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Peacemaker's Steve Agee Talks John Cena, James Gunn, And The Liberation Of John Economos - Exclusive Interview

It's not often an actor gets to reprise a role in a movie sequel, and even rarer for them to do a spinoff series on TV. Luckily for "The Suicide Squad" star Steve Agee, writer-director James Gunn gave the prolific performer a golden opportunity to bring back the comically caustic ARGUS tech genius John Economos for "Peacemaker." 

Streaming exclusively on HBO Max beginning January 13, "Peacemaker" is an eight-episode spinoff series that continues the wild adventures of the gifted yet somewhat clueless anti-hero — once again played by John Cena — and the covert government support team that assists him, including Economos and his fellow ARGUS team member, Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland). Assigned to Peacemaker's new support team in an act of revenge by their boss, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), for defying orders at the end of "The Suicide Squad," Economos and Harcourt are joined by a new supervisor, Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji), and Leota Adebeyo (Danielle Brooks) — who, unbeknownst to her team members, has extremely close ties with Waller. 

Complicating their mission to ferret out a group of villains in the Butterfly Project is a wannabe superhero sidekick, Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), as well as Auggie Smith (Robert Patrick) — the racist and ruthless father of Peacemaker who trained his son to be an assassin from birth and continues to hold sway over him.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Agee discusses his work with Cena on "Peacemaker" and reunion with Gunn, whom he worked with on "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." Agee, whose impressive list of more than 140 screen credits includes "The Sarah Silverman Program," "New Girl," "Superstore," and "Adventure Time," also talks about getting the opportunity to venture into genres he didn't expect as part of the "Peacemaker" team.

From The Suicide Squad to Peacemaker

Congratulations on one hell of a 2021 for you, sir.

Oh, man. It was highs and lows, but professional work aspect was definitely a high.

It included "The Suicide Squad," and now "Peacemaker." At what point did you find out that "Peacemaker" was going to happen during the whole "Suicide Squad" process?

We had wrapped "Suicide Squad," I believe, in late February of 2020, literally just before the pandemic. Then that hit. I went into hiding. I'm single and I live alone. I was just by myself for that whole pandemic, or at least the first seven or eight months, and I was like, "Oh my God, this is never going to end and I'm going to be by myself for forever." I was starting to mentally get into some really low places.

I think it was late September or early October of 2020, James called me and said, "Hey, I've written a series, a spinoff for 'Peacemaker,' and I want John Economos to be in it." I was like, "Oh my God, that's amazing. When do we start?" And he was like, "January." So, I found out about this three months before we started shooting. He said, "I didn't want to get your hopes up, so I didn't tell you sooner." It saved me both financially and also just mentally, being able to go back to being around friends like James, Jen, and Cena, and new people and actually work again. It just really saved my sanity.

About that opening credits dance number

"Peacemaker" starts off with a bang — actually every episode starts off with a bang — with that wonderful opening dance number featuring everybody in the cast. How much of a blast was it to do, and how many takes did it take to get through it? I ask because I would imagine you guys were cracking up with everything.

It was a full day of shooting. We shot that in one day, but it was a full day and there were a lot of rehearsals because James was like, "Look, we've got one day to do this, so I want everyone to be ready." So, we had a bunch of rehearsals leading [up to it] ... Any day we weren't working, we'd have at least an hour of rehearsal on it. So, when we went in, we'd been doing it so much that there wasn't a lot of breaking, but I don't know if you noticed, in the number, nobody's smiling. Everyone's straight-faced.

The only thing that we had to keep stopping and restarting for was James would be like, "Please, you guys have to stop smiling," because it was so much fun. We shot this halfway through the series — compared to what we'd been doing, this was a whole new genre, and I'm not a dancer. It was a blast. The hardest thing was for people just to not be beaming ear to ear.

John Economos springs into action

What I love about this series is that everybody gets in on the action, even John Economos. I won't say what scene it is, actually a couple, but you get pretty handy with a crowbar in one of them and you punctuate things with the line, "Economos M-f-er!" except you don't say "M-f-er."

"Don't mess with John Economos!"

I don't know, Steve. I'm thinking that "Economos M-f-er" could be a hashtag out there. I'm hoping that starts.

Please start it. I'll retweet you.

Then you also get a little "Karate Kid" crane technique move in there, a little bit of "Saturday Night Fever." And then there's another — I don't want to give away anything — badass weapon you use at one point.

I know what you're talking about.

That's got to be great because, again, John is normally the guy that's usually sitting behind a keyboard. So, for him to get out there like that, you must say to James, "Thank you, man. This is a blast!"

I can never thank James enough. I can never express how grateful I am. Most of my days, even when I'm not working or like this, I'm at my computer just writing or answering emails and stuff. So, I'm always indoors. I'm at my computer. When I got the script and saw some of those moments that you're talking about, I was like, "This is a dream come true for me, for someone who grew up as a fan of action movies." As I got older and into my 50s, I was like, "I guess that's never going to happen. I'm never going to do action movies." And here I am, doing some pretty kick-ass stuff. Yeah, I'm super grateful to James. I've never played a character that's gotten to do stuff like this.

Agee is impressed by Cena's talent for comedy

Normally, that heavy lifting is relegated to a guy like John Cena in action films. And God knows he could be doing all action if he wanted to, or he could be wrestling if he wanted to. But what I think is so great is that we're really seeing this guy blossom as a comedy actor. Did that surprise you in any way? He showed it in "The Suicide Squad," but man, he's really funny in "Peacemaker," too.

