Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Peacemaker's Danielle Brooks Talks John Cena, James Gunn, And That Opening Dance Sequence - Exclusive Interview

While acclaimed actor Danielle Brooks has appeared in her share of high-profile projects over the last decade — including a starring turn as Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson in the smash series "Orange is the New Black" — her role in "The Suicide Squad" spinoff series "Peacemaker" has taken her career to a whole new level. After all, how often does an actor land a role on a comic book series that's loaded with action, comedy, drama, and a memorable opening dance number?

Based on the DC comic book series of the same name, "Peacemaker" stars John Cena in the title role as an expertly skilled vigilante raised from birth by a violent, racist father (Robert Patrick) to be a stone-cold killer. The series picks up after events of "The Suicide Squad," as Peacemaker is assigned a tactical team by volatile Task Force X head Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to take down an alien species known as "Butterflies." Joining the team of veteran agents Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), John Economos (Steve Agee), and Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) is Leota Adebayo (Brooks) — a newbie to the scene who's hiding the fact that Waller is her mother, and her job is to keep tabs on them.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Brooks talks about her introduction to the live-action comic book world with "Peacemaker," her work with Cena and writer-director James Gunn, and her thoughts about the series' opening dance sequence that has fans buzzing.

From the 'The Taystee Twist' to the 'Peacemaker Dance'

Congratulations on being such a big part of such of a wildly entertaining series like "Peacemaker." It starts off every episode, I might add, with that awesome "Peacemaker Dance." I think it's going to become a thing, Danielle! What do you think?

Oh, I hope so. When I did "Orange is the New Black," everybody was here for "The Taystee Twist." It's only right that now we have this opening number with [Wig Wam's] "Do You Want to Taste It." It just makes sense. I think it's really cool that we did it. I think it's admirable of James for thinking outside of the box and really stretching television and reminding us that we can continue to evolve in the type of things that we do. I think that was really a neat way of doing that and getting people interested.

Peacemaker brings Brooks' childhood dreams to life

"The Suicide Squad" wasn't out in theaters yet while "Peacemaker" was in production. What did you use as a frame of reference? Jennifer Holland and Steve Agee had the benefit of knowing who Peacemaker and Amanda Waller were because they were "The Suicide Squad." For you, this is a new starting point, especially since your character is not in the comic book.

It was a challenge for me. Like you said, most of my counterparts have been introduced and been in this world already. It was a lot of conversations with James of trying to figure out what he's looking for. I luckily did have the luxury of watching "The Suicide Squad" ahead of time, but it's not like I was able to study it and watch it over and over again. It presented the challenge of learning this universe and learning this world, and what are these Butterflies, and what is the Black Ops team? [I had to learn about all] of these things because I have not been exposed to that as much. Unfortunately, growing up for me, comic books weren't in my house at all ... Where I grew up, there wasn't even ... I don't even know how I would've gotten access to it. It was just not a thing.

I never saw myself reflected in it either. It had all of these layers that pulled me away from this genre that I really, really enjoy. The thing that I love about it the most is the imagination. Your imagination really gets to fly. All of this is coming from someone's brain of having this idea of superpowers and villains, and all of these things. Right? You get to, as an actor, put that on its feet, and get to be in the midst of these explosions and watching John Cena fly out of — literally bust through walls and windows, and getting to have a relationship with an eagle. All of these things that you don't do in real life, it's so much fun to me as an actor because that's how I started out as a little girl. Acting was my safe space of play. That was my playground. It's really cool to get to be in this world, but it did take me a minute to understand it. I'm really grateful [for] James. He didn't quiz me on anything to begin with.

Understanding Leota's and Peacemaker's bond

I think you're coming in at the right time, honestly, because Leota Adebayo is the first person who actually gets who Peacemaker really is. You're looking at him as something more than this inappropriate ogre that he was in "The Suicide Squad," or much worse than that, even. Why is that? Have you ever thought about why is it that Leota gets this guy or did James ever explain to you the connection that you two have?

I think that's what James was going for, especially in the world in [which we live]. It's why I love James, because he finds his way of taking this superhero world and meshing it so well with humanity and realness, and you get to see the layers and the depths of who people really are. I know for a fact that's something he noticed, as we all do, in the world that we live in America, how divided we are with race and with religion and with political views. We're all being told we're so different and we shouldn't respect or mess with each other.

