[WARNING: This article contains minor SPOILERS for Suicide Squad]
Superheroes have their uses. And considering how much society loves to idolize those above them, it's no surprise that the plucky heroes and courageous, untarnished Boy Scouts tend to get all the praise. But when evil, real evil shows up to start ruining everyone's fun... well, in the words of a great writer, protecting the sheep means catching the wolf - and "it takes a wolf to catch a wolf." That great writer is David Ayer, who's out to prove the idea in the big screen take on DC's Suicide Squad.
Now, it's one thing to say that you're gathering together a handful of villains, killers, and criminals to catch a more dangerous or ruthless enemy. But to actually tell that story, the cast assembled has to be more than just 'bad,' otherwise the idea of one villain beating the other can only carry the audience so far. And as we learned while visiting the set of Suicide Squad back in July 2015, Ayer's cast is as strange as they are sadistic (in the best way possible).
But with so many comic book characters to pull from for this live-action Squad, we're here to give a tease of what to expect, a glimpse into each character's origins in the DCEU, and whatever insights we could pry out of the filmmakers. Needless to say, there will be some minor SPOILERS ahead (but if you're aware of the cast's origins in DC Comics, you've got a headstart).
The roster that makes up the title squad is something of a revolving door by nature, since those who don't get with the program wind up with their heads exploding. But from the very first version of the team in John Ostrander's original "Suicide Squad" comic series, to the version of the team in DC's New 52, the killer ensemble had been led by one man: Deadshot. Known as one of the deadliest assassins in the DC Universe, Deadshot a.k.a. Floyd Lawton has the precision and strategy needed to keep his fellow convicts in line.
And, no surprise, David Ayer singled him out at the front of the line when we asked how he went about picking which DC characters would be appearing in his first entry in the DC Extended Universe:
"I mean Deadshot’s a no-brainer, because he’s just a core element of that team… he’s a supervillain. I mean, he’s a bad guy. They’re all bad guys, that’s the beauty of this… I think Will’s incredibly versatile and can handle any kind of role you throw at him. He’s definitely… it’s funny because none of the normal words apply. I wouldn’t say he’s the father figure of the team, because it’s like herding cats. They don’t care. But he definitely has that the leadership quality, and it’s a great character for him."
If it's hard to discern whether Ayer is referring to Smith's ability to herd his colleagues, or Lawton's, that actually wouldn't be surprising. Much has been made about the camaraderie of the movie's cast (with Ayer calling it "rare"), and nearly everyone we spoke with on set implied that Smith has, unsurprisingly, led the charge. But as for Lawton, his character's origin has changed over the years.
Originally introduced as a marksman who "never misses" emerging in Gotham City, Deadshot's backstory was tragic from the start. As the child of a truly dysfunctional and hateful family, Floyd's life hit rock bottom when he accidentally shot his older brother to death. Vowing to never again miss his target, the death wish that came along with the killing never left him. In modern comics, the role of Floyd's daughter, Zoe, has been used as the main reason for his humanity, working to provide and protect (often in secret) both her and her mother.
Producer Andy Horwitz explained that the movie version will call on both the classic and New 52 versions, "pieced together between all of the elements that David liked." Early set photos showing Floyd presumably before he was captured had him shopping with an unnamed daughter, so expect to see her used to ground and humanize him, no matter what actions he took that landed him in prison. A leading character who is also a devoted parent is still a new idea for comic book movies, and producer Richard Suckle stated his belief that the Squad will show aspects of their lives and personalities that "you don't necessarily get to see in comic book films."
The casting of Harley Quinn may not have made the biggest waves in the realm of comic books, but for those who love the character, Batman: The Animated Series, or the Batman: Arkham video games, no comic book casting was more of a dream come true - not just that Margot Robbie landed the part, but that she was being brought to live-action at all. And as fans have likely heard in any conversation regarding Robbie's role, all on set were quick to praise her dedication, training, and performance.
