Exclusive: Sean Gunn Shares Delights of Life on Gilmore Girls
The many joys and fun memories of playing Kirk, Stars Hollow’s most lovable townie
We know we aren’t overstating it when we say that Gilmore Girls would not be the show we know and love so much without its lovable ensemble of Stars Hollow townies. And while we are charmed by them all, “top townie” might go to Kirk Gleason. A universally beloved character, Kirk adds comic relief to every scene he’s in. His reliable tendency to mess things up makes the audience root for him, all while laughing at his failures.
We’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time with actor, writer, and producer Sean Gunn, who portrayed Kirk in 109 episodes of Gilmore Girls over all seven seasons of the original series and the Netflix revival. You might also know Sean from his work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Kraglin Obfonteri in the Guardians of the Galaxy 🌌 films, Avengers: Endgame, and Thor: Love and Thunder. His film 🎞 credits are extensive! He’s appeared in Amy Sherman-Palladino’s other shows, Bunheads 🩰and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel 🎙, as well as TV appearances on shows like The Good Doctor, The Rookie, Superstore, Bones, Glee, and 3rd Rock from the Sun. And that’s just a very small list!
Sean joined us several times to chat about his time on the show. He also dropped some Mementos on the Remarkist app: “a memento by sean” and “a tape deck by sean” (in honor of a Jukebox Jam featuring deep cuts from the 80s that he hosted with the community!). We put together some incredible highlights from our awesome conversations with him!
Which episodes were most important to him?
When asked if there was a pivotal scene that Sean remembered from the series, something that comes to mind first, he said, “when Jackson tries to buy back the basket 🧺 [in Season 2, Episode 3, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”]: That one always really sticks out to me, because after I did that scene it definitely sank into me that I was going to be on the show for a long time. And so from an actor perspective, an emotional perspective, that scene really really sticks out.”
He loved other episodes too–the same ones the audience loves for their fantastic Kirk side stories: “I love Kirk singing ‘Do You Love Me,’ and Tevye in the Fiddler episode. I think that Kirk and Jesus in the Festival of Living Art is probably the funniest stuff I did. If I wanted to put my performance in a time vault that’s the performance I’d choose.”
The episode in Season 4, “The Festival of Living Art,” is one he remembers profoundly. “When it comes to my actual work on the show, it’s probably the episode that I would put into a time capsule…it’s probably my favorite individual performance of my own. And I just love ‘pompous Kirk;’ for me in terms of playing him he was just more fun. Both are funny, but ‘nervous Kirk’ isn’t as fun as ‘pompous Kirk,’ to me. Even though they’re both essential. I had such a blast.”
Sean’s performance in “The Festival of Living Art” is extraordinary. His skill as an actor comes through in every scene, especially as Kirk slowly gets into character as the town prepares for the festival. He suddenly appears in town wearing a longer-haired wig as he hilariously descends into method acting. “I think the implication there was that Kirk found a wig so he could get into character. I think that’s the supposition there: Kirk somehow got his hands on that wig so he could really feel it,” Sean said., former castmate and friend, laughed, “My own personal fave is the moment when you’re talking to [the Town Troubadour as] Judas and he’s like ‘I heard you're all going to Shakeys’ and you’re like, ‘you heard wrong, friend.’”
Sean said of working with the actor/musician who played the Town Troubadour in those scenes, “Grant [Lee] Phillips is the sweetest guy in the world and we had a blast playing those scenes with one another. I got to know him over the course of the show and it was just so much fun to do that stuff.”
And what about the pivotal moment in the episode where a crowd forms around Kirk as he gives a Christ-like speech? “The sermon was given to me literally less than ten minutes before we shot it. And I was like ‘what?!’ 😳 Even more so then than I am now, I was very very meticulous. I’m very measured, I like to know my stuff backwards and forwards and Dan [Palladino] thought that monologue was funny, and they kind of needed it in the background anyway, so he wrote it the night before and gave it to me on set.” We are impressed! That scene is arguably the funniest of the entire episode. 😆 Give it another watch—you’ll thank us!
