On the set of The Suicide Squad, producer Peter Safran got quite candid when he admitted the press invited to the set was here to do the “heavy lifting” of explaining how this James Gunn-directed R-rated blowout is going to be different from 2016’s Suicide Squad. “You tell people that it feels completely different,” Safran said, in the midst of showcasing the DC Comics romp which seems committed to Gunn’s vision (with such a commitment to a director being a difference in itself, already). It would be one thing to make such a request of the press if it seems unfounded. It is another to do it on the set of a movie like The Suicide Squad where the cast and crew seem wholly committed and invested in a wild and possibly hugely entertaining film.
ComicBook.com got invited to the set of The Suicide Squad back in 2019. Most of the day was spent in a war room of sorts where concept art, floor-to-ceiling banners of characters, themed arcade games, and a 7-foot cardboard cut out of King Shark were all set up. In fact, I walked in and audibly uttered a, “Holy sh-t,” under my breathe at what I was seeing with these colorful, committed, often comics accurate character designs (and a 6-foot cardboard cut out of King Shark).
Gunn was not far away for most of the day, directing a sequence from late in the film involving Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, John Cena’s Peacemaker, Idris Elba’s Bloodsport (who at the time, all day long, was being called Vigilante by everyone involved), David Dastmalchian’s Polka Dot Man, Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher-2, and Steve Agee standing in for King Shark with a mocap suit and giant rig for the purpose of eye-lines attached to him. It looked as though a building had collapsed around them and they may have been all that remained, still ready for another battle.
Not far were two sets which were somehow bigger. Outdoors, just past the stages for WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, was a massive beach set complete with a long, sprawling entry with broken down gates and the base of what will be a taller tower later with the addition of computer graphics. Shell-casings and bullets were sprinkled on the ground and the set offered quite a look of exotic destruction. Then, indoors, was some sort of crossover between a botanical garden which occupied an entire stage (complete with a small running river through it) with exotic trees lining the entire room, a camp site, and a rectangular piece of blue screen with prop blood spattered across it. Some character definitely died here and if the guts on the ground were any indication, it was anything but a pleasant sendoff.
Of the concept art, the most interesting piece (aside from Harley Quinn’s colorful, flower-filled, violent escape sequence) was Bloodsport’s costume. Described as Vigilante at the time, Elba’s character pulls his weapons out of his costume, making different guns or swords from pieces of his suit. Pistols, for example, fold right into his chest and easily remove to blast a target with round grips for easy (and presumably showy) movements.
In the article below and video above, we run through 10 secrets learned on the set of The Suicide Squad!
Hand-Picked Each Character
When Gunn had his idea for The Suicide Squad, it was fully his idea. Safran emphasized the fact that Gunn hand-picked every DC Comics character we will be seeing in the film. “There was no plan before James,” Safran said. “There were other writers that had worked on various Suicide Squad scripts over the years, but there was not… This was starting from ground zero, starting from scratch. “
“There was no plan until James said, ‘That’s a movie I want to go make,'” Safran explained. “And then all the characters that he selected were just characters that he was a fan of and wanted to play with. I think, in typical fashion for James, he picks more obscure characters. Guardians of the Galaxy, they were relatively obscure characters, as well, but he liked the idea of being able to take these characters and imbue them with whatever characters he really wanted, or characteristics that he really wanted to play with.”
Gunn recalled the opportunity Warner Bros was providing him in the newly attained free time when he was temporarily not attached to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. “Basically DC came and said, ‘Hey, what do you want to do?’ Anything?'” he said. His first idea was not one around The Suicide Squad. “I was playing with a few different ideas of a few different DC properties and this was the one that just took off,” he explained. “I just fell in love with this particular story that we’re telling right now. And I fell in love with some of the characters and the way we could do it.”
No Ties To 2016’s Suicide Squad
While the movie seems to be some sort of sequel to David Ayer’s Suicide Squad movie from 2016, it is not. It is also not… completely disregarding its predecessor? Safran emphasized his point of, “We don’t address it,” when it comes to the first movie several times, though he noted this movie will simultaneously not contradict the events of movies which have come before it in the DCEU.
“We just don’t address it any tangible form,” Safran said. “Yes, they’re the characters, the actors that played them in the first movie. But we really wanted to make sure that this stands on its own two feet. So again, it’s why you can’t really call it… It’s not a sequel, but there are some characters that were in the first movie, right? So it’s not really a full reboot either. So we just call it James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.”
The concept of a Suicide Squad (a group of jailed super villains who have bombs implanted in their heads with the opportunity to listen to Amanda Waller’s commands and reduce their sentences or die if they disobey) is not going to be a new thing. “It’s business as usual,” as Safran explained it, though they won’t be calling back to previous on-screen events.
