the sequel to “Suicide Squad.” But is there a role in that film that Sean’s lobbying his sibling for?

“I can tell you that I’ve read the script and I think that it’s excellent, and I know that my brother is very, very excited about it,” he says. “So I have very high hopes that it’s going to be an excellent movie — but that’s all I can say for now!”

Even though he remains largely unseen as Rocket, the enormous popularity of the Marvel films, as well as his ongoing association with “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, has seen Gunn enjoy steady recognition, among viewers and the industry at large.

“I enjoy the fact that I can do something that the resonates in such a way with fans that they appreciate it,” he says. “I just hope the next thing is half as good as these last things have been.”