In DC’s “Peacemaker”, we double down on the life and times of Christopher Smith, vainglorious bastard, eagle aficionado, and gutsy bearer of
toilet seats freedom beacons.
After getting taken out of the bombastic final act of “The Suicide Squad” by Idris Elba’s Bloodsport, John Cena’s Peacemaker is ready to get back to maintaining the peace. His marksmanship and ruthless abilities are soon sought after by an A.R.G.U.S. sub-group led by Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji), and consist of returning members John Economos (Steve Agee), Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), along with newcomer Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks).
Working on a case called “Project Butterfly”, the squad are dispatched to take out a bunch of names. Of course, no mission goes as planned and they soon get sidetracked due to over-enthusiastic stalkers, powered individuals, all while attempting to get to the bottom of the case.
Oh, and did we tell you that Peacemaker has a pet eagle that he dubs… “EAGLY”??!! Hmm, real original here, Peace.
When “The Suicide Squad” was released last year, it completely blew our minds right off the top of our heads. Truly, it was a significant step-up from the 2016 film but to just say that would be an understatement. With a crazy cast of characters such as Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, King Shark, and Peacemaker, it concocted some of the best action, humour, and all-out fun into its 132-minute runtime. Oh, hell yes. We loved it so much that we even crowned it as one of our favourite films of 2021!
There is no doubt that James Gunn is one of the best things to ever happen to the DC Extended Universe. Undoubtedly, this was a result of a rather unfortunate event four years back, with the Marvel competition seemingly losing out on one of the core contributors to their ever-expanding universe. (No worries, though, as he did eventually get his “Guardians” gig back). Nevertheless, his talents and filmmaking abilities were highly sought after, and soon it became clear: James Gunn was helming a “Suicide Squad” project.
Fast forward to today and not only do we have a winner in “The Suicide Squad”, but we also have its sequel-slash-spin-off, “Peacemaker” debuting with an eight-episode affair on HBO GO!
Now, we’ve actually seen the first seven episodes of “Peacemaker” and they are a blast! The signature wit and humour of James Gunn’s writing are stamped throughout giving rise to absolutely crazy characters and hilarious dynamics. It’s crude, gasping, blow-your-brains-out fun! While the show deliberately holds off on emulating the same blockbuster level of “The Suicide Squad”, the stakes here are a lot more personal. And of course, John Cena is given a great number of scenes to showcase the quieter, more emotional side of his ruthless goofball.
“I cherish peace with all of my heart. I don’t care how many men, women and children I kill to get it.”
The character of Peacemaker is particularly interesting because although he may make for some hilarity, intrinsically, the man in that suit is synonymous with an iconic irony. He is the embodiment of conflict. In the spin-off show, James Gunn delves into that very idea that drew scorn from the other members of Task Force X. Does murder and bloodshed actually equate to peace? He proudly flashes his badge, his symbol, “the dove of peace” on every occasion. Nonetheless, he does not stop to think whether what he does is for the greater good. A soldier, loyal to the end, but terribly split down his spine in terms of his own ideals.
“Peacemaker” also explores the significant figures in Christopher’s life of which he returns to his estranged dad, Auggie (Robert Patrick). Hoping to obtain approval from his old man, he makes significant steps to reconcile with Auggie. Nevertheless, as it becomes more apparent that his attempts are in vain, it is here that The Peacemaker is forced to explore his own vulnerability, questioning the very ideals that sit behind the lenses of his metal cowl.
We recently had the golden opportunity to speak to the creative rockstar himself, James Gunn, along with the evergreen John Cena, where we discussed the zany details of the Peacemaker outfit along with the complexities of creating a conflicted lead. We also got around to delving into improvised hilarity, the delight of the opening credits, obscure comic Easter eggs, and what hugging a bald eagle was like. Okay, maybe not a REAL bald eagle but something of the sort. [teehee*]
1. John, just to provide a little background to our readers, could you share how you became a part of James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” by taking on the role of Peacemaker? Was it an immediate “yes” when you were offered the part?
