The Suicide Squad Interview: James Gunn on the Ayer film, King Shark & more

Last Updated on August 10, 2021

James Gunn has always been a risk-taker. This has been true from his early work with Troma to the grotesque brilliance of Slither – and don't forget PG Porn. Then came Guardians of the Galaxy. It is one of the best and most inspired flicks in the MCU. As well, it was another opportunity for the filmmaker to go for the weird and wonderful. And now, he has done something else that is truly spectacular. Gunn's take on The Suicide Squad is a bombastic, bloody, brilliant work, one filled with surprises, humor, and a massive heart. There is much to admire here, and it's incredibly satisfying to see a superhero feature that comes from a singular – and immensely creative – voice such as Mr. Gunn.

I've had the great privilege of speaking with James Gunn, not once but twice in the past month. During our chat for the press day for the new film, I was thrilled to send a little f-bomb filled praise his way. And yes, I f*cking loved everything about The Suicide Squad. James discussed taking on such a massive project. As well, he spoke about giving himself this freedom to make something unique. And thankfully, we aren't done with the charming fun of Guardians of the Galaxy. I asked him about creating a balance between the two worlds. Mr. Gunn is incredibly creative. And here, per usual, he offers a wealth of talent as a filmmaker. And it's on full display with the marvelous The Suicide Squad.

In addition to the on-camera chat (which you can watch above), we recently spoke to James about some of the highlights from the new film, including one of the most entertaining cinematic creations of the year with King Shark. Here is what he had to say about the creature creation:

"King Shark was really the toughest thing [to create]. I mean, Starro was tough too. They were both really tough, but I will say that King Shark was the toughest character I've ever had to design for numerous reasons. Number one, shark skin is much harder to get right than raccoon fur or wood. And the other thing is, you know, Rocket, for instance, is still a mammal. So transforming him a little bit into a more human character isn't that completely unnatural, but transforming a shark who's made to swim flat into something that walks around and has a head bent forward, took a, a lot, a lot of design work. And in fact, we kept designing for a long time. We did the original design. We finally caught the 'dad bod' that I wanted, and I didn't think he would have a six-pack because he's not a mammal. So he doesn't have the same muscular structure as we do. 

And finally, we started designing and Framestore did a lot of the work for that. That was the VFX company that did that. And we started almost finishing shots when I was like, oh he still doesn't look totally right. Like his belly was a little too white. His pecs were a little too pec-like, and it looked strange on his body. And I said to Framestore, I'm sorry, but we have to go redesign. And we did it in the middle of post. So it was really a difficult process to get a shark that could walk around in the right way. And I'm really happy with where we landed with. 

With Starro, it was hard because I really liked the movie, The Host, and I like how the sea monster flaps around like a giant puppy even though he's kind of scary. And so I wanted the same sort of like unwieldily feeling of a walking starfish who isn't made to walk, he floats around in space. So getting him to walk and getting it in the way that it both at least somewhat put people in peril, but was also the goofy way a starfish would walk was difficult. And really still to this day, I go, you know, I love the pink and cerulean like totally bright colors that look completely different from the sort of really gritty, grimy streets of Colon, Panama that he's walking around. And I mean, I liked that contrast a lot, but I knew it was risky to do something that pink. But we swung for the fence."

On Ratcatcher, and just how important she is to this tale.

"She's really the one character that I think comes into the movie damaged, but less damaged than the other characters. I think she's the only character that has any access to her heart whatsoever. So I think that as much as I relate to the outsider qualities or the goofiness of Polka-Dot Man, I also relate to the more human elements of Ratcatcher too. And she's thrust into this world where she's around really nasty people and she becomes the heart of the movie in that respect. And so yeah, I think she's the heart of the movie. 

One of the things it's hard to answer questions about this movie is that everything is a surprise. So you don't really know, but really, her [relationship] with Bloodsport is incredibly important to the movie. It's probably the primary relationship in the movie. And it's very important to me that it wasn't a romantic relationship. You know, it is him learning and seeing her sort of messed up, but a pure human being. And that helps him to connect to her, but also connects to his daughter who has been treated like shit the whole time he's known her. He treats her like total shit in the beginning of the movie. And being able to have a character who we could put ourselves in a little bit – because I think a lot of us are not at ease with, you know, tearing people apart – but also who sees the good in everybody. Even King Shark, is he good? He's kind of a fish, but she sees the good in him. She's like his eyes are so innocent and beautiful, you know, but they're fish eyes. There's nothing going on. So I think that it's really wonderful to see the world through her eyes. And I think she's obviously important to the movie in a lot of ways. So I thought, you know, in some ways, she's my favorite character."

When it came to not being beholden to David Ayer's film and whether or not that would confuse people by bringing back a few characters from the 2016 vision.

"That I definitely was worried about the whole thing, confusing people. But when I first talked to the guys about making the movie, I said, what am I beholden to from the other movie? And exactly what they said was, listen, we love Margot. We would love it if she was back in the movie, but as long as you're doing what you want to do and you're bringing your full self to it, we don't really care. You can make a whole new team, you can use the exact same team. You can do whatever you want. And I just happened to love those characters from the comics and I love those actors. 

We can't of course forget Viola Davis, because to me, the Suicide Squad is about Amanda Waller. And she's the actual antagonist in this film, you know, at the end of the day, she's the bad guy. Right. This is sad for me because I'm probably most like her, cause I'm the one that's killing everyone.

Margot Robbie has a fantastic Harley Quinn. I love the character. I know the character very well. I think the way she was originally written by Paul Dini and the old animated series was truly who she still is today. I don't think I've deviated much from that. We get to see other sides of her, but it's still fully that same character that Paul created and being able to bring out the full chaotic trickster of that character who still is growing though… I mean, she's growing, she's making choices which for her are healthy, probably wouldn't be considered healthy for others, but for her they are healthy. So seeing that scene dealing with her in that way, I love dealing with Margot. She was one of my favorite people I've ever worked with. I was excited to work with her. I've heard good things about her. So I was excited about that. 

Joel, I'm a big fan of, as an actor, I thought that we could change up his character a little bit. I thought we could bring a little bit more humor to his character. I think a little bit more of the tortured quality to his character. His ideals getting squashed right in front of his eyes was dramatic to me. And so I really wanted that guy for a long time. So I brought those characters back because David did an amazing job casting his movie and he did an amazing job prepping those characters. 

I'm not one to have an ego about any of that kind of thing. If there's something that's good, why fix it? You know, why change it? And I didn't want to be reacting to the first movie in terms of being a shadow of the movie, either just copying it or being like, hey, I'm going to be totally different from the first movie because so-and-so didn't like it. Right. So it was about really just taking everything I had at my disposal and making the best movie I possibly could."


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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.