We also saw clear confirmation that the version of Harley Quinn would be pulling largely from the New 52 version. Beginning as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a psychotherapist working with Joker in Arkham Asylum, Harleen soon learns that you can't get close to Joker without it leaving a mark. A shift towards the insane, and a dip in the same chemical bath that created Joker unites the two (referred to on set as "the chemical wedding"). But David Ayer told us that Robbie's homework began with her sane personality, since that's what ultimately informs her crazed character:
"With Margot, you know, [her homework was] books about psychopathology. She’s supposed to be a psychiatrist, she’s a trained person. Harley is this kid who grew up in Brooklyn, poor family, her dad was in and out of prison, and all this stuff. So these are all layers to research, and what is the core of this character, and then how do you build up from there? So she should understand all these things. I mean she went to hospitals and things like that, everybody got really deep into their work."
It was also confirmed to us on set that the audience would be treated to a number of flashbacks to the time when Joker and Harley ruled Gotham's underworld, establishing the pair as equals, first and foremost.
So that covers her upbringing (kid from the streets pursues medicine to escape them, winds up ruling them), but what about her role in the team? We asked producer Richard Suckle how a woman - an admittedly unbalanced woman, sure - with a baseball bat could prove just as effective as a pyromancer and a flawless assassin. And just as David Ayer claimed that it's a villain's refusal to follow formulas or rules that makes them hard to beat, Suckle confirms that Harley Quinn is the poster child of that very idea:
"She's funny, she's sexy, she's crazy. The spectrum in which she gets to go through the movie gives her a lot of shapes and a lot of colors and... unpredictability is probably the best word to encapsulate what this character is. And that's one of the great things about her, because you don't know what she's going to do from one moment to the next. Whatever it is, it's totally true to who she is because she really does have all those shades within the character itself."
After seeing some of Margot Robbie's stuntwork for ourselves, we doubt many in the audience will have questions concerning how well she can handle herself in a fight.
Colonel Rick Flag
It was a role at one time destined to be played by Tom Hardy, before another production forced him out. Yet Joel Kinnaman (House of Cards) was the next to nab it, playing the role of Colonel Rick Flag, the military man saddled with this band of misfits for unknown reasons (at least, at this point). In the comics, the origin was a familiar one to any fan of military/action films: having lost his entire unit on a mission gone bad, Rick Flag signed up for one suicide mission after another (a death wish being one thing he and Deadshot have in common).
While he came by his role a bit differently than the rest of the cast, producer Richard Suckle made it clear that Kinnaman was bringing just what's needed for the role - possibly the most difficult one out of the entire cast:
"Joel Kinnaman is a great actor... being really the 'straight man' of this group and the kind of wrangling he has to do. He, like the rest of the Squad, doesn't necessarily want to be here. But he works for Amanda Waller, which means he has to do whatever Amanda Waller says. So not necessarily an A-level assignment on the surface, but he's playing the parent to the sort of class of clowns and the unruly kids, and Joel plays it beautifully. He's just got an incredible presence and has to deal with each of them in their own way... He has to be able to manage all those relationships and personalities... in a way that ultimately will get the job done, which makes his job very difficult."
From what we observed on set, the classic dynamic between Deadshot and Flag will be alive and well. The two are most likely the most seasoned, disciplined, determined, and deadly. But when both wind up wanting to be the one calling the shots... things are going to get interesting.
That handles the fictional ensemble nature of his role in the team dynamics, but to guarantee that the role of an experienced soldier was played accurately, David Ayer made sure that Kinnaman was given a small (but brutal) glimpse of what a man like Rick Flag would be trained to endure. Producer Andy Horwitz explains:
"He did a ton of training. He really did. David, obviously, coming from a military background, it was very important for him to get the military aspects of Flag's character correct, and obviously the other military aspects in the movie. So we had real Navy SEALs, that are actually in the film as well, that worked with Joel and did a full immersion for a few nights in the middle of nowhere. Sleeping out in the cold, and not sleeping, and working out every day."
The film's trailer have shown a few looks at Kinnaman's no-nonsense colonel, showing that he doesn't quite see himself as anything but this gang's commanding officer. There's obvious comedy in that, but Ayer emphasized that with such a hard, gritty, and dangerous mission at hand, there wasn't room for the role of Rick Flag to be anything less than accurate to the real thing:
"With Joel, he’s playing like a Tier-1 crew military officer, you know, in the special forces community so I really loaded him up with material that could kind of give an understanding of the mindset and lifestyle… There’s this book by Charlie Beckwith about Delta Force, a great, great book and really inspirational... about the constitution of this sort of person."
