The first TV expansion of the DCEU begins this week, as Peacemaker debuts on HBO Max. James Gunn created the series, writing all eight of the first season’s episodes, and directing five of them, in a series that continues the story of Christopher Smith / Peacemaker (John Cena), after his introduction in Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.
Read on for what Cena, Gunn, and Peacemaker’s cast and Executive Producers had to say about how the show puts the spotlight on a guy we might not expect to headline a show in the first place – and what those in his orbit think of him.
GETTING TO KNOW CHRIS
By the time The Suicide Squad was over, Peacemaker had made what folks in John Cena’s other job, professional wreslting, might call a heel turn, as he killed Rick Flag and nearly did the same to Ratcatcher 2 in order to stop Flag from releasing information Amanda Waller wanted destroyed – only to be shot by Bloodsport and left for dead. So how do you get the audience to perhaps redefine what they think of someone they have good reason to be angry towards as the show begins?
John Cena told Fandom that when he first spoke to Gunn about the Peacemaker TV show, his questions weren’t so much about how to change the perception about Peacemaker. “It wasn’t, ‘How do we make this guy something he’s not?’ My first question was ‘How is he alive?’ And James said, ‘I got that part covered.’ And I said, Well, hell, let’s go.’”
When it comes to perception though, he remarked, “I think it depends on on how you interpret The Suicide Squad. Peacemaker does some dastardly s**t and he does it in the guise of peace. ‘I’m doing whatever I need to do to keep the peace.’ That’s a contradiction in terms in its own right. But he does have very human moments in The Suicide Squad and I think they’re overlooked by his dedication to his core value or his ethos. Bloodsport is telling a story about punishment from his father and we see a brief microsecond snippet of Peacemaker just chuckling to himself. That could be like ‘Yo, you don’t know about dads!’ As we learn from the show Peacemaker, that can be like ‘Punishment? ‘You call that punishment?’ You don’t know what to take from that but it’s a moment of acknowledgement.”
Ultimately, when it comes to Peacemaker killing Rick Flag, Cena said, “He has to fight his hero and fight him to the death. And in a moment of triumph, in a moment of victory, which should be like ‘I’ve bested the best!’ he’s conflicted and his very world is turned upside down. And these are all things that we’ve seen in The Suicide Squad. But once again, they happen in such microseconds.”
On the Peacemaker series, Cena said, “We already have this perception of the guy that he is rotten to the core. And I think Peacemaker isn’t about redefining Peacemaker as I think it’s about exploring who Peacemaker is. Peacemaker is a dude who has had a series of events which has made him question his entire life. And I think that’s very relevant to a lot of us living [our lives]. We have moments… Hell, the last two years made a lot of folks question their entire life. So I think it’s weird that he runs around in a uniform and a series of helmets, and his job necessarily isn’t something we can relate to, but what he’s going through I think is something all of us can.”
TEAMMATES (LIKE IT OR NOT)
In The Suicide Squad, Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee) were helping run the team’s mission from afar alongside Amanda Waller, before ultimately assisting Flo Crawley after she knocked out Waller and everyone hastily agreed to help Task Force X stop Starro, against Waller’s wishes.
Now, on the series, Harcourt and Economos are working directly with Peacemaker, in the field, and it’s not something either are exactly excited about. Said Holland, “Harcourt despises Peacemaker. She sort of thinks of the situation as Amanda Waller getting back at her and John Economos for rising up against her in The Suicide Squad. She thinks that Peacemaker is a traitor and she thinks that he’s a killer, and not the good kind – and Harcourt believes there is a good kind.”
As for Economos’ feelings on Peacemaker, Agee remarked, “Clearly, he’s not a fan.” Peacemaker quickly decides Economos is someone he enjoys teasing – especially over the fact that Economos has dyed his beard – and Agee said, “I think any situation where you’re the butt of somebody’s joke, you want to be as far away from that person as possible, and in The Suicide Squad, Economos was in the HQ and Cena was on an island.”