Giving credit to the crew
“It is weird that even though there's a lot I don’t remember, to me that is very close to the most memorable episode for me. I would put it up there with the dance marathon and the Fiddler on the Roof episode. First of all, it was the most amount of work…it was an absolute monster.”
Sean explained the sheer amount of work that went into filming the episode–more than their usual long hours on set.
“It was the first Emmy the show ever won. Hair and makeup on that episode, they were literally not sleeping. When people are overworked and say they haven't slept, usually they sleep a few hours.” But this crew? They truly weren’t sleeping. “Everybody was working all night 🌘 and just starting again the next day. It was a really intense situation for everybody involved. But there’s so many good scenes in that episode and my gosh, it’s really the show at its finest.”
The shoot for when the audience sees the actual festival was done entirely at night. Sean said, “when we shot those scenes in particular I feel pretty certain it would have been sunrise 🌅 putting an end to those shoots. It was nuts. Amy and Dan really wanted it to look legit, like the Orange County festival. It's a real thing.” Sean was referring to the Pageant of the Masters, an annual living art festival in Laguna Beach, CA, which this episode’s small town festival du jour was based upon. It’s an incredible event that audiences flock to every year.
“They work all year to produce that festival. And we had like one week or ten days. It was probably the most difficult episode we ever did.”
John jumped in to say, “when I was watching the series for the first time, I was really excited to watch for [this episode]…I remember being on set [at the time], and because of how big all of that art stuff was in the town square, it was being erected and worked on the entire eight days. I remember being on set and thinking, ‘what are they doing over there; it looks amazing!’ I was actually just eager to see it, how it ended up looking on camera. Because even there, in real life, it’s not like they did work in post production to make the actual paintings look more like paintings. They looked like that live.”
Sean agreed. “There was no touching up of anything in post. This was before that kind of thing. It’s funny that these days it would be like ‘lets get it as close as we can and we’ll just digitally do it in post,’ but back then there wasn’t even any ability to do that kind of stuff.”
What do we actually know about Kirk?!
Kirk is such an important character throughout the series, and a fixture of the townies. There really is no Gilmore Girls without Kirk. But…what does the audience really know about him? 🧐
We get the idea from the offer he puts on the Twickham house that he might be rich 💰. But could he really be? Sean is skeptical about Kirk’s actual finances: “I don’t know, a guy for ten years who is spending no money on food or lodging…I just think that there’s more. We don’t know that it’s all minimum wage [jobs], he could have been making more. The amount sounds right. What doesn’t sound right is that he’d be able to make a reasonable bid on that house.”
And what about Kirk’s family? We hear throughout the series that Kirk has many brothers and sisters, but we never actually see them. We wondered with Sean, what’s up with that?
“I don’t know where those siblings are; they got the heck out of Stars Hollow. They grew up and moved on.” He speculated, “I feel like he’s a literal runt, like he’s got a bunch of brothers that play college football 🏈, and who knows, they probably have a construction company 🛠 somewhere.”
Sean Gunn himself is the youngest of six siblings. Could he relate to Kirk on that level? “Yeah, sure,” he said. When you’re the youngest of a large family you’re the lowest person in terms of learning curve. So there’s a time where you’re making more mistakes than anyone else in your family, and as a result this fear of screwing things up is something that Kirk has in spades. The fear of messing up is a very big motivator for the way he lives his life all the time. For me, Sean, I can relate to that.”
We talked a little about the choice for Kirk to have a pet pig 🐷 in the revival of the series. Sean himself is very fond of pigs. “Petal seemed very on brand for Kirk. I actually love the message of having a pet pig and treating a pig like a domesticated animal.” Although he also said, “Kirk seems to me like the kind of person who would say he was vegan, but would cheat constantly.”
