Ever since he appeared in the post-credits scene for 2017's theatrical cut of Justice League, Joe Manganiello's Deathstroke has been trying to slash his way back into the DC Extended Universe. The original plan was to have Slade Wilson serve as the main antagonist in Ben Affleck's standalone Batman film, but that project was eventually scrapped. Then he was set up to return in Justice League 2, which never happened. After that, Warner Bros. allegedly planned to insert the character into a direct sequel to David Ayer's Suicide Squad.
“There were like four or five different versions of Suicide Squad 2 that I was put on hold for," Manganiello revealed on a recent episode of MTV's Happy Sad Confused podcast. "[We were] waiting for one actor to free up and we were gonna go. That happened like four or five times and never came to fruition … There was a Zak Penn script; then there was the Gavin [O' Connor] version; there was a [a version] with Will Smith [who played Deadshot], without Will Smith; there was just me and Will Smith. It just went on and on."
As we now know, the studio decided to got for a soft reboot of the Task Force X property, which ultimately fell into the hands of writer/director James Gunn (the filmmaker's new take on the heroic team of bad guys premieres this summer).
Nevertheless, Manganiello continued to fight for his right to Deathstroke, going so far as to write a treatment for an origin project that attracted The Raid's Gareth Evans to direct. That project gained some momentum before there was a change in leadership at WB and the studio decided that no one wanted to see the origins of a famous villain. Ahem.
“It was not seen as a priority to make a $40 million movie about a villain origin story in which you show the backstory," Manganiello said before making a sardonic reference to Todd Phillips' Joker. "That would never work! That would never make a billion dollars and get someone an Oscar. Never!”
While the actor had to give up some hope for a solo Slade Wilson outing for the sake of his own mental wellbeing, he assured podcast host Josh Horowitz that “It’s not over, currently. There are little irons that are in the fire."
Deathstroke will finally return to the screen in Zack Snyder's Justice League, in which the villain has a tenuous alliance with Ben Affleck's Batman. The character will look markedly different in the four-hour movie than he did in the theatrical version's post-credits scene. In Snyder's cut, Wilson has a completely shaved head, save for a mohawk of shockingly white hair. According to Manganiello, the idea for Deathstroke's new 'do came from him.
“Part of living with the character for four years, thinking maybe around the next bend you’re gonna get to play him, you can’t help but percolate," he said. "In the treatment that I wrote, the standalone, in the end of the film, I always envisioned him shaving his head into some kind of war-like, almost borderline suicide mission [style]. ‘This is it, I’m gonna die like a warrior.’ I explained that to Zack and he said, ‘Great, let’s do it.’”
Zack Snyder's Justice League premieres on HBO Max next Thursday, March 18.