They Wanted Will Smith’s Deadshot
The Suicide Squad sees Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, and Jai Courtney return from the 2016 movie in their roles as Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, Rick Flag, and Captain Boomerang, respectively. However, there was consideration of bringing back another major character: Deadshot. The Suicide Squad raced into production and, according to Safran, scheduling conflicts with Will Smith prevented the return.
“We discussed it,” Safran admitted. “I think the Will [Smith] of it all was really more of a schedule thing than anything else. We knew we had to start shooting in September because, frankly, we knew probably earlier than other people did that James was going to come back and do Guardians. So it was really important that we started shooting when we started shooting and Will wasn’t available, and that kind of made it easier all around. What are you going to do? He’s not available. So it’s also nice to, frankly, help separate it from the first movie, I think, in a greater fashion.”
Lots of Deaths
When James Gunn shared the list of cast members for The Suicide Squad, he wrote, “Don’t get too attached.” If this wasn’t enough of a clue, Safran doubled down on that message, promising a lot of deaths for DC characters throughout the film.
“Suicide Squad, my friend,” Safran said. “People are going to die. That’s what happens.” The film has been rated R for its language and violence, which is seems to be taking full advantage of. When I walked through a massive and immersive jungle set, I found myself stepping in prop blood and guts at one point, looking up to see the aftermath of some sort of bloody explosion on the lone piece of blue screen in the otherwise fully practical set.
Ratcatcher-2 Talks to Rats, Everywhere
Gunn is taking a lot of pride in bringing Daniela Melchior into the film as Ratcatcher-2, real name Cleo Cazo. As it turns out, this character will be reflective of Ratcatcher on the pages of DC Comics in more than one way but if you’re wondering how she talks to rats, it’s just that simple. She talks to rats in their native language, which in one case for this production, was also Melchior’s native language.
Melchior’s first language is not Portugeuse, something which came in handy for the film. “It will be useful because my character comes from Portugal, so it’s totally fine to have my accent,” she explained. “I like to think that all the rats from all over the world can speak my language. And wherever I go, if I call them, they will come from everywhere. Like not from Portugal, not from… If I’m in [Portugal], I speak with them, Portuguese. I actually have a line in Portu– an expression, in Portuguese talking with them.”
Ratcatcher-2 will also have a gas which she can deploy as needed, homaging the character from comics. Melchior was not, however, ready to air out how it comes into play. “If I go to a place, I’m not taking my gang,” Melchior explained of her character. “I go there and wherever I go, I have my gang and I don’t have to make them, they’re mine.”
The Power of Polka Dots
The character who seems to be popping through as the surprise favorite is David Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man. A glimpse into the character’s powers have been shown in trailers for the film but none capturing the test footage shown on set. In this early test video, Dastmalchian’s character grew distorted with colored sores emerging in unpleasant ways from all parts of his body. Dastmalchian, a comic book movie vet with appearances in The Dark Knight and Ant-Man movies (also, the author of his own Count Crowley comic), described the pros and cons of Polka-Dot Man’s power set.
“They could be looked at in two ways, either as an ability or as a disability, as something that can cause excruciating amounts of pain and embarrassment,” Dastmalchian said. “Something that I immediately found as a kindred connection with Abner was this sense of how that would weigh me down. How pain can cause a person’s body to come inwards, and how shame can cause a person’s body to come downward. So it was inward and downward was kind of like finding all my physicality for Abner and the voice grows out of that. So when I start thinking about how to build the character, and think about how his voice would work, and think about how all those mechanisms happen.”
Safran is more forward about the character: “He’s f-cking powerful, my friend. Wait until you see him in action.”
WWE Superstar John Cena (who is currently back into traveling with WWE and wrapping up work on a Peacemaker series) found motivation in the divisive response to the first Squad movie. He equates the movie to his role in professional wrestling, calling himself “a very polarizing figure in WWE.” Now, he is hopeful to change viewer minds with The Suicide Squad.
“That made me want to dive in the son of a b-tch extra hard,” Cena said. “There is no more satisfying situation than to change someone’s mind. And then you look at the people involved in trying to orchestrate that choice. Like I said, I’ve been on James every day. And I think he kind of likes having that chip on his shoulder. He probably won’t admit it, but I think he kind of likes it and he wants to be able to change perception to people who maybe weren’t so happy with the first they saw. It makes it fun. You know, it makes it, there’s a lot at stake because they set precedent a major title that did great money, but at the same time, polarizing.”
Scooping Up James Gunn
The Suicide Squad will have its pieces seen as parallels to Marvel, like Gunn being the director, Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi as a part of the cast, and a location by the name of Jotunheim. Still, there will be no jokes about Marvel within the DC film. Safran instead sees humor in how it all came to be: “I think the joke at Marvel’s expense is the fact that we got James Gunn,” the producer said. “So that’s the biggest joke.”