John Cena: I got lucky. I knew James was scouring the Earth for a Peacemaker. Yes, I knew I wasn’t the first name on the list but I was the name that matched the best. I flew out to Atlanta to the pre-production headquarters for the “Suicide Squad”.
Then, I met James and was overwhelmed by his work ethic. The preparation for the movie, I had never seen anything like it. We got to talking and I guess I passed the litmus test. He offered me Peacemaker and it was a very quick “yes, let’s do this.” Man, it was very, very impressive to see his process and I was very lucky to get that opportunity. So, yeah, it was a very quick “yes!”.
2. Out of all the members in Task Force X, why was Peacemaker chosen to headline his own show?
James Gunn: First of all, I loved working with John on “Peacemaker”. I thought we could have fun doing something else together. So, that’s part of it. But also I felt that in “The Suicide Squad”, a lot of the other characters — Ratcatcher 2, Bloodsport, Polka Dot Man — we got to see a lot about their backgrounds, about where they came from and how they came to be.
We didn’t get that with Peacemaker. We just see little snippets of things. I thought, in some ways, he is the most unlikeable of the core Suicide Squad members. There is a lot more growth potential with Peacemaker over, say, Ratcatcher 2, who has a wonderful arc in the movie. Bloodsport even becomes a much better person than he was.
So, I thought there was a lot of room for growth and learning with this character sort of harnessed by his ideals. I also think he is a lot of people in America and around the world today who has these sort of things that he believes in at any cost. And these things are strangling his spirit in so many ways. I thought he was emblematic of that.
I think there are a lot of reasons. But definitely, I thought it was just an interesting story to tell.
3. John, if you could describe your character in three words, what would they be and why?
John Cena: Conflicted. Extreme. And at points, an exhibitionist. Everything from the uniform, just the way he talks to folks, you know he wants to be centre stage for sure. The extreme measures he goes to do his job and the extreme approach he takes to relationships… I think we’ve defined the extreme pretty well.
As for being conflicted, when we meet Peacemaker, his entire world is turned upside down. That’s everything from surviving his adventure in “The Suicide Squad” and finding out that he did survive, to questioning everything he’s been brought to believe. I think that explains all of those.
4. You wrote “Peacemaker” in eight weeks during quarantine. Could you elaborate on how that process went? Did you pitch it while you were filming the Suicide Squad or was it after that?
James Gunn: It was after I was editing “The Suicide Squad”. In fact, “The Suicide Squad” was mostly edited by that time. Right as we finished shooting “The Suicide Squad” in March of , I was home for a couple of days and we had to go into lockdown over the pandemic.
During the pandemic, I edited and that kept my mind off of everything — working on “The Suicide Squad”. But that started to slow down and I had nothing to do and I was trapped at home with my miserable thoughts. So, I started writing “Peacemaker” basically to give myself a distraction — to give myself something to do. I set it over myself to write one episode per week so I could have it done. While I was writing, that was really when I went to pitch it to HBO Max and they said that they wanted to do the show.
5. It has been a challenging time for all of us over the past two years. Of course, the production of “Peacemaker” took place during the pandemic. Nevertheless, we’d just like to ask what it was like to shoot the show during such a period?
James Gunn: Making the show was so fun. It was some of the most fun I ever had because I love working with John, Jen, Steve Agee, Danielle, and the whole group of people. But making it during the pandemic was difficult because you have to wear masks all the time.
I’m sitting in a plexiglass booth, you know. The makeup people all have their plexiglass shields on. So, you can’t hug people when you see them in the morning. You can’t even shake hands. And I miss that. I miss giving people a hug. I miss walking up to an actor, putting my arm around them, and telling them what a good job they did or being able to whisper a note in their ear.
It was challenging but we got through it. I’m glad we had [“Peacemaker”] during that challenging time because it gave us all something to focus on other than trying not to be sick.
