Atlanta, Georgia. 2019. Before Covid and lockdowns and elections and everything that seemed to throw the world into chaos, there was a window of opportunity before it all went to hell. That opportunity was visiting the set of James Gunn’s THE SUICIDE SQUAD. As is usually the case, WB scooped up the usual suspects from the usual sites (JoBlo.com included) and swept us through a day of concept art, interviews, set walk throughs, a scene being filmed and lots of visits to craft services. At this point, some two years later, much of what we saw is now somewhat ruined by multiple trailers, posters and still images that all but render the experience moot by the time it debuts. That said, there are some interesting bits to glean from the visit, depending on how deep you want to dive prior to seeing it, so consider this article your initial walkthrough to the others.
If you want to get the lowdown from the most knowledgeable people about the film, then look no further than the James Gunn chat and the very lengthy and very informative interview with Peter Safran. By and far one of the most in-depth interviews you’ll get on the film, let alone on any set visit.
We entered Pinewood Atlanta Studios on a sunny day and walked directly into the “war room” where all the concept art was housed. What struck me immediately is that it was plentiful and it was a first look at everyone for all of us at the time. King Shark, Harley Quinn, Peacemaker, Ratcatcher, etc. It’s always the most amazing part of a set visit, as it’s the most revealing overall. By now, you’ve seen just about all of it, so it’s not worth typing the words to explain it all, but I can say confidently that they seem to have translated those still art pieces into a fully-formed movie with a strict attention to detail.
We visited two three sets while there, one of them a literal warzone of blown up vehicles, debris, shell casings and a destroyed facade of the base Jotenheim, where we walked around and nodded our heads at the destruction. From there, we took a look at the Corto Maltese jungle set that was pretty convinzing with blood and viscera splattered all around. It was, of course, the best time for some group and individual photos, which you can enjoy below (yes, I wore a Spawn shirt to a DC set visit).
The last stop on our little trip was to a set replicating a building falling apart with Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Bloodsport (Idris Elba) running through the debris to escape. While we didn’t get a chance to sit down and talk to either of them, Robbie did stop by the monitor station we were huddled over to say hello. Wearing her tattered red ball gown and carrying a spiked weapong of some sort and looking a little bloody and roughed up, we asked if we’d see her signature bat from the 2016 film. She replied, “My baseball bat is next to my bed back in LA. Anything you want to break soon, I’ll be ready. No, I’ve got other weapons in this one. Many, many weapons, mainly one actually.” And with that, she was off, back to set and reacting to James Gunn’s visionary orders.
At one point, they rewound the footage of the scene we were watching and we witnessed what looked like the death of a key character. I certainly won’t say who, but we all looked at one another as if it were something we probably shouldn’t have seen and the lovely reps did the best they could to convince us that we really couldn’t be sure of what we saw. Although, we saw the same character being escorted to (or from set) earlier and covered in blood, so my money is on their death. It was actually a pretty funny moment, as with most set visits they try to keep as many secrets as they reveal.
Although we didn’t get to sit down with James Gunn for a lengthy amount of time, he did stop by to give us some good soundbites of info and the aforementioned Peter Safran (along with production designer Beth Mickle) gave us the lion’s share of details about the production overall. We also had John Cena step in for a generous chat about his role as The Peacemaker (and joined by Daniela Melchior who plays Ratchatcher 2). In addition, we talked to David Dastmalchian, who plays Polka-Dot Man, and Steve Agee, who plays the stand-in for the all-CGI King Shark.
Dastmalchian is no stranger to comic book films, having played roles in both Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Marvel’s Ant-Man franchise and he’s excited to join James Gunn’s crazy vision. Having known him and been friends with him for years, the experience is one he eagerly looked forward to.
“It’s weird. It’s so surreal you guys. Like you can imagine somebody who’s been collecting comic books, and obsessed with, or fascinated, I shouldn’t say obsessed with. That’s a weird word. But fascinated by all of this, and really love it so much,” said Dastmalchian.