Agee described the situation as “Not even love-hate. It’s just hate. I’m just so fed up with him. And I think there was probably a sense of relief when he was crushed by a building in Suicide Squad and, and now he’s just like, ‘Oh, man, are you kidding me!?’ And then they bring him in and it’s just like constant dyed beard jokes. It’s not an ideal situation for John Economos.”
On the other hand, Holland said there were some layers to Harcourt’s negativity towards Peacemaker. “The interesting thing for me is kind of exploring who Harcourt is and why she hates him so much. The question that I have about Harcourt is would she have done the same thing that Peacemaker did in The Suicide Squad if that was her mission? Because she is a company man and she does her job and she takes her job very seriously. So I wonder if she despises him so much because she sees herself in him.”
Heading up the team Peacemaker is assigned to is Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji), who’s done his research and knows the skills Peacemaker brings them – but also the downside that comes with that. Iwuji noted that when Murn actually has to deal with Peacemaker, he finds him, “Worse than I feared in my worst nightmares. It’s this sort of thing with this weird teacher and star pupil [dynamic], who just won’t focus and keeps wasting their talents. I know Peacemaker is crucial. I have that line, “Right now, the world needs a son of a bitch and you’re the only one I got.” Peacemaker is great at what he does, which is being a wrecking ball. Given the stakes, I feel that I have to tolerate this really deeply annoying, killing genius.”
Unlike with John Economos, Iwuju said for Murn it does end up being somewhat of a scenario where he feels “It’s a classic case of I hate him and I love him. And most importantly, I need him.”
Danielle Brooks plays another newcomer to Murn’s team, Leota Adebayo, who is rather overwhelmed by being thrust into the field. Brooks described Adebayo’s situation as “very much like me, where she was trying to fake it ’til she made it. She probably never held a gun. I had never really dealt with guns, either, but there’s such a thrill and an excitement that comes with being a badass or even attempting to be a badass. And I think she leans into it until she’s like ‘I don’t know if I can really do this!”
Gunn said a key aspect of the series was Peacemaker and Adebayo’s dynamic, explaining, “The central love story of Peacemaker is between Peacemaker and Adebayo. It’s not a romantic love story. It’s not a sexual love story. It’s an actual love story between two characters who come from completely different belief systems, they couldn’t be more different… I think that you have these two people who start to initiate change in each other because of being kind to one another and of liking each other and seeing past the things they disagree on to the things that makes them tick.”
When it came to the group of characters he’d assembled for the series, James Gunn noted, “It’s called Peacemaker, but it is an ensemble show. To make John Economos as important a DC character as anybody else is just a blast to me. I really like people who are on the outside. I like the disaffected, I like people who don’t feel like they belong.”
Gunn was well aware that some were surprised to see Peacemaker – a fairly obscure character for much of his existence – get his own show vs. someone more high profile at the center of a series. Speaking with a group of journalists, Gunn remarked, “The fact that everybody online was always saying, ‘Why Peacemaker? Why him? Why this guy?’ He’s the guy that you don’t want to see a show for… that’s the one I want to make the show for! I want to take the people that you don’t like and see inside of them and see how we can get to someplace different with them.”
Gunn explained that feeling of wanting to make the unlikely characters central included all of those he included on Peacemaker, as he added, “I want to take the John Economos’ in DC and put them on their own sort of weird pedestal, in a way, because he’s just so imperfect. Yet to be able to know his story… That story is as important as Superman’s story to me.”
Executive Producer Peter Safran felt the vagueness around Peacemaker as a character was a benefit for them going into the show, saying, “I think what made Chris Smith the perfect character to spin off into a series is he’s one of the few guys that did not get a real arc over the course of The Suicide Squad, whereas you really understood about Bloodsport and his relationship with his father, and you understood about Ratcatcher and her relationship with her father.”