6. Now, John, you’ve spent some time in the Peacemaker suit. Are there any secrets you want to share with us regarding the red, blue, white, and chrome garb?
John Cena: It is a two-person operation to get on. There is some certain fastening in the rear of the suit that requires some help. I can’t dress myself. That’s a secret that you now know. I don’t have a costume and/or helmet. DC won’t give me one. The costume and the helmet are guarded like the queen’s jewels. I have to nicely ask to wear the costume every once in a while but someone also has to help me get dressed. So, yeah, I can’t dress myself.
7. What was it like working with Robert Patrick? He is THE T-1000 after all! How did you manage to latch him on to join the show?
James Gunn: Listen, I hadn’t thought about Robert for a little while and then I watched this show, “Perry Mason”. I saw Robert in that and I’m like “oh my God, this guy is such a good actor.” He had this incredible, powerful presence on that show. So, I wrote the role of Auggie for him without ever having met him.
We’ve got a good mutual friend in Michael Rooker. So, I knew he was going to be a little crazy but not quite as crazy as Rooker. But he’s a pure joy to be around.
8. What can you say about Christopher’s relationship with his father, Auggie, who Robert Patrick plays?
John Cena: Very complex. Very complex. From the trailers and clips, you can see that Peacemaker is striving for his father’s approval. But you can also get from the clips that are out there before you watch the show. Peacemaker’s dad probably isn’t the best human being.
So then you go into the “why”. Why is all that happening? That’s where you get into the confusion, conflict, and complexity of it all. Why is somebody working so hard so a genuine POS can tell me “what a good job”? I think that’s really interesting.
9. Peacemaker and Vigilante, played by Freddie Stroma, have this wonderful dynamic within the show. The funny thing is that Vigilante idolises Peacemaker so much but Peacemaker is still trying to find his own place in the world. What was fun for you in exploring this sort of ‘unlikely mentor’ dynamic with Freddie?
John Cena: It’s kind of weird how Peacemaker looks at his dad. His dad isn’t by any means a redeemable character. There must have been something about the relationship with his father, whether it’s his abilities or whatever that made him want his father’s approval. I think it’s weird that he’s now put in the role of Vigilante constantly wanting Peacemaker’s approval.
You get to see Peacemaker on both sides of that fence. you know, wanting to get his father’s approval. And then, you know kinda swatting away the guy who says:
“We’re best friends. Aren’t we?”
“Get out of here kid you bother me.”
I think it’s really cool to see that dynamic and we get both sides of that in Peacemaker.
10. Certainly, 2018 was a most tumultuous year for you, James. Nevertheless, the consequences of what happened have led to some pretty incredible things, not just for you but for us as well. If you don’t mind us asking, how much of what happened to you did you bring into this show? Moreover, do you believe everything happens for a reason?
James Gunn: Well, I don’t know. Again, I am safely in the realm of “I don’t know” whether everything happens for a reason but I do think that obstacles are opportunities. I believe that very strongly. So, whether or not they happened for a reason, we can always use hardship to make our lives better.
For me, 2018 was a very trying time. However, it made me realise how precious my time is, how precious my relationships with other people are. So many people, at the worst moment of my life, reached out to appreciate and show their love for me. From my parents to my partner, to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” [cast]. All of these people are my close, close friends. I don’t think I ever felt as loved as I did on the day I was fired.
I went to sleep that night and said to my girlfriend “You know, this has been the worst day of my life… but it’s also been the best in a weird way”. Yeah, I have a hard time doing anything but working. And I have a hard time experiencing connections with other people. I have a hard time ever feeling like I’m loved. And that’s God’s honest truth to you guys. I’m like Peacemaker in that way. He has a hard time connecting to other people.