And were there any storylines he’d hoped for? He said not really; the actors on the show were used to performing the story, not creating it. But he did take us through one fantasy storyline for Kirk: “In the [Presidential] election year [which was 2004], I always kind of thought in the back of my mind some sort of election narrative with Kirk probably running against Taylor for something as first his running mate, and then they get into a fight, and then run against each other…that could be tinder for comedy.”
This seems plausible. Kirk was certainly at least a little bit influenced by idiosyncratic events in politics; in the Easter egg hunt to find the bad eggs in the episode “Tick, Tick, Tick Boom”, he performs his own version of the infamous “Howard Dean scream” that had been popularized on the internet at the time.
He loved working with Rini Bell
Sean told us that he wasn’t sad that we didn’t see a wedding for Kirk and Lulu because the focus of the show wasn’t really on their characters in that way. But, “I had tons of fun with the Lulu scenes and Rini Bell is just so great and wonderful to work with, but there’s part of me that thinks Kirk works a bit better as a sad sack. I almost think he’s more funny the more pathetic he is.”
There is a final moment in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life where Kirk isn’t such a pathetic sad sack, though. When he puts together Luke and Lorelai’s middle of the night elopement, he receives a text from Lorelai: “IT’S PERFECT!” Finally, Kirk has done something right. “I love that. It’s one of my favorite things about the way the series is wrapped up, that Kirk has a moment of ‘wow I actually did something right, people are happy.’ It’s sad too because you know that guy just wants approval more than anything.”
His favorite revival episode
We asked Sean if he had a favorite episode of the revival on Netflix, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. He answered, “Probably ‘Fall.’ They’re longer so they’re harder to process as individual episodes because they’re like double episodes.”
And we can’t deny that “Fall” happens to be the episode that Melissa McCarthy was in. Sean intimated that given her schedule, they didn’t know until the last minute what her filming availablity time frame might be. “If I’m not mistaken,” he said, “the scene had to be written in a way that it could be cut if necessary, which is a really tricky thing for a writer to have to do. But I thought she did a great job and it’s so brief, but you can see how good Melissa is in that scene. She walks in for 5 minutes and just crushes it.”
What playing Kirk meant to him
We asked Sean about how he felt towards the end of the series, when it was clear that the show wouldn’t continue. “Personally, I was ready for the show to end. I regretted that later; it wasn’t too much longer before I thought, ‘man I miss the show’…We were a very low key hit. It’s not like we were the show everyone was talking about; that actually didn’t happen until later, with Netflix.”
Sean made so many impactful relationships with the cast and crew while working on Gilmore Girls, and watching it back he can’t help but think about that time in his life. “We’re over a decade removed from this, so it’s impossible for me to watch the show and only think about the show itself and separate it from who I was then and who all those people were. I like looking at it that way, honestly.”
“I love Kirk so much…You play a character for a long time and it really gets inside of you. I certainly feel the closest to him because I spent the most amount of actual time in his skin. Gilmore Girls really built my career in a lot of ways. But it’s not just that; it’s also that I’m incredibly lucky. The role was exceptionally well-written and really funny, so it was very, very fun to play. And so, it’s all of those things. It’ll be a part of me forever. I hope I have a lot of other great roles, and I hope I do more TV series, and I hope that twenty years from now, people know me from other things besides Kirk, but that will always be there and it’ll always be the first one and it’ll always be special to me for that reason.”
“I’m on the record as Team Logan, “ Sean confirmed.
Want more? We’ve got more chats with cast members Emily Kuroda, Keiko Agena, Rini Bell, Mitch Silpa, Alix Kermes, Joe Fria, Robert Lee, and writers from Gilmore Girls! And head over to our Discord where you’ll find tons of other fans there chatting in our forums about the TV shows, movies, music, games and books we all love! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, tumblr, and Spotify for more fandom content—and hit that subscribe button so you never miss a thing at rmrk*st!
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