In other words: expect Flag to do the armed services proud (despite his squad's best efforts, we're sure).
Every team needs a mascot, and every collection of a dirty half-dozen needs at least one wild card just as likely to botch the mission as accomplish it. In Suicide Squad, that is absolutely, without a doubt, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney). That's technically in keeping with the comic book source material, where George "Digger" Harkness proved to be more of a liability than an asset to his teammates, only using his skills with a boomerang when his life - not necessarily their's - depended on it.
From the first photo of Courtney in costume, it was obvious that was still going to be the case. Smug, self-satisfied, and more than a little bit crazy, the addition of a physically imposing size and razor-sharp projectiles only makes him harder to control. As David Ayer confirms, the truth is exactly as it appears:
"It is a lot of fun to see Boomerang, Captain Boomerang… who is sort of the most villainous of all these characters. And it’s just been a blast creating this absolutely kinetic, out of control force of nature with Jai. You know the character paradigms - he’s like 'Evil Chaotic'."
For those who may not know the "Alignments" Ayer is referring to in fiction, 'Chaotic Evil' is used to describe characters who are "hot-tempered, vicious, arbitrarily violent, unpredictable., ruthless, brutal" and deeply self-serving. Thankfully, those kinds of people don't make the most intelligent plans - but they make terrific blunt instruments. At the time of our set visit, the world had yet to see Boomerang in action, cracking open a beer in the middle of a fight. But while getting a breakdown of the character from producer Richard Suckle, the beer holster, gold tooth, and general 'brawler' style spoke for itself:
"This character is like… You can just look at him, and I'm sure the way you would describe him without me telling you what he does in the movie would probably be very close to what I'm about to say. He is a wise ass. He's kind of a punk, to a certain extent and he's got an incredible wise cracking sense of humor. But at the same time, he is equally dangerous, and has these very dangerous boomerangs... He's just a fun character that shakes things up and also has a level of unpredictability as well."
As we learned more about the character (and how it's finally allowing the star of A Good Day to Die Hard and Terminator: Genisys to show his humor - and accent), the links between character and actor started to multiply. While the character is obviously an out of control nutjob, even Courtney admits that Boomer's personality is the closest to himself than any of the roles American audiences would recognize him from. But those curious to know if the character will be based on the older, more dated version of Harkness, or his younger, hipper son Owen... will probably have to wait, according to the actor:
"I think it is somewhat of an amalgamation [of the comic versions of Boomerang], is probably the fairest thing to say. I was curious about that… but we haven’t set something up that we are bound by. David and I had a discussion about that early on. So, who knows? Within this property, I guess that leaves room and freedom, in a sense, to kind of go either way. But at this stage it is not necessarily specified."
On the surface, it seems that it's Digger Harkness being updated, while keeping his abrasive yet undeniably endearing 'free spirit' intact. One wonders how much of a glimpse into his backstory will really be needed. But from Courtney's comments, we would assume it's what Boomer's up to now that will be the most important (and dangerous to his squadmates).
For reasons concerning the actual plot, twists, and conflict of the movie, the details surrounding Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) have been kept quiet, at least officially. We know that Delevingne will begin as June Moon, just like the comics, before an encounter with an ancient, supernatural entity transforms her into 'The Enchantress.' Whether she's a villain, the villain, or one of the villains is still anyone's guess. The trailers have shown a few looks at June Moon interacting with other characters before absorbing... something in a subterranean cave.
But, obviously, it was her appearance as the Enchantress that producer Andy Horwitz singled out as an indicator of her role and importance:
"Yeah. Cara Delevingne, Enchantress. I think this is, you know, it's a little bit of a different Enchantress look than the comics, of course, but Cara's obviously... she was our first choice for the role and I think it makes a lot of sense. She plays both June Moon and Enchantress in the movie. Both looks are extremely different, of course. But this was a look that we were all really excited about. I think it really embodies her character in the movie and it's something different, unique."