I think that's what he's trying to do, this gap that he's trying to close is [Gunn] saying, "Yes, Peacemaker and Adebayo are completely opposites on paper, but they have so much in common." They are both struggling with duty and morality and wrong versus right. They're struggling with the potential of going against their parents. They're both struggling with that at the same time and they both need each other to figure out how to get over that [hurdle].

I really like how cool it is that Adebayo, even though she is so afraid of so many things stepping into this new job, she gets flustered all the time and is trying to prove herself when she really doesn't know what she's doing. In the midst of all of that, she still is able to be honest with Peacemaker, and not in a judgmental way. It's really cool.

Peeling away the layers of a complicated character

Since we're talking about those layers, I can't tell you how wonderful it is to see a guy like John Cena show his talents. We already knew he could be very funny. He showed that in "The Suicide Squad" and he shows it again in "Peacemaker." But in addition to the comedy, you can tell in your interactions with him that this is a much more complicated character than people think.

Definitely. I definitely think he's a more complicated character. I think that's the beauty that you get with TV more so [than] film, you get more time. You get more hours to explore and break down the person and who they are. Getting to see all of these flashbacks of Peacemaker, and how he was raised really adds a sweetness to who he is that people might not see just on the surface.

I look forward to Season 2, if we get at Season 2, because hopefully we get to explore that even more with the other characters. I know there's such a curiosity that people are having of "How was Adebayo raised by Amanda Waller?" What are the things that she saw and did in front of her daughter, and what are the things that she hid from her?" All of these questions come up that I know I have curiosity about, and I'm sure the fans do as well.

Brooks is hoping for scenes at some point with Viola Davis

It's revealed in the first episode that Leota is the daughter of Amanda Waller, and you have that one scene with Viola Davis. It's a video call, but was that in real time? Did you get to actually interact with Viola? Because whether it's in person or a Zoom call, it has to be a thrill.

Everybody's curious about that and it's crazy because I have such a huge respect for Ms. Viola Davis and we have a lot of parallels. We both went to Juilliard. We both are from South Carolina. I really was so excited when I heard that I would be playing her daughter. The thing is, we weren't able to actually have that moment together, unfortunately, with COVID going on and both of us having busy schedules.

When we were supposed to have a Zoom call for Viola to get her side of the recording, time did not align and so I wasn't able to do that with her. We both sent each other's love, and I really hope that with another season, hopefully, or even if James does "The Suicide Squad 2," that we would definitely cross paths on camera and in person, because that would be a dream come true, for sure.

Making Leota relatable

I love all of the characters in the Black Ops unit in different ways, and I think it's terrific that Leota is such a relatable character. Part of that relatability is she's the only person outside of work that has a life. She has a marriage to Keeya, which is starting to become quite strained. Granted nobody likes those strain relationships in real life, but for you, as an actor, it's like, "Wow, I get an extra layer here for my role in Peacemaker." That has to be pretty cool.

Yeah. There are so many layers from what we've talked about with Amanda Waller and all of the conflict that she's having there. Then, like you said, with the wife and also the job switch of someone who was a veterinarian and started off in very much in normalcy, now has been plopped into this world that is overwhelming for her. It was a joy to have layers. That's what you want as an actor.

The best part for me was that the same things that Adebayo was going through and experiencing were the same things that I was experiencing, a feeling very new and green and learning on the job. I had a lot of excitement about the things that I was getting to do. In each scene, I got to bring that into Adebayo unapologetically, which was so much fun. That was my favorite part. It was like I didn't have to hide my excitement about having a window busted in the car or my excitement about jumping through fire with John Cena. I got to actually express that, and that was cool.

Brooks would love to work with Margot Robbie in a future Suicide Squad adventure

If you could work with one other member of The Suicide Squad apart from Peacemaker, whether it be at the part 2 of "The Suicide Squad" or season 2 of "Peacemaker," is there any character you'd love to work with?

Without a doubt, Harley Quinn. She did a phenomenal job playing her. What's her name off the top? I can't remember.

Margot Robbie?

Margot Robbie! I am a huge fan of hers and she killed it in "The Suicide Squad." That would be the person I would want to work with for sure.

"Peacemaker" is streaming on HBO Max with new episodes dropping every Thursday.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.