“Each time one of these big moments, or opportunities has happened in my life, I feel, you just want to savor every moment, and you want be as grateful as you possibly can, because every time something like this has happened, I’ve said “You can’t do more. Like it’s not going to, you can’t go any further in this world of things. So just enjoy it. Because this has been so incredible.” And now here we are. I’m back at Warner Brothers, back with DC. And I don’t know, it’s hard to put it … It’s just at the beginning of this journey. So it’s hard to even put into words how elated I feel when I walk onto set. When I get a text from James about something that we shot that day or when I sit down and I look at the script and I think about what I’m doing.”
For Steve Agee, he felt like he was part of The Suicide Squad family, even if he wasn’t playing a character in the same way as everyone else and would often come to set just to hang out with everyone and watch the film be made. But, don’t be fooled by Agee’s friendliness; King Shark is not to be messed with.
“I mean, you can see him right there [motioning to King Shark standee in the room]. Visually, he’s funny. And he’s just, he doesn’t really think things out. He’s kind of just acts on his animalistic, basic needs and wants and impulses,” says Agee. Dastmalchian elaborates: “It’s a juxtaposition too, because funny, yes. But also horrifying. Like he’s so dangerous. And like, you would want him on your team if you were going into a battle. So for my character, I actually don’t experience much of the … I mean, there are funny things that we’ve shot. There’s some great writing in here, that’s really funny. And then Steve, will-“
Agee interrupts to make it clear. “He looks really funny. But also if you really walked into a room at night, you would fully get diarrhea, if you saw that thing.”
And what about Polka-Dot Man? How does he measure up to The Suicide Squad and how do his powers play into the team dynamic? Dastmalchian has given it a lot of thought, saying, “They [Polka-Dot Man’s powers] 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. So, building out and fleshing out a character who, like I said to you guys earlier, something that I immediately found is like a kindred connection with Abner was this sense of how that would weigh me down. How pain can because a person’s body to kind of come inwards, and how shame can because 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, to think about how his voice would work, and think about how all those mechanisms happened.”
“And then as you saw with the dots, and the way that when they can get out of hand, they can be literally like, almost look like sores on my body. It’s really intensely painful. So that absolutely helped shape how I was going to move and fight and sit, and do all the things that I’ll do in the film. And then again, how a disability or something that is considered that you’re embarrassed of, or that hurts you, finding a way that you can then suddenly do something with it that’s more than just suffer. Maybe it even could have a purpose. Then that changes the way you move, the way that you sit, the way you talk,” said Dastmalchian.
A common question that’s continued to come up for this iteration of the franchise is whether it’s a sequel or a reboot and how it ties into the rest of the DC Multiverse. Producer Peter Safran has said that it’s not a sequel, but that the characters that recur are the same characters, which has confused many, but deep down it’s all part of the same DC family, says Dastmalchian. “…There are threads that connect in some way or which, I don’t know how, to a bigger universe that is established with, or that’s been built, that [Gunn] understands that too, as a comic book collector himself, that even if you’re reading a variant on something, that’s totally a Squirrel Girl, that might be participating in the same universe as other characters, there is some fluidity somehow in the subtext. But he is making something that is this. And it’s a grand epic piece of cinema, that’s just this experience.”
Dastmalchian goes on to explain the emotional nature of getting attached to certain characters and how that plays out in Gunn’s world, saying, “It’s fun for people. And as for me as a fan and an audience member to get attached, to and excited to going to watch or experience things, knowing that they’re part of something, just like the comic books I collect, that I know I’m going to be getting them every month. Then it’s fun sometimes to go to something and go, ‘Golly, they could all just blow up at the end of this.’ The stakes are very high in this film in particular. And when I read it, that was something that … Many things about this script caught me emotionally unexpectedly. Yeah. That’s certainly one.”
The Suicide Squad hits theaters and HBO Max on August 6th, 2021.