Unique it most certainly is, especially considering what Enchantress typically looks like in the comic books. In short: a witch, with her pointed hat and dress dyed green. The revealing costume (minus the mud-like substance caked on Delevingne's body in varying thicknesses) may still be greenish(?), but if there's one character that's been dramatically overhauled for film, it's June Moon.
While we have our own theory on the role she'll play in the story (and the "Suicide Squad" comic David Ayer teased as his inspiration), it's clear that the magical aspects of her character are most definitely being adapted faithfully. How that works with the DC Extended Universe down the line remains to be seen, but it was a challenge (or opportunity) that David Ayer was well aware of when beginning to assembled his cast and script. And according to Horwitz and Suckle, that means fans can expect to see her comic book origin story and powers honored:
"RS: Once we decided, and David felt that the Enchantress should be part of the movie... you're embracing what comes along with her. It just sort of naturally happened... and as soon as David said 'I want her to be a part of the movie,' the qualities and the attributes and the abilities that she has come along with her."
"AH: It is [an evolution]. And I think... she is a witch. Sorcerer's another way to describe her, but at the end of the day she's a witch, and I think, what would a contemporary modern-day witch look like? And so, for us I think trying to sort of take her old look... and 'contemporize' it and make it a little bit darker and a little bit more witch-like, I think. A little more grounded, a little more real. So this is what we came up with."
There was concept art depicting an alternate look at Enchantress more in keeping with her comic book version (but far, far more regal and intricate), and a tease from costume designer Kate Hawley that her character undergoes multiple "transitions." The facts are still under wraps, but it's obvious that the occult element is going to make Suicide Squad as much of a horror story as a gangster one.
There have been several different versions of The Joker over the years, from Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson's comic book villains brought to life, to the twisted anarchist of Heath Ledger's take in The Dark Knight. Yet the first image released of Jared Leto in his Suicide Squad costume/makeup/tattoos promised something very, very, different - and audiences were divided. For some, it was over-designed, trying too hard, and hard to look at. For others, that disgust and crazed aesthetic were the entire point, and Jared Leto's Joker was handcrafted for David Ayer's idea of comic book street crime.
Joker has always been something of a kingpin in Gotham's underworld, even if it was based more on fear than actual respect or intimidation. But with Suicide Squad showing Joker as the king of the city's criminals, his power needs to be backed up in a way that makes sense. According to producer Richard Suckle, it's cash and status that make him an unparalleled crime boss:
"He's a business man. He's crazy of course, and he kills people, but… he's running a business. If you could imagine the head of any successful corporation, he runs his business that way. He just happens to be a psychopath. He's very, very conscientious of his business and he's also very conscientious of the way he dresses. Style is a really big part of this Joker. It would be important to him to know what next year's Prada would be like because he may want to have it a year before everybody else."
That's obviously not the whole story, since Joker and Harley were also claimed to have killed their way to the top. But it adds another wrinkle to this incarnation: that as manic or out of control as he may seem, he knows his line of work.
Our discussion of the character with costume designer Kate Hawley added some insights, from the foundation of real-world drug cartel leaders who spent their millions on gold, cars, and cutting edge fashion, to foreign soldiers posing barefoot on piles of corpses. So as outrageous as his tattoos, hair, or fashion might seem, Hawley told us, it's still in the image of classic (and real) gangsters that Leto's Joker was born:
"I think that’s the biggest thing with David, is about ‘chasing the real’ and what that means in David’s world, so that’s been a big journey and a very organic one… When I first met him he wanted a very gritty, urban world. That if you think of all the Suicide Squad related in some way in this underworld, in this urban kind of environment, then Joker and Harley are like King and Queen of that.”
From his massive ring placed out for other criminals (or victims) to kiss, to his ostentatious guns, knives, and clothing, Joker's backstory is as mysterious as ever. But there may be a bit more history justifying his personality and power this time around... and if he seems to be taking things to extremes, that's probably the point.
The comic book version of Katana is born out of the worst kinds of tragedy. Having started a life in her civilian identity of Tatsu Yamshiro, she enjoyer her loving husband and two children - before her husband's brother arrived to claim her. Challenging Tatsu's husband to a duel for the woman's love, the fight spun wildly out of control, seeing her husband murdered, and her children lost in the ensuing fire. Overcome with loss and rage, Tatuso overpowered the slayer of her family, but fled upon realizing that her husband's spirit had been absorbed into the katana that struck him down: Soultaker.