“[Gunn] got fired on a Friday in July, and on Tuesday Toby [Emmerich] came to me and said, ‘Tell James Gunn that whatever he wants to do at Warner Brothers, we want him for it. Just tell us what he wants to do,'” Safran explained. “So it was two days later. So internal discussions were incredibly easy. It just felt like James did not merit the treatment that he got, and ultimately, Disney felt the same way and reversed their decision. But it was immediate.”
Producer Charles Roven connected with ComicBook.com months after the set visit, sharing his insight on how quickly things turned around with getting Gunn involved. “I think it was the fall or September or something like that when we arrived at the fact that he would write the screenplay and that he had actually come up with a pitch on what the story would be,” Roven said. “So I would say we started talking about it in August, and by September we had come to the conclusion and started to make a deal for him to write up the screenplay. Because he wasn’t comfortable making a directing deal unless he knew he could deliver on the screenplay the kind of movie that he envisioned. He wanted to make sure he wrote it.”
R-Rated Guardians of the Galaxy?
If you’re one of the people who heard Gunn was going to make The Suicide Squad and thought, “That makes a lot of sense,” because you’ve seen his work in Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy, you’re not alone. Guardians of the Galaxy comparisons were not uncommon on The Suicide Squad set, though there will be some very clear differences besides a change of faces and original comic publishers.
“It’s a much, much, much rougher film than Guardians of the Galaxy,” Gunn said. “Everything is almost completely practical. The biggest sets I’ve run almost any film, ever more visual. I was able to take all of the heads of departments that I’ve used on other films and just do a best of, and Dan Sudek, who’s doing our special effects, what I was saying this morning, he’s doing more special effects, more live special effects in this film than all of the Marvel movies he’s ever done combined, which is every single Marvel movie that was shot in Atlanta. And so it’s just a much more grounded, you know, darker film. Gorier. It’s gorier.”
Safran compares the film to Dirty Dozen and Guardians of the Galaxy, calling it “a classic war mission,” movie.
“I think it’s so different than Guardians of the Galaxy just in terms of how grounded it is,” Safran said. “Obviously, you still have a King Shark and a Weasel but it’s so grounded in the real world. It’s so grounded in Earth as opposed to the space operative that Guardians is. So that and the fact that it’s so much grittier that it is R rated, and the way it’s shot, you’ll see, is very different than Guardians. It’s not as smooth or as slick as Guardians. It’s much dirtier, and grittier, and rougher just in terms of the camera with the same fantastic DP, Henry Braham.”
“I don’t think it was any question that it was just DC’s version of Guardians,” Safran said. “It’s a very different feel.”
Cena added that its biggest similarity to Guardians of the Galaxy is, “the tale of human connection making the audience laugh,” essentially stating most good movie should fall into such an umbrella to eliminate such a comparison.
The Starro Villain
Gunn had Starro as the villain from the jump. The voice of the character has not yet been revealed, and nobody is willing to tell us if that is who Waititi is going to be playing or not, but there might be more to Starro than some are expecting from one of the original Justice League comics villains.
“When he came and he pitched, he pitched the entire story,” Roven said. “So we knew what we were going to get. We also knew that we were going to get an R-rated movie. And of course the great thing about what James did is he took that character, which that character obviously was in Superman comics and Justice League comics and he brought them into the world of The Suicide Squad and that was just a really brilliant move.
“It allowed him to deliver on what he loves to do so great, which is he has well-rounded characters. And when you see the movie, you’re going to see, Starro’s got a point of view. He’s got an interesting point of view from his perspective. He’s a villain, but you’re going to have some compassion. That’s the other amazing thing that James can do. He can give you these extreme characters. And then just something about them that makes you feel for them. He allows you to connect with them in a really interesting way.”
Cameos And Credit Scenes?
As all good comic book movie fans know: stay through the credits. The movie does not yet have a sequel planned (though a Peacemaker spinoff series is already in place for HBO Max) and Safran was not quite ready to commit to sharing such intention. He does admit, though, that you should stay through the credits. “I think inevitably these days right? I think they can expect [a post-credits scene],” Safran said. “I don’t know if we’ll deliver it.”
As for cameos from other DC Comics heroes like Superman who is name-dropped in the most recent trailer, Roven said, “For the most part, I think it’s pretty fully contained. We wanted to make sure that you understood how bad-ass Bloodsport was. So we wanted to give you a little history on him. So if you could put Superman in the ICU, you know this guy’s badass.”
Want to know more about ComicBook.com’s time on the set of The Suicide Squad? Drop or comment or hit me up on Instagram! The Suicide Squad hits theaters on August 6.