I'd seen glimpses of John's humor, not as a human, but just his comedic timing and stuff like "Trainwreck" and the movie "Blockers," where he really held his own as a comedic actor. I wasn't surprised when we started "Suicide Squad" at how funny he was, but I was surprised at how good of an improviser he was. Most of the stuff you see is written, but there's times at the very end of a scene where James will let us riff and trail off. [Cena] always had something to say. He was never at a loss for words. He's got a lot of great comic timing and he's really quick with deliveries and he is never at a loss.

Agee says Peacemaker is not a character so easily defined

What I think is really amazing is Peacemaker — he could be a very horrible and inappropriate human being, but John still makes him likable. That's got to be a tremendously tough thing as an actor to do. Would you agree with that?

James writes funny dialogue [for Peacemaker, where you say], "All right, that's funny. This guy's an a–hole, but that's funny."' But you have some empathy towards him in the series because we explore why he's an a–hole through his relationship with his father and you've really start to feel sorry for him. You don't hate him as much. He's easily despised in "Suicide Squad" and in the TV series, you feel more sorry for him than you do angry with him. That's a huge leap to make for a character like Peacemaker.

In Peacemaker's mind, he's a superhero. And again, we have to remember, he did kill Rick Flag in "The Suicide Squad," so he's a bad dude in many respects.


Would you consider Peacemaker a superhero or would you consider him a supervillain — or is he an anti-hero?

I'd have to go with anti-hero. I think this is a character, if we did more seasons, who could easily become a superhero — somebody likable and somebody who grows out of what his father made him become. The potential is definitely there, but I think as of now, he's an anti-hero. The whole purpose of the creation of "The Suicide Squad" was taking villains, taking bad people and using them for good. He fits nicely into that world, but I definitely think there's potential for him.

Agee would like to reteam with David Dastmalchian for a Polka-Dot Man spinoff series

If you had the benefit of working with another member of 'The Suicide Squad," and people have to remember, you were the guy doing motion capture for King Shark, so you got to know these people really well. I'm talking about Margot Robbie, Daniela Melchior, Idris Elba, and a guy that I've known for quite a few years and is one of my favorite people, David Dastmalchian.

Oh, yeah.

How thrilling was that experience, first of all, doing King Shark, but who else would you like to work with? Sadly, David's Polka-Dot Man is no longer with us; I wish we could find a way to bring him back. If you could do another spinoff series, who would you like to work with?

I got to say, Dave Dastmalchian is probably my best friend in real life. We've known each other for a while now. It was just amazing that James put us both in the same movie. I would love to, much like you, somehow see Polka-Dot Man used again maybe in a prequel, but I would love to work with Polka-Dot Man. I'd love to work with Dave just as a friend, but I thought the character of Polka-Dot Man was so deep and nuanced, that I would love to somehow work with Polka-Dot Man again — as a selfish person wanting to work with my friend again, but also, I thought the character was amazing.

The fun of working with James Gunn

Mentioning James Gunn again, it was a tremendous relief for you mentally and workwise to get an opportunity to work with him. How different is he as a television director versus a film director? Do those sensibilities change or does it feel the same?

For me, there was no difference. First of all, I'm working with a friend, but also, he attacked this the exact same way he did with a movie. It's just like Peter Safran; we were doing interviews earlier and Peter Safran, one of the executive producers, said "Peacemaker" didn't seem any different. It seemed like James just making an eight-hour movie, and I'd have to agree. He was the same person on set. He actually seemed a lot less stressed out, not that he ever is really stressed out, but he seemed like he was having a really, really good time on this. So yeah, it didn't feel any different to me. It felt longer, obviously — we were up there for seven months. "The Suicide Squad" was five, so it wasn't that much longer.

We have to bring up, too, that you were in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." You just must sit back, Steve, and say, "How did I get here?"

I definitely say that when I'm on set. I'm one of those people that will never get tired walking onto a movie set. I feel like a 14-year-old kid walking onto a set for the very first time, and it's every single time. I walk onto the Jotunheim set and I'm like, "Oh my God." I was sitting with Nathan Fillion on the set of "The Suicide Squad" in the early days of shooting that, and we were just on the beach. We were sitting on the fake beach, which they built a giant beach, and we were sitting there just looking at it. Nathan, who's been doing this for longer than I have, and more large-scale stuff, just looked at me and he was like, "Can you believe we get to do this?" He was like a 12-year-old. Yeah, it never gets old to me.

Exploring other parts of the DC Extended Universe

A couple different DC characters are mentioned during "Peacemaker." Batman for one, Superman in another scene, in a gross sort of way — we won't get into that! If John Economos could go to a different corner of the DC Universe and exist in the space of a Batman or a Superman project or whatever, do you have any particular DC superhero that you'd like to see him work with?

Absolutely. I was never a comic book reader. It's something I actually regret, and I'll buy them now. My knowledge of superheroes is the very basic, the most popular [being] Superman and Batman. I would love more than anything to be in a Superman movie or a Batman movie or in a Justice League-type situation. Those are my favorites. That's not even based on my limited knowledge of superheroes and comic books. I think even if I did know comic books to the depth of James Gunn or Dave Dastmalchian, I would still want to do a Superman movie, just as a fan of that genre. I think Superman or Batman.

The first three episodes of "Peacemaker" are now streaming exclusively on HBO Max. Future episodes will premiere on Thursdays.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.