Suicide Squad set report: Monsters, magic and a new Adversary

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Jul 11, 2016, 3:30 PM EDT

Last summer, Blastr was one of a small group of online outlets that got to visit the set of Suicide Squad, which was filming at the time in Toronto at the massive Pinewood Studios facility there. Suicide Squad is the third official movie of the DC Extended Universe, the multi-film franchise from Warner Bros. Pictures (which owns DC Comics) that the studios hopes can achieve the same success as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What's interesting about Suicide Squad going third -- after Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice -- is that the movie focuses almost completely on villains.

Because that is what Suicide Squad is, if you're not familiar with them: a team of "the worst of the worst," a motley collection of super-villains recruited in prisons (or asylums) clandestinely by the U.S. government, under the supervision of Amanda Waller (played here by Viola Davis) to go on black ops missions and other assignments deemed too deadly, dangerous or strange to ever be publicly acknowledged or undertaken by regular military or intelligence personnel. The tradeoff is that the villains get their sentences commuted, which is at least partially the reason why there are always so many bad guys running around.

The first version of the Squad debuted in 1959 in the pages of The Brave and the Bold, with a second and better-known iteration launching in 1987 with its own title created by John Ostrander. The membership of this Dirty Dozen-like ensemble has changed and rotated over the years as villains have come and gone and sometimes died, offering the filmmakers an ample assortment of colorful characters to choose from.


And that's what we have in the film version of Suicide Squad, which is written and directed by David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury) and features a cast of both popular and more obscure DC anti-heroes, including Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Slipknot (Adam Beach) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Their enemies? A witch known as Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a mysterious, possibly paranormal force known as the Adversary, and perhaps the most famous comic book villain of all time, the Joker (Jared Leto), making his big-screen return eight years after Heath Ledger played him to perfection in The Dark Knight.

We started our excursion in Toronto at the Pinewood production offices, where producer Richard Suckle and co-producer Andy Horwitz showed us various pieces of production art for the film and each specific character, starting with the famous first photo that the studio circulated last year. "We knew they were going to be on the street and we might as well control the photographs versus having paparazzi take photographs that we don't control," said Suckle about releasing the pic. "The other thing that was really great was that it was actually the first time I think everybody got a chance to see each other in costume. So there was a lot of energy, to be able to see everybody together, and it was really the first time the squad was, I guess, formally assembled."

Suckle noted that there are members from the comics who didn't make the film version, explaining, "David didn't choose to use everybody, not that that would ever even make sense. It was a process that he went through, that he spent time talking over with (DC Chief Creative Officer) Geoff Johns, and through a series of conversations and discussions with the producers -- myself, Andy, Chuck Roven, Zack and Debbie Snyder and more -- it sort of evolved as to who the squad would be." Suckle added that the movie is very much an ensemble piece: "A big part of the movie is taking a dysfunctional group and trying to make them function. That's part of the fun of it and that's part of the friction and growing that they go through as a team. So yes, they spend a lot of time together, but there's also a good portion of time that they're not necessarily all together."


Suckle in particular pointed out Will Smith, who plays the assassin Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot, as a tremendous piece of the Suicide Squad puzzle. Smith may have made his name over the years as a star on his own, but his first big breakout role was as part of an ensemble (Independence Day) and he has come full circle with Suicide Squad. "He's a fantastic leader, not only as Deadshot but also as just a person. He really is," said the producer. "I'd heard great things about him, and everything I'd heard is true. He's a great leader. He's a fantastic guy, and he's just an amazing presence and has such a great positivity and is so happy to be here and be part of the movie and his energy is infectious." As for Deadshot, Suckle noted, "It's a great character. He's got a great backstory...David's done a great job of giving you backstories and understanding these characters beyond what you would just see on the surface."

As Suckle and Horwitz took us through the rest of the characters, little, fun facts emerged: Harley Quinn went through many different looks (including a brief dalliance with her original costume) before settling on the one they have in the film; Margot Robbie did all her own stunts; everyone agreed that Killer Croc would not be a full CG character but that the actor would wear a lot of prosthetics; David Ayer almost cast Jay Hernandez in End of Watch (in a role that went to Michael Pena), but wanted to work with him so cast him here as El Diablo; Scott Eastwood is in the film, playing a role that is identifed as "GQ," a member of Rick Flag's Task Force X but with a possible hidden identity; and Jared Leto stayed in character on set the whole time, which Horwitz called "intimidating."


The character who perhaps looks the most different from her comic book counterpart is the Enchantress, a powerful sorceress inadvertently released by adventurer June Moone, taking possession of the latter's body and going on a rampage that brings her to Midway City, where Task Force X is deployed to face her. "The fact is, magic is a part of this movie," said Suckle. "Magic is a part of the movie because, of course Enchantress is in it. And they've completely embraced it. And some of that we felt hadn't been done. At least I don't think, it hasn't been done in a DC movie and I can't say I know every single Marvel film, but it was something that really just naturally evolved as soon as Dave said I want her to be a part of the movie, the qualities and the attributes and the attributes that she has come along with her."

