Everyone loves a bad guy, whether it be cultured killers like Hans Gruber or Hannibal Lecter, or iconic villains like Darth Vader and Magneto. Director David Ayer has taken things one stage further with Suicide Squad, turning comic book supervillains into (albeit reluctant) heroes, and to him that was one of the main drawcards of DC Comics’ latest blockbuster.
“Bad guys do cool stuff and play by a different set of rules,” Ayer explains. “I think bad guys are always the coolest characters in movies because good guys are so predictable. You know in any given situation what the good guy is going to do so it’s hard to get ahead of the audience. But the bad guy is always going to be a wild card. Plus, the good guys are already loved and embraced by the world. The bad guys have a little bit of baggage they’ve got to work through [laughs].”
The Suicide Squad first appeared in print in 1958 but it was John Estrander’s 1987 reboot that provides the template for their first big screen adventure. In Suicide Squad, a six-strong unit of dangerous criminals – assassins Deadshot (Will Smith) and Slipknot (Adam Beach), psycho shrink Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), genetic mutation Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) – are recruited into a shadowy government task force to be used as disposable assets for high risk military missions. Viola Davis and Joel Kinnaman plays their commanders Amander Waller and Colonel Flag, respectively, while their foes include the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and the Joker (Jared Leto).
So how did Ayer set about recruiting his version of the Dirty Dozen?
“The great thing about this cast is that they’re all perfectly tuned to each of their roles and have incredible chemistry together,” he explains. “These aren’t easy characters to portray, but as a director, I like to cast actors who already have the characters within them. That is incredibly important to me, and the cast really came together beautifully.
“Margot was one of the first to be cast, and it was just hand-in-glove. She did an incredible job, and really became that character. Cara Delevingne was also one of the earliest people I cast. I had this vision of a beautiful Enchantress with an angelic face who is really up to no good, and Cara is just perfect for the role because she is those things!
“Will is Deadshot, on and off the screen. He has such a fantastic history as an actor and has been in so many amazing projects. The cast really looked up to him that way. And on set, he has this wonderful energy. He was definitely the more level-headed, rational one of the group.
"Adam Beach just leaps off the screen as Slipknot. And as Boomerang, Jai Courtney delivers a performance that is unlike anything you’ve seen from him before. I gave Jai license to really be bad, and I think, for the whole cast, it was just a fantastic opportunity to step outside of the boundaries of what is considered normal.”
Outside the comic book world, the characters in Suicide Squad were largely unknown – with one exception: The Joker, who has been portrayed on screen a number of times before, most memorably by Heath Ledger in his Oscar- winning turn in The Dark Knight.
Ayer acknowledges he approached the casting with some trepidation. “This is a character that is the best known bad guy – the best known villain – in fiction, hands down, which is incredible. The Joker has been around since 1941 or so and is truly a cultural icon. You’re stepping into huge shoes – and I think you can only do that with reverence and trepidation – and Jared really is the ideal guy to do it. To watch this new Joker come to life was just spectacular for me as a filmmaker. It’s incredibly faithful to canon – you just see a second of him on screen and you know who it is, yet this is a Joker we haven’t seen. I mean, it takes such courage to do that, and I’m really proud of how well Jared pulled it off.”
Ayer is best known for action movies like Fury and Training Day, and he brought a similar gritty style to Suicide Squad; while there’s a lot CG in the movie, he says most of the stunts were actually performed by the stunt team and the actors themselves.
However, for him, the most rewarding part of the movie was the interplay between the characters.
“This is a really big movie, and it was a huge physical challenge. But, for me, it’s always going to be the actors and the character work. There’s this bar scene in the movie that, to me, is just a jewel. It’s the last scene you would expect to see in a film like this – the characters sitting around talking and bonding – but the performances are just so truthful and real. Those were really the best days for me as a director.“
Suicide Squad is out on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K on December 7