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INTERVIEW: James Gunn discusses King Shark’s dad bod, dumb supervillains, and the heart of THE SUICIDE SQUAD

Who is James Gunn's favorite member of THE SUICIDE SQUAD?

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The Suicide Squad is officially out, and set aside your fears, James Gunn has delivered on his promise. In what is easily one of the best films from the DCEU to date, we caught up with Gunn to talk about the thought process behind this action-packed supervillain-packed flick.

When James Gunn was brought on for The Suicide Squad, a lot of questions arose from the fans as to how he would address David Ayers‘ 2016 Suicide Squad. Would it be a sequel? Would it act like the 2016 film didn’t exist? Would we get a rewriting of history? The actual answer lies somewhere between all of those questions. “When I first talked to the guys about making the movie, I said, ‘What am I beholden to from the other movie?'”

“And what they said was, ‘Listen, we love Margot [Robbie], we would love if she was back in the movie, but as long as you’re doing what you want to do and you’re bringing your full self to it, we don’t really care. You can make a whole new team, you can use the exact same team. You can do whatever you want,'” recalled Gunn. He added that it was also important for him to bring back Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, who he called the true antagonist of the film.

James Gunn and Margot Robbie at THE SUICIDE SQUAD premiere.

Bringing Back the Cast

“Margot Robbie is a fantastic Harley Quinn. I love the character, I know the character very well. I think the way she was originally written by Paul Dini in the old animated series was truly who she still is today. I don’t think I deviate much from that. We get to see other sides of her, but it’s still fully that same character that Paul created,” said Gunn, who emphasized that he was able to bring out Harley’s chaotic trickster self while also allowing her character to grow in a way that she considered healthy (even if no one else thinks so.)

Giving praise to Robbie, Gunn also praised Joel Kinnaman who plays Rick Flag, and Jai Courtney who plays Captain Boomerang. “Joel, I’m a big fan of as an actor. I thought that we could change up this character a little bit, I thought we could bring a little bit more humor to his character, a little bit more of the tortured quality to his character. His ideals getting squashed right in front of his eyes was dramatic to me. So I really wanted that. And I love Jai, I’ve known Jai for a long time.”

“So I brought those characters back because David did an amazing job casting his movie, and he did an amazing job prepping those characters, so I’m not one to have an ego about any of that thing if there’s something that’s good, why fix it? Why change it? And I didn’t want to be reacting to the first movie in terms of being a shadow of the movie either just copying it or being like ‘Hey, I’m going to be totally different from the first movie because so and so didn’t like it.’ So it was about really just taking everything I had at my disposal, and making the best movie I possibly could.'”

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Dumbest Supervillains of All Time

When the first look at The Suicide Squad was announced, it was chock full of new faces among the few familiar ones. The some fifteen faces were a sign that not everyone would be surviving the entire length of the movie. But even for comic book fans, James Gunn was digging deep to pull out some of the supervillains he was putting on his roster. But despite some of his key characters making it onto dumbest-supervillains-of-all-time listicles, Gunn decided to push a little bit deeper.

“The idea that in a world where superheroes are real and supervillains are real, that a guy would call himself Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and go around with polka dots on his costume seems ludicrous. But to be able to take that character who’s a lot like more like I am than Batman or Captain America. And to give him a story that’s incredibly dark in terms of how he became Polka-Dot Man — it’s a horrible story — was giving meaning to something that’s incredibly stupid and we’re all incredibly stupid in our own ways and to be able to sort of embrace the humanity of our own darkness and our own silliness.”

“To me, at the end of the day, everything I’ve ever done is about characters, trying to connect, who have a difficult time doing it because I have a difficult time doing it. And these characters have a harder time than anybody else I’ve ever written because they not only have these horrible backstories for the most part, but they’ve also made horrible choices in their lives, and to be able to find something good in all of that is the journey that excites me the most,” said Gunn.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The Heart of The Suicide Squad

By the end of the movie, you’ll be hard-pressed not to love Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) and her little sidekick pet rat Sebastian. (Though some might still resist her charms.) As one of my personal favorite characters from the movie, Ratcatcher 2 aka Cleo Cazo really takes on the lion’s share of the emotional burden of the film. “She’s really the one character that I think comes into the movie damaged but less damaged than the other characters. I think she’s the only character that has any access to her heart whatsoever. So I think that as much as I relate to the outsider qualities or the goofiness of Polka-Dot Man. I also relate to the more human elements of Ratcatcher 2, and she’s thrust into this world where she’s around really nasty people and becomes the heart of the movie in that respect,” explained Gunn.

“Her relationship with Bloodsport (Idris Elba) is incredibly important to the movie, it’s probably the primary relationship in the movie, and it’s very important to me that it wasn’t a romantic relationship. It is him seeing this sort of messed-up-but-pure human being, and that helps him to connect to her, but also connects to his daughter (Storm Reid), who he’s treated like shit the whole time he’s known her. He treats her like total shit at the beginning of the movie, and being able to have a character who we could put ourselves in a little bit because I think a lot of us are not at ease with tearing people apart, but also who sees the good in everybody.”

“Even King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), who, is he good? He’s kind of a fish,” Gunn joked. “She sees the good in him. She’s like, ‘His eyes are so innocent and beautiful.’ But they’re fish eyes! There’s nothing going on! So I think that it’s really wonderful to see the world through her eyes, and I think she’s really obviously important to the movie in a lot of ways. So, in some ways, she’s my favorite character.”

Dad Bods and Goofy Starfish

When it comes to creature design, there was a lot of work that needed to be put in place. Not only designing Suicide Squad members King Shark and Weasel (Sean Gunn), but also the massive terror that is Starro. Gunn has talked about his struggle to make King Shark appear more like a shark and less like a mammal, but he talked a little bit more about the challenges he faced during that process.

“King Shark was the toughest character I’ve ever had to design. Because of numerous reasons. Number one, shark skin is much harder to get right than raccoon fur or wood. And the other thing is, you know Rocket, for instance, is still a mammal. So, transforming him a little bit into a more human character isn’t that completely unnatural, but transforming a shark, who’s made to swim flat into something that walks around and has a head bent forward took a lot, a lot of design work. In fact, we kept designing for a long time.”

“We did the original design, we finally got the dad bod that I wanted. I didn’t think he would have a six-pack, because he’s not a mammal, so he doesn’t have the same muscular structure as we do. [We] finally started designing and Framestore did a lot of the work for that,” Gunn explained, referencing the VFX company, Framestore. “We started almost finishing shots, when I was like, ‘Oh, he still doesn’t look totally right, like his belly was a little too white, his pecs were a little too pec-like, and it looked strange on his body. And I said to Framestore, I’m sorry but we have to go redesign and we did in the middle of post.”

For Starro, Gunn referenced Bong Joon Ho‘s The Host as an inspiration point. “I really liked the movie The Host and I like how the sea monster flaps around like a giant puppy even though he’s kind of scary. So I wanted the same sort of unwieldy feeling of a walking starfish who isn’t made to walk, he floats around in space. So, getting him to walk and getting it in the way that was both at least somewhat put people in peril but was also the goofy way a starfish would walk was difficult.”

Will we see more from The Suicide Squad now that it’s been released out into the world? It’s still too early to tell, but it’s hard to imagine James Gunn’s vision failing to inspire fans to want more of dad bod Nanue or kind-hearted Cleo.

The Suicide Squad is now in theaters and available on HBO Max!

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