And I also got why I started making movies in the first place. It wasn’t because – yeah, I wanted to be rich and famous and all those things people want to be. But what was it that really drove me? It was the creativity. It was the storytelling. And I feel like I had gotten distracted from the centre of what I most love: just getting together with my friends and putting on a show, just like I did with all the neighbourhood kids when I was little. We put on a puppet show. Nothing has changed for me since that time. That’s where I felt those incredible, creative outpouring over the past few years because I went back to my roots, to what I really loved, and that’s collaboration, imagination, and nothing else. That’s what really matters.
11. As of this moment, which side of the spectrum would you say Peacemaker is standing in. In a league of heroes… or deep in the villains’ den?
John Cena: Well, certainly me playing Peacemaker, I want to see that Peacemaker is a hero. I think every character is driven by what they believe is right. I think Peacemaker is interesting because audiences have a different view of that. That’s OK. I think that’s what’s interesting about the show. Peacemaker isn’t 100% good. Peacemaker isn’t rotten to the core. I think it’s that pulling to both of the sides that makes the show very interesting and very engaging.
People can have different perspectives and not be wrong. “I think Peacemaker is a hero because of this… I think Peacemaker is a villain because of this.” They can all be right in their arguments and I think that’s what’s interesting about this perspective.
12. One of the hardest things to accomplish is to create empathy and sympathy within a character who skirts between both good and bad. What was the process like in getting us to fall in love with this character?
John Cena: It’s making the words on the page come to life. James is super easy to work in that regard. He’s such a gifted writer. He paints such a clear picture that you basically just don’t have to eff it up. He’s gonna make sure it’s what he wants and what he needs.
But I think these are the most interesting characters. If we look at our social circles, we always talk about that friend like “ah, you know, if he would only… or she would only, they’d be alright”. We never talk about “yeah, this person’s doing great”. It’s always the person that needs the most help that’s on our minds the most because we want to root for them. I believe in those circles. We see their potential.
I think Peacemaker is no different. You see the potential and you want to reach through the screen and be like “you can do it!”. That’s a lot of the gravity of why people are interested in Peacemaker.
James Gunn: Most of us, as human beings are hard on ourselves. We pick on ourselves and tell ourselves things about ourselves that we don’t like. We tell ourselves things about ourselves that are wrong. The hardest critic that most of us have is ourselves. I love to take a character like Peacemaker. Like Rocket Raccoon. Characters that are really assholes.
But to find the beauty in those characters because I think that helps us on our journey to kind of love ourselves. To care more about ourselves. Taking care of ourselves. To not be so hard on ourselves. I mean, if Peacemaker is alright, then, I think we’re alright.
I think it also allows us to be kinder to other people. Look past people’s exterior personalities and say “what is this person trying to do?”. What is their intention in this situation? I think we often find that people’s execution is a lot worse than their intentions. I think it’s a very forgiving thing to tell the story of a lovable a**hole because that allows us to love ourselves and others a lot better.
13. One of the greatest travesties of the streaming era is the skip-intro button. We want to ask about the opening-credits sequence with “Peacemaker”. How did THAT come about? How did you pull it off? We’ve watched the first seven episodes and we couldn’t skip the opening credits. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
James Gunn: The skip forward button is our enemy. That was the thing we were trying to defeat. I hope we did it. I hope we inspire other TV shows to defeat the skip-intro button.
A lot of people worked hard on the show and it’s great to be able to see their names. That was something that was in the script from the very beginning when I first wrote it. The song was in it from the very beginning: Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It”.
John Cena: Everybody’s demeanour was written in and was as directed.
James Gunn: Yup. And a woman by the name of Charissa Barton was the choreographer. She did a fantastic job dealing with these guys and we shot it all within a single day in this cool auditorium.
14. We watched the show and noticed some easter eggs with regards to Charlton Comics. As a matter of fact, Peacemaker debuted in the pages of Fightin ‘5 #40, which was a Charlton Comics publication. We’re just curious, James, if in the future there is a “Peacemaker” season 2 or you get involved in more DC projects, will more Charlton Comics characters make appearances in such?
