Who do you kill? Why do you kill them? These are the kinds of tough questions only storytellers can ask without getting arrested, and they’re exactly the kinds of questions James Gunn had to wrestle with while writing The Suicide Squad, which he talks about in a new interview on the official DC Comics blog. Don’t worry–there are no spoilers to be had here.
“There were a certain number of characters that I knew were going to die from the time I put them in the movie,” Gunn said. “When I first pitched this idea to Warner Bros., I went into [Warner Bros. Film Chairman] Toby Emmerich’s office and I had made copies or made photos of every single character and I had them all on a wall because it’s a lot of characters. To throw, like, Mongal at Toby Emmerich can be really confusing. Going through them in that way, I knew some characters were going to die early and then other characters died as I told the story.”
“Some things happened very organically. It was really about what does the story need at this point. How does it work? How do we take a turn here that’s unexpected?” Gunn continued. “That manifests in a number of ways, with character choice being the starting point.
“I have a file folder full of all the characters I initially considered and there’s everyone from Gunhawk to Man-Bat to Bane to Deathstroke,” Gunn said. “Man-Bat is one of my favorite characters, so I really wanted to do Man-Bat, but I think I chose Weasel and King Shark instead. There are a lot of characters who I love in the DC Universe. The DC Universe is just such an incredibly rich trove of characters and to be able to choose was very difficult.”
“Some of them were almost random,” Gunn said, seeming to question his own judgment as he dug into his process. “Like why did I do Javelin? I still can’t remember why I chose Javelin. I think I just thought it was so stupid that his weapon was a javelin. He seemed so useless!”
Others, though, grew as he wrote.
“Characters like Polka-Dot Man,” Gunn explained. “He has a reputation as being useless, but ends up being probably the most powerful character in the whole movie. Taking a character like that, who’s a joke and who’s thought of as a joke and looking behind the curtain and seeing that he’s so sad. He’s Polka-Dot Man for a really tragic and sad reason. You’re giving depth to something.”
Gunn outlined his approach to developing characters for movies like this and the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
“Usually with most of the characters I’ve written, I’m sort of recreating them for the screen. It’s probably one of the reasons why I’m attracted to characters like Star-Lord–who never really had a well-defined personality in the comic books–where you can kind of recreate them for the screen. I mean, Bloodsport isn’t especially well-known. And so, when I take him to the screen, he becomes this sort of Bill Munny Unforgiven character. With Harley, she is really well-drawn in the comics, and so I just wanted to be true to that.”
“It’s a story that is first and foremost about characters above all else,” Gunn said of The Suicide Squad. “It’s about a group of ne’er-do-wells who aren’t very good at connecting with other human beings and find through this pretty tragic experience small ways of connecting. In the end, it’s bittersweet because some of them are going on to a better life and then some of them are going on to no life at all.”
The Suicide Squad hits theaters and HBO Max on August 6. In the meantime, make sure to check out our review of the film, as well as our interview with Gunn about why The Suicide Squad might not be the movie you think it is. Gunn recently spoke about what he learned from being fired by Disney a few years back, why the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic game might not make a good movie, and why he wants to do a Marvel/DC crossover flick (even if it almost certainly won’t happen).