Taking the name of 'Katana,' her superheroine career would take her around the world, enjoying stints with the Birds of Prey, Outsiders, and the Suicide Squad (usually being honor-bound to one mission or another). On the film side, it will be newcomer Karen Fukahara in the role, and everything we heard on set suggested that the character's origins will definitely be in play here - even if they aren't explored in this film. That's according to Fukuhara:
"It helps a lot when you know the backstory of her character because… in this movie I don’t think you see much of that, but bringing that and knowing that at the back of my mind really helps with playing the character... Not only just the mental part in doing the research behind the character in terms of comics, but also physically. Like, looking the part and also being able to do all the stunts."
Actresses doing their own stunts was a common refrain on set, with both Margot Robbie and Fukuhara singled out for their dedication to training for and performing their character's fight choreography. There are obviously some exceptions, but any time you can actually get the actors on screen pulling off the action, it's a win for the audience.
As for her role on the team? Well, while producer Andy Horwitz describes here as "the whip, I think, when Flag needs to crack the whip," Fukuhara herself offered an even clearer description, steeped in both Japanese culture and Katana's track record in the comics:
"She’s the protector of Rick Flag. So I’d like to think she’s still one of the only characters that’s so-called ‘good’ or, you know, heroic. She has her own moral code, and she has… it’s a Japanese word called giri-ninjo which is… I don’t know the technical meaning of that so you can look it up [laughs]. But you know, her oath to give back to who she owes it to. And I think for this movie it’s Rick Flag. Along with Amanda Waller... but who knows what she’s thinking."
For those unfamiliar with Japanese cinema or storytelling, the term 'giri-ninjo' literally means a combination of 'compassion' and 'social obligation.' As in, a hero or heroine who is brought into emotional or moral conflict by being forced to serve a mission their humanity can not allow, or show emotion when their loyalty demands a different course.
We don't know where that will lead Katana or the Squad, but the glimpses of her communing with the souls in her sword, and undergoing some kind of transformation (eyes flashing to entirely white) prove her story will get mystical. And as producer Richard Suckle confirms, comic fans will be able to connect the dots:
"She's a character of few words. Her entrance into the movie is quite cool, in the way she is introduced to everybody and to us... She's definitely a mysterious character, but we're not suppressing anything that the character from the canon would've brought... the whole story with the Soultaker and how her dead husband is trapped in the sword, and she speaks to it. It's really, I have to say, emotional. It's really wonderful."
It's hard to believe that such a terrifying creature could have begun his life as an innocent, impressionable young boy. But such was the origin of Waylon Jones - in the pages of DC Comics and its animated universe - when a rare skin disease/genetic mutation began causing him to look less than human, at least in a skin-deep sense. Over time that pain turned to rage, eventually leading him to become the villain known as 'Killer Croc,' possessing immense strength, durability, and determination (especially when it came to Batman, the figure standing in the way of criminal domination).
When we spoke with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje on set, he confirmed that such an origin was at the heart of his character:
"He’s a boy that’s been tortured, humiliated, ostracized, ridiculed… Waylon Jones, his backstory in the comics. Obviously, in my research that’s what I used to kind of establish who Waylon was as an adult. But definitely all of that….because ultimately - and any of the characters you will notice, but ultimately in Croc - he just wants to be loved. But because he’s been ostracized, he’s made that work for him."
We don't know what to expect from his actual fighting style, superpowers, or specialty on the Squad, but it's obviously his appearance that's guaranteed to turn heads. And as much as Joker and Harley may rule the nightclub scene of Gotham's criminal sphere, it sounds like Croc isn't used to following someone else's rules, either:
"David was very insistent on making it very real... He’s not crocodile, he’s a man. So we wanted to show that in as many aspects as we could, from the skin tone, to not using [contact] lenses, and even to his attire... in the world of Gotham, this is a super villain that was really going toe to toe with Batman and about to take over. After we really analyze and evaluate that history, it was like, “Well, he wouldn’t really just be hiding simply under there depressed.” He’s owning that world... It was very important for David and I to have him celebrate that world and literally reign in the sewer. That is his kingdom, the underground."