When it came to that quick reaction shot of Peacemaker listening to Bloodsport’s story in the film, Safran said, “I think that wry grin is the origin of this entire series, because we know that there was so much depth in his childhood and his credo and and the rules by which he lives that we wanted to explore. James wanted to create a father-son story that really deals with toxic masculinity. That was the genesis of it all, the idea that we had not explored in The Suicide Squad. Plus the opportunity to work with John Cena for eight episodes is something that nobody could pass up.”
Chris’ father, Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick), seems like a nasty piece of work from the moment we meet him… and that’s barely scratching the surface. Patrick described Auggie’s feelings about Chris as layered with “so much resentment,” due to a tragedy in their past. Said Patrick, “There’s nothing that Chris can do in his father’s eyes to redeem himself. He’s never going to live up to his father’s expectations. He’s never going to be off the hook. And it’s a horrible thing, but it really explains why Peacemaker is constantly looking for an attaboy from somebody and there’s nowhere to go to get it.” He added, with a grin, “The only person that really shows him any love is Eagly,” referring to Peacemaker’s pet eagle.
Patrick said in his conversations with Gunn, “James really wanted to make sure that dynamic [was explored]; establishing the whole question of the father-son relationship, toxic masculinity and so forth, and where it came from. Auggie is one of the most despicable, if not the most despicable character, I’ve ever played. But having said that, you’ve got to remember the humor aspect of this as well. So by the end of the experience, I think I finally got the swing of what it’s like working for James Gunn. It was a joy.”
Executive Producer Matt Miller said Gunn, “Had this very specific idea of how he wanted to approach this character, and using this superhero, and the eight episodes of the story, as a way to sort of unpack this deeply flawed and very unlikable guy. Over the course of these eight episodes, he really bares his soul and you get to see what makes him tick and you understand his relationship with his father and some of the other elements and hopefully finding some redemption for him along the way.”
THAT VIGILANTE LIFE
Far less conflicted than Peacemaker is his fellow costumed vigilante Adrian Chase, who calls himself… Vigilante (Freddie Stroma). While he’s based on the DC character of the same name, he’s a very different interpretation than the source material. One of the show’s funniest and oddly endearing elements, this Vigilante is all in on his murderous crimefighting lifestyle and would love nothing more than to hang out with Peacemaker killing bad guys all the time.
Freddie Stroma said it wasn’t too difficult for him to get a handle on Vigilante, explaining, “It was all on the page. This is what James wrote. He mentioned the fact that he is on the other end of that moral spectrum that maybe Peacemaker is trying to get away from a little bit.”
As Gunn put it, “We Have Peacemaker, who’s a guy who obviously has a conscience. Despite the bad stuff he does, he does have a reasoning behind what he does. Yes, some of it may be a rationalization for why he’s venting his anger, but he does have a philosophy behind it. Vigilante’s a very different sort of quote-unquote ‘hero.’ I created Vigilante for the show because I thought if you really are a guy that puts on a costume and goes around and murders people – just cold blooded murders people who you think are bad guys – who are you really?”
When it came to how the character is different from his comic book incarnation, Stroma said, “I very quickly realized it’s not the Vigilante from DC, this is James’s Vigilante. I knew I didn’t need to look up Adrian Chase’s stuff [to understand him], although I am reading the comics now. He’s a very complex character and I focused mostly on the comedy and then just took the direction as it came.”
Said Gunn, “[Vigilante] was an interesting character to play with because he is a sociopath. He does not seem to have a conscience, and more so, he doesn’t seem to have emotions… He’s not very in tune with other human beings. And yet, despite all of this, there’s this sort of dare I say, sweetness about him that comes from Freddie’s performance and comes from the fact that he, in such a vulnerable way, adores Peacemaker. I just wanted to kind of create a different type of character who was not black and white. He’s a worse version of Peacemaker in many ways, but also not without things that we can like about him.”
The first three episodes of Peacemaker debut January 13th on HBO Max with new episodes debuting weekly after that.
For more on the new Peacemaker series, check out our Peacemaker Wiki!
Click the image below to learn more about Peacemaker’s long history, including the role he sorta-kinda played in Watchmen.