Interviews Movies

The Summer Of Cena – Inside The Dysfunctional Mind Of The Suicide Squad’s Peacemaker

From the horribly beautiful mind of writer/director James Gunn comes Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure The Suicide Squad, featuring a collection of the most degenerate delinquents in the DC lineup.

Welcome to hell—a.k.a. Belle Reve, the prison with the highest mortality rate in the US of A. Where the worst Super-Villains are kept and where they will do anything to get out—even join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X. Today’s do-or-die assignment? Assemble a collection of cons, including Bloodsport, Peacemaker, Captain Boomerang, Ratcatcher 2, Savant, King Shark, Blackguard, Javelin and everyone’s favorite psycho, Harley Quinn. Then arm them heavily and drop them (literally) on the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese. Trekking through a jungle teeming with militant adversaries and guerrilla forces at every turn, the Squad is on a search-and destroy mission with only Colonel Rick Flag on the ground to make them behave…and Amanda Waller’s government techies in their ears, tracking their every movement. And as always, one wrong move and they’re dead (whether at the hands of their opponents, a teammate, or Waller herself). If anyone’s laying down bets, the smart money is against them—all of them.

In The Suicide Squad, writer/director James Gunn takes the criminals of Task Force X on an outrageously visceral, R-rated wild ride that blends balls-to-the-wall action, blood-spattering violence and life-or-death (most likely the latter) situations with irreverent humor and even heartfelt moments, all filtered through Gunn’s singular vision. Main characters will die while, in all likelihood, audiences will die laughing. With the entire DC canon to choose from for his dream team of Super-Villains, Gunn was the proverbial kid in a candy store—if that store sold comic books. After just a weekend of revisiting legendary writer Ostrander’s run from the 1980s that reintroduced the Squad, a favorite of Gunn’s as a boy, the auteur’s ideas began to crystallize.

From Harley Quinn to Bloodsport, Peacemaker, Polka-Dot Man, Javelin, Mongal, Thinker and beyond, the lineup Gunn selected for the film was as disparate and seemingly random as could be and that’s when the idea of Cena came to creation. What better way to show off a character with huge, hulking  muscles on his muscles. More than muscles, Peacemaker is a worldclass marksman—just like his fellow Squad member, Bloodsport, but if you ask him, better. He’s more than willing to fight, kill, and even start a war, but of course it’s all in the name of keeping the peace. For him, there is no act too low and no price too high to pay for liberty.

Cena, who plays the single-minded do-or-die American, was hooked from the beginning when he first read the script. “The script read amazingly fast. I was packed full of action and plot twists and I was riveted. I think James, being able to sit in both seats as writer and director and being a devil is in the details kind of person, just has a feel for the entire story. Like, ‘This hatchet against the guy’s skull has to splatter like this’ level of detail.”

When it came to researching the role, trust in James Gunn’s own depth of knowledge allowed Cena to focus only on the task at hand. “I knew that if I dove into information that corrupted his view of the character, if we ended up with different perspectives, that would potentially be counterproductive. I spoke candidly with him and told him there were things I could bring to the table, but I wanted the character to be who he wanted because he was moving the chess pieces. I was merely a chess piece.”

That said, the pair discussed the role extensively—Peacemaker’s background, his moral compass, and so forth. However, on the first day of shooting, everything went out the window when Gunn gave Cena one final note. “On the third pass of the beach sequence, James said, ‘Be like a douchey Captain America who would shoot a kid.’ That summed it up.”

Though he plays an excessively buttoned-up character in the film, Cena possesses superior improv skills going back to days as a full-time WWE wrestler where he had arenas full of people hanging onto his ever word. He funny off, the cuff, and a rapper—he credits his impromptu rap battles with various WWE Superstars with becoming a great improv comedian. While director James Gunn doesn’t rely on the use of improv that didn’t stop Cena.

Unlike Bloodsport, Peacemaker, aka Christopher Smith, doesn’t produce weaponry from his outerwear, though he can swiftly turn almost anything into a deadly projectile. Cena’s costume in the film mirrors the look from the comic books and was not given a sleek makeover for the movie. The character is adorned in the colors of the American flag with a yellow dove emblem symbolizing peace on his costume and helmet. The helmet—a notable piece spawning more than one snide remark in the film—was made out of chrome, which Gunn desired in order to create a reflection.

Peacemaker’s look is so literal to the comics and even though he’s a Super-Villain, translating that for the costume could come off goofy but somehow, on Cena, who knew how to carry it off, it worked. Take the helmet for example—it is so silly and outrageous and there are different iterations of it in the comic, some are big, some are just weird, hence the line that he’s wearing a toilet bowl on his head. So they designed something that was meant to be silly, but not too silly. But funnily enough, it was very comfortable, and Cena wore it all the time and he wanted to wear it in every shot. He loved it.

Like his cohorts, Peacemaker is forced to don a very different outfit at one point, which also worked to great comedic effect when Makovsky put the hulking actor in what appears to be shrunken boy-sized attire via a Lacoste shirt that bares his midriff paired with denim shorts and white dad sneakers. Peacemaker’s primary weapon is an extremely large chrome pistol, which was crafted from a functioning pistol with a prop add-on. Custom grips were made for it as well, with the dove emblem engraved on it. He also carries a sword and tomahawk, all branded with his peace logo.

“Peacemaker’s costume is such a personification of how much of a d-bag he is,” Cena says. “If you’re doing covert ops, you wear something like Idris’s character, Bloodsport. You try to wear colors to blend in, to not be seen. Peacemaker wants to be seen. There’s some psychological subtext there, some compensating for something…”

Next up for Cena is the Peacemaker spin-off TV series for HBO Max which was an idea Gunn developed during the 2020 lockdown when he needed a mental distraction and wasn’t hatched until Gunn had finished his initial production work on movie, with the post-credit scene filmed while making Peacemaker.

Pitched on August 5, 2020, it will consist of eight episodes all written by Gunn. Set to arrive in January 2022, Gunn directed five episodes while Brad Anderson, Jody Hill and Rosemary Rodriguez also direct an episode each. Cena, Steve Agee and Jennifer Holland will reprise their roles as NSA agents in the upcoming series. Other actors confirmed to appear include Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black), Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and Freddie Stroma (Harry Potter).

While the plot is under wraps, Gunn recently confirmed it will connect to The Suicide Squad and the existing DC Extended Universe and ’70s TV-show vibe, an All in the Family element and even some politics. A lot of the upcoming show is “a conversation” between Peacemaker and a character played by Danielle Brooks – “somebody who’s on the opposite side of the political spectrum” – about “where can we come together.”

Cena hopes Peacemaker brings forth a lot conversations with viewers. “We’ve got something that is going to be conversational and that people want more of.”

The Suicide Squad is currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

To learn more about The Suicide Squad, check out our review.

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