It's clear that writer/director David Ayer turned to the world of DC's New 52 for a few reasons, not the least of which is the inclusion of Diablo, also known as Chato Santana in the comics. The title has been held by a few through DC history, but Santana claimed it after rising to the very top of a fictional Los Angeles gang. After seeking revenge by burning down the building a rival gang called home, Chato learns that women and children were also killed in the blaze he started.
In the comics,his power to control, absorb, or project fire was tied to a demonic entity that had previously cursed a preceding version, but whatever the origin of his power, the murder of innocents is too much for Chato to bear. He surrenders to the police and willingly begins to serve his sentence within the walls of Bell Reve (specially designed to accommodate someone of his... abilities). But while discussing the character with producers Richard Suckle and Andy Horwitz, it turns out that the character's roots in Los Angeles are one element that attracted the attention of Ayer:
"RS: Jay's a fantastic actor and goes through a pretty amazing transformation and it's a great character. He's got obviously his own [superpowered] abilities and even just looking at the design of his jacket was something that was very, very particular about what David wanted. David having grown up in East LA and all the details, from the jacket design to the tattoos…
"AH: ...Inspired by what the logos [of real L.A. gangs] look like, and how they wear things. It's all, I mean everything about it, his tattoos, and his logo, even the 213 on his hand for the East LA area code, it's all very real."
Aside from the connection to the very real criminal side of Los Angeles, it sounds like the character's origin will be in keeping with the source material, with Horwitz noting that the lack of mainstream 'Diablo' fans allowed more creativity - "but the backstories and obviously his abilities are all very much based on the comic books."
If there's one member of the team who's taken up less of the spotlight, it's unquestionably Slipknot (Adam Beach). The villain has a... memorable costume in the comic book source material, but the actual character details are probably not going to be playing a major factor in the film. Since nearly every Suicide Squad story requires one member of the team to try their luck and learn the hard way that Amanda Waller wasn't kidding about the explosive planted in their brains. Considering how little has been seen of Beach in the film's marketing (aside from using his signature grapply gun to zip up, up, and away from the rest of the team), the smart money is on Slipknot leaving them team in pieces.
But that doesn't mean the character can't be given a memorable role on the big screen, even if it is a brief one. And producer Andy Horwitz explained that Slipknot's look on film may have been among the hardest to figure out:
"Adam Beach. One of the nicest human beings on planet Earth. Slipknot is one of those characters not a lot of people know about, but he is cool. He's got some serious abilities and I think his outfit, which I think took a little bit of back and forth to figure out what he was going to look like because I think his outfit in the comics is pretty goofy. It really is. We knew we had to stay away from that and figure out a contemporary, cool version of that. I think this was it. I think everything that he wears and he uses is very utilitarian. It's all useful and you get to see him use it and how he uses it, and he's a very cool character. Mysterious character. You don't know a lot about him."
She may not be a member of the Squad, but as the one who decides what causes their lives are risked to advance (or stall), Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is a powerhouse in her own rite. The trailers have shown her making an argument in front of Washington executives, but from the sounds of it, Waller will more than live up to her skull-cracking reputation in the movie, according to producer Richard Suckle:
"What's so cool about [Viola Davis] is, because she's so nice and so friendly and so warm and giving, that when she has to play Amanda it's like you watch another person come out of nowhere. The best way I can put it, she's just a bad motherf***er. I mean, honestly, you just do not want to cross Amanda Waller.
"As bad as she may be, and I say the word 'bad' because she's forcing people against their will, she also has a very distinct point of view and she's doing it for what, in her mind, is the right reason. Which is a unique take on... I hate to say bad guy, but she's a great character that is so counterpoint to the rest of the cast. You don't f*** with her because the consequences are worse than what she was asking you to do."
Those are all the insider details we could gain on the cast of Suicide Squad, how closely their live-action incarnations will stick to the originals, and how they'll function(?) as a team. If you've got questions, comments or theories, we want to hear them!
Suicide Squad is scheduled to arrive in theaters on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman is slated for release on June 2, 2017; followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash is currently without a release date.