The Enchantress, however, is not the only magical or supernatural element of the movie. As we see in some of the production art, there are a number of mysterious figures clad in military gear, but with the flesh of their hands and heads turned all black and covered with bulbous growths that may or may be sensory organs. Suckle identified them as the "Eyes of the Adversary," not quite human and playing a "very important role in the movie" -- and something that David Ayer came up with in a dream (less clear is whether Ayer invented the Adversary himself, although he says the villain came out of canon).


That leads to the next obvious question: who or what is the Adversary? "You will find out who the Adversary is," Suckle insisted, saying that the narrative around this larger menace plays out parallel to that of the Squad and the Joker. "That is for sure. You will find out not only who the Adversary is but why they exist, who is part and parcel and who is behind them. You definitely find that out in this movie for sure." 

Andy Horwitz added, "There's magic in this movie. There's things that are happening that are unexplainable. Some of them may be attributed to magic. Some of them may be attributed to other things. Maybe they're scientific, but, yes, it's not just someone coming into the city and laying waste. Something has happened, and the Squad is sent into Midway City to try and fix a problem, but that problem is something that you learn more and more about as the movie unfolds."

After leaving the production office to interview Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje before he goes into the makeup chair for three hours to get into his Killer Croc persona, we stopped by the costume shop and took a tour through the set still standing at the time, which included the Midway City train station, a gigantic set modeled on Grand Central Station, where the film's third act will take place (and built after the Belle Reve prison set was knocked down). We noticed the growth on the walls of the set, like black moss or vines, indicating the presence of the Adversary or its minions. 


Our other stops included a small "chemical bath" that plays a part in the origin of Harley Quinn (i.e., Joker throws her in), a piece of Belle Reve that contains Deadshot's cell (where we interviewed David Ayer) and Killer Croc's cell, which is damp and littered with the bones of animals, and the Enchantress' tomb, a creepy cave piled high with skulls and the skeleton of some kind of demonic creature sitting on a throne of stones. At last, with the evening now upon us, we came to a Pinewood backlot that is dressed as a Midway City street, complete with full-sized brick building facades, a bar, a medical center and at one end, a collapsed highway overpass (although that is from a different scene).

As we arrived, the Squad was assembled and planning to enter an office building to capture the Enchantress and defeat whatever hideous manifestations she had conjured up. Smith, Robbie, Kinnaman, Courtney, Hernandez, Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Fukuhara and Eastwood were all present and accounted for, in full costume, as they marched slowly down the rainswept street (see photo above) over and over again, with Smith stopping the procession to question Kinnaman on just what they were going to encounter. 

It was clear from watching the scene that Deadshot and the rest of the Squad were not fully briefed, as Deadshot gets angry at Flag for hiding the information from them. "Is anyone else concerned about going to war with a witch and a giant magic monster?" Smith barked in Kinnaman's face, suggesting that Waller would "rather see us all dead." At one point, Robbie twirls up to them, asking "Lovers' spat?" before being shoved away by Smith.


Smith is armed to the teeth and came over to shake all our hands and discuss his gear for a moment, letting us each handle one of the weapons. "I was there when they were building them," he explained. "These are the stunt ones, but they are actual Glocks. Real guns that actually fire. So, I got to go to the gun range and fire them for real. There is a crazy weird power thing that happens when you strap them on and are actually shooting them, and you get the real sensation of what it would be like." He also mentioned his training for the role, saying, "For me, it was cool because I was using the base that I got with Ali from boxing, and I wanted boxing to be able to punch and shoot. So, the fighting style is a punch and a shoot. So, it's really cool and fun and stuff that you have never really seen before. The movie is really little boy heaven."

As we continued to watch the scene play out, however, and got a chance to speak with Courtney and Robbie during a break (more on that here), the latter two actors both insisted that Suicide Squad is not your average comic book movie. "I don’t know if I came in with expectations," said Courtney. "I was kind of opposed to the idea before this was ever conceptualized. It was David Ayer that was really the draw card. That was the only reason I was interested in the first place. I don’t see a lot of comic book films. I didn’t grow up reading comic books, so I’m not really part of that fan world; it’s just not what I’m interested in as an audience member. And this has probably changed my perspective on that a little."


Robbie agreed, adding, "I thought doing a comic book movie would be a very formulaic process, and so far this has been one of the most organic and spontaneous process that I have been through. This is the sort of process I’d expect to do on a really cool, gritty indie film. And we’re doing it on this massive budget film where there are so many people giving their opinions on what we’re doing, what we’re wearing, blah, blah, blah. But at the end of the day, they’re kind of standing back and letting David do it the way he wants to do it. Fortunately for us, the way he wants to do it is a very raw, gritty way."

Before heading back in front of the cameras, both Robbie and Courtney said that they will gladly come back if a sequel is called for (Robbie is reportedly already trying to get a Birds of Prey movie up and running, too): "I could play Harley for a long time," said the actress. "I don’t know how long. I think everyone is committed to a couple of films." Courtney concurred: "We’re all around for a few more of these should they choose to make them and I hope they do because I’m having way too much fun not to make another."

Suicide Squad is out August 5.