James Gunn: I don’t know if we’ll ever deal with more Charlton characters or not but I am also a big fan of the question. I think [Captain Atom] would be a cool character to see. Who knows what will happen. I think that those characters are fun because they haven’t been overly mined. We haven’t seen them in any movies or TV shows. So, it’s really fun to play with those characters.
15. One of our favourite moments from the show is when Christopher rapid-fires a list of real-world names that John Economos should have used in a particular sequence. We won’t spoil why. But were there any names that you couldn’t use in that scene?
James Gunn: I will tell you. We used the name of somebody who uh – [chuckles*]. If you watched, we list some names in the show. In the end credits, we listed more names. And in the end credits, we had listed the name of someone who had just died! I was like “ugh”. That was actually the last edit we made on the show. We took out the name of somebody who had just died because it seemed weird!
That moment was not in the script. In the script, Peacemaker says “why don’t you blame uh-“
John Cena: Ariana Grande. Drake.
James Gunn: Yeah, Ariana Grande or Drake or Brad Pitt or some piece of shit. And it was just those three names. And I just started saying “John, say as many names as you can!”. John started saying all these names. Other people are throwing in other names. I’m on the mic throwing in other names. It kept going and going and going and going. I really just thought it was going to be for the bit – you know, we have a piece at the end of every end-credits – I really thought it was going to be for that. I thought it was so funny when I cut it together that I wanted to keep it in. My favourite part is John – oh, you haven’t even seen it!
John Cena: I haven’t even seen it yet.
James Gunn: It was: “Tell it to my dad!” at the very end of that bit. It was like “Try telling that to my dad!”. But I love that bit. People love it.
16. We’ve seen some reviews for the show, and it seems like critics are calling “Peacemaker” a hit! James, could you tell what’s your secret sauce to creating a successful show or film?
James Gunn: Oh my goodness. If I could bottle that and sell it, I would. [chuckles*]
I don’t know. We don’t even know if “Peacemaker” is going to do well. Hopefully, people will like it. For me, I’m just as authentic as I can possibly be. I truly, truly love the characters that I am writing. And I work incredibly hard on every aspect of making a show or a movie. I oversee every single aspect of it. For me, it’s been a combination of really working hard and also being as authentic as I can.
Let me say, I fight an awful lot with a lot of people. Not with my cast or crew members because we all get along very well. [chuckles*] But, you know, I will fight for my vision, every second of the way with everybody. And that does not mean that it’s always a negative thing. Kevin Feige and I argue about things but it’s never with any malice. It’s all for the good of the project, you know. I will always battle endlessly for what my vision is and take it as far as I possibly can. I did that with “Peacemaker” as well.
17. John, could you spill the beans on what was it like to get a hug from an eagle?
John Cena: It’s uh – man, I wish I got a cellphone picture of that. [laughs*] It’s quite memorable. Not exactly what you saw in the clip. I had a memorable one nonetheless!!
18. Finally, John, could you wrap up by telling us your favourite moment while you were on the set of “Peacemaker”?
John Cena: Oh man. My favourite moment on set – I have to dance around this one because it kind of is a spoiler moment where I got to be in a scene with Jen. She had done so well with her character that I began to lose myself in what was her character and what was her genuine personality.
She got to show a different side of her character. It brought me to tears. Genuine tears. It says a lot about her as a performer, as a professional, and as a human being. Sitting there crying, knowing that the camera is not on me is a moment I will never forget. Peacemaker was tons of fun but that moment sticks out in my head.
Before you go, check out some footage from our “Peacemaker” interview right here:
The first episode of DC’s “Peacemaker” will be keeping the peace on Thursday, January 13 exclusively on HBO GO. Subsequent episodes will debut every subsequent week.
Of course, if you haven’t seen James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad”, what are you doing here staring at more letters? Do check it out on